The Mediterranean Under Sail

July 19, 2002 | Tags: Europe

On a particularly warm evening this past April, I found myself sipping a cappuccino along the cobblestoned Stradun in Dubrovnik as the sun set over rose-colored tile rooftops. It may have looked as though I was on vacation, but I was hard at work scouting the islands, national parks, and harbor towns along the Adriatic coastline in preparation for our 2003 Mediterranean Under Sail itineraries.

I have traveled extensively throughout Europe, yet this was my first visit to Albania and Croatia. I quickly discovered that the natural beauty, cultural and historical attractions, and warm hospitality of the inhabitants of these Adriatic destinations may even surpass their more familiar Mediterranean counterparts.

In April, and again in September, of 2003, our Mediterranean Under Sail expeditions offer you the opportunity to experience the area's unmatched cultural and artistic marvels on voyages that include a total of seven World Heritage Sites. Each departure consists of two separate itineraries: Crete to Venice, then Venice to Nice. You may take the voyages either separately or in sequence, as we will be not repeating any landings.

Our visits to Albania and along Croatia's Dalmatian Coast are a special highlight of our expedition. The coastline of eroded karst provided building materials for the beautiful ancient stone cities. These walled fortresses, castles, and towns bearing Illyrian, Roman, Venetian, and Ottoman influences sit amid an island landscape of lush vineyards and wildflowers backed by the rugged peaks of the Dinaric Alps.

Upon our arrival in picturesque Saranda harbor, it will become immediately apparent why Albania is one of the best-kept secrets of the Adriatic. This bustling seaside village sits only 50 kilometers from the Greek border and just a 20-minute ferry ride from Corfu. However, its location at the base of an almost impassable mountain range and Albania's only recently ended political isolation have combined to keep Saranda and the Albanian coastline free from the madding crowds of the better-known resort towns of the Mediterranean.

A half-hour drive from Saranda lies the Castle of Butrint, with a commanding view of the coast. Now a World Heritage Site, Butrint served as a Roman naval outpost during the time of Julius and Augustus Caesar and also as an Ottoman stronghold. In unique Albanian style, the amphitheater, basilica, and acropolis have been excavated, but the surrounding forest left intact and the paths between the ruins cleared just enough for passage. There is a delightful sensation of discovery as, walking along a woodland path, you come suddenly across the beautiful mosaic floor of the basilica among the tall grass and wildflowers.

From Saranda, it's just a short sail to hidden Palermo harbor and the abandoned Fortress of the Ali Pasha. The Pasha, an Ottoman general, ruled Albania from the late 18th to early 19th centuries. We'll come ashore by Zodiac, landing at the base of this abandoned fortress. A short walk up a woodland path brings us to the main gate, and we'll explore inside before climbing to the ramparts for a stunning view of the harbor illuminated by the setting sun.

When we sail into Croatia, you'll begin to compare this country, which has felt so much of the vibrant Italian influence, with Albania, virtually cut off from the outside world for centuries. These two countries are in such proximity, yet so extremely different in their political history and culture.

Dubrovnik has been an important seaport since the 13th century. Thick stone walls surround Dubrovnik's Old Town, named a World Heritage Site in 1979. We'll explore its Gothic, Romanesque, and Baroque churches; view Renaissance paintings; or enjoy the superb views from the city walls.

During the 1991 war, Serbian artillery shelled Dubrovnik for eight months; more than half the city lay in ruins. With help from UNESCO, restoration began as soon as hostilities ceased. Artisans using traditional techniques and materials were able to restore Dubrovnik to its prewar splendor in an unprecedented short span of time. Our ship will remain docked in the harbor until midnight, giving us time to sample Dubrovnik's vibrant nightlife.

Other notable destinations on our route include Albania's Kruja Fortress; Korcula Island, which claims to be Marco Polo's early home; Sibenik, home to St. James Cathedral, famous for its fusion of Gothic and Renaissance architecture; the 4th-century Palace of Diocletian at Split; and Kotor Fjord in Montenegro.

Mediterranean Under Sail also explores fabled cities and famous archeological sites: Heraklion and the Palace of Knossos on Crete; Olympia on Greece's Peloponnesus; Mount Etna, Europe's highest active volcano, on Sicily; and immortal Venice.

And what better way to travel along the coasts and among the islands of the Mediterranean than by sail, just as the Illyrians and Venetians did so long ago. Once again, we have chartered Le Ponant, an elegant three-masted sailing ship that carries only 56 passengers. Le Ponant is one of my favorite ships. The European officers and crew will spoil you with their service and amaze you with their nautical expertise.

From the first evening you join me, our team of experts and lecturers, and your fellow travelers on the top deck, I promise you will be hooked on the Mediterranean Under Sail.

The Bird Man of Aride

April 20, 2002

Rob McCall, April 2002

Naturalist Rob McCall will be accompanying our Seychelles and Ultimate Seychelles expeditions, which commence in December 2002 aboard Le Ponant. Here, he recounts his first visit to bird-rich Aride Island.

I first became aware of the Seychelles while watching a David Attenborough documentary at the age of eight. Attenborough was cradling an oversize and bizarre-looking coconut, while in the background an azure ocean lapped a white sand shore framed by giant pink boulders. It was a surreal, almost otherworldly scene for a young boy growing up in deepest Hertfordshire, and from that moment, the Seychelles epitomized to me all that was faraway and exotic. At that tender age, I had no inkling that I would spend three months working there - a period that would begin a lifelong love affair with this scattered group of oceanic islands.

Two weeks after finishing my zoology degree at Cambridge, I boarded a flight to the Seychelles. I knew little more than that I would be working as a conservation volunteer on a small island called Aride - home to upwards of a million seabirds and consequently one of the most important wildlife reserves in the Indian Ocean. I knew that I'd be sharing this little paradise with five other volunteers and that living conditions would be basic, to say the least. What I didn't know was that this little island would change my life forever.

On Aride, as nowhere else I had ever visited, birds rule the roost. Our living quarters on Aride were literally borrowed from the birds, and they frequently reclaimed them. I lost count of the number of evenings when I was forced to get out of bed to usher confused Audubon shearwaters from the room. I'll never forget the pungent taste of the drinking water - rainwater that we collected from the guano-encrusted hut roof where seabirds dozed at night. And the sight of pure-white fairy terns fluttering just above my head is indelibly burned into my consciousness.

My stay in the Seychelles was limited to only a few months, but by the time I left I had gained a clear idea of what I should like to research for my Ph.D. In subsequent years, I have visited the Seychelles many times and have been able to visit corners of the archipelago that were far out of reach during my stay on Aride. Places such as Aldabra, an extraordinary raised coral atoll home to more giant tortoises than the Galapagos; Astove, a small island with a reef drop-off that made me feel though I was flying underwater; and Silhouette Island, whose densely forested slopes remain almost untouched by humankind.

Every visit to the Seychelles is special for me. Like a recurring dream, whenever I land on Aride, I can hardly believe that fate has been good enough to bring me back. Showing Zegrahm travelers around the forests I helped to plant, and introducing them to birds that I knew as chicks, is a very special pleasure that I look forward to sharing with you on our forthcoming expeditions.

The Many Faces of Melanesia

April 20, 2002

Spread across an expanse of the vast South Pacific, from New Guinea to the Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, the islands composing Melanesia present a dizzying array of indigenous cultures, magnificent bird and marine life, tropical flora, volcanic islands, and coral atolls. We've designed our Faces of Melanesia expedition, departing 08 November 2002, to present as complete a picture of these islands as possible, an 18-day voyage aboard the Clipper Odyssey. This voyage of discovery, combined with our pre-extension to the Papua New Guinea Highlands and Sepik River, and our New Caledonia post-extension, represents a comprehensive Melanesian exploration.

Traveling on the Clipper Odyssey, we will experience the ways of a different culture every couple of days. We will visit with the Trobriand Islanders of Kitava to view energetic, age-old dances imbued with ritualistic significance. Villagers welcome us with the blowing of conch shell trumpets and traditional songs as we come ashore on Santa Ana in the Solomons. Our stop on Tikopia well illustrates the cultural richness of the region. While Tikopia is geographically part of Melanesia, its inhabitants are actually Polynesian.

The artifacts and handicrafts reflect the ethnic melange. From the canoe builders of the Laughlin Islands to the woodcarvers of Ghizo and the crafters of the elegant headdresses of Ambrym, the artisans of Melanesia preserve the techniques of their forebears. Despite the many differences, the islanders share one trait: hospitality. We shall be warmly welcomed wherever we land.

In addition to our encounters with these thousands-of-years-old cultures, we shall witness history of a more recent vintage. A dramatic juxtaposition exists between the tranquility of island life today and the historical reality that this was the setting of the savage battles waged as Japan and the United States strove for control of the Pacific in World War II. Guadalcanal, in the Solomons, was a turning point in the war. There, we will visit war memorials and Henderson Field. Offshore, divers and snorkelers can explore Iron Bottom Sound, so-named for the large numbers of Japanese and American ships sunk beneath the waves. Today, these sundered vessels provide habitats for colorful reef fishes and luxuriant corals.

The natural wonders match the variety of the human inhabitants. Geologically, the islands represent three types found in the Pacific: volcanic, uplifted coral, and coral atoll. The Vanuatu Archipelago remains a hotbed of seismic activity. Its nine active volcanoes, two of which are below sea level, form part of the Ring of Fire. The dramatic terrain of some Melanesian islands was another factor that kept the human populations divided into small cultural and linguistic communities and impeded their penetration by outsiders.

The remarkably fecund landscapes make for spectacular birding and botanizing. During our Faces of Melanesia expedition in 2000, we identified 140 different species of birds. With our naturalists, we will hike the forests and marshes of Espirutu Santo, home to the rare chestnut-bellied kingfisher, mountain starling, and Santa Cruz ground pigeon. Other colorful species we may encounter during our travels include lorikeets, black-naped terns, and the greater frigatebird.

The undersea world dazzles with its kaleidoscope of life. As an ichthyologist and a diver, I am greatly anticipating November's departure. The seas of Melanesia are some of the warmest and clearest in the world. We will be able to snorkel or dive nearly every day of our voyage. Whether you prefer to snorkel off a pristine sandbar in the Laughlins, or join our dive master over a reef drop-off, you will come face-to-face with an astonishing variety of fish.

The vivid underwater landscape presents a tapestry of hard and soft corals, ranging from delicate seafans to staghorn formations, replete with colorful sponges, anemones, and giant Tridacna clams with iridescent blue mantles. Fish species are too numerous to list, but, among others, they include parrotfish, neon damsels, striped harlequin tusk-fish, and elegant Moorish idols. Of special interest will be our exploration of the USS President Coolidge, a troop ship that sank near Luganville during World War II and is one of the world's greatest wreck dives.

It is impossible to catalog all the wonders of this region. Come with me this November aboard Faces of Melanesia and experience firsthand the fantastic natural setting and time-honored traditions of Oceania.

The Bird Man of Aride

April 19, 2002 | Tags: Wildlife

Rob McCall, April 2002

Naturalist Rob McCall will be accompanying our Seychelles and Ultimate Seychelles expeditions, which commence in December 2002 aboard Le Ponant. Here, he recounts his first visit to bird-rich Aride Island.

I first became aware of the Seychelles while watching a David Attenborough documentary at the age of eight. Attenborough was cradling an oversize and bizarre-looking coconut, while in the background an azure ocean lapped a white sand shore framed by giant pink boulders. It was a surreal, almost otherworldly scene for a young boy growing up in deepest Hertfordshire, and from that moment, the Seychelles epitomized to me all that was faraway and exotic. At that tender age, I had no inkling that I would spend three months working there - a period that would begin a lifelong love affair with this scattered group of oceanic islands.

Two weeks after finishing my zoology degree at Cambridge, I boarded a flight to the Seychelles. I knew little more than that I would be working as a conservation volunteer on a small island called Aride - home to upwards of a million seabirds and consequently one of the most important wildlife reserves in the Indian Ocean. I knew that I'd be sharing this little paradise with five other volunteers and that living conditions would be basic, to say the least. What I didn't know was that this little island would change my life forever.

On Aride, as nowhere else I had ever visited, birds rule the roost. Our living quarters on Aride were literally borrowed from the birds, and they frequently reclaimed them. I lost count of the number of evenings when I was forced to get out of bed to usher confused Audubon shearwaters from the room. I'll never forget the pungent taste of the drinking water - rainwater that we collected from the guano-encrusted hut roof where seabirds dozed at night. And the sight of pure-white fairy terns fluttering just above my head is indelibly burned into my consciousness.

My stay in the Seychelles was limited to only a few months, but by the time I left I had gained a clear idea of what I should like to research for my Ph.D. In subsequent years, I have visited the Seychelles many times and have been able to visit corners of the archipelago that were far out of reach during my stay on Aride. Places such as Aldabra, an extraordinary raised coral atoll home to more giant tortoises than the Galapagos; Astove, a small island with a reef drop-off that made me feel though I was flying underwater; and Silhouette Island, whose densely forested slopes remain almost untouched by humankind.

Every visit to the Seychelles is special for me. Like a recurring dream, whenever I land on Aride, I can hardly believe that fate has been good enough to bring me back. Showing Zegrahm travelers around the forests I helped to plant, and introducing them to birds that I knew as chicks, is a very special pleasure that I look forward to sharing with you on our forthcoming expeditions.

The Many Faces of Melanesia

April 19, 2002 | Tags: Oceania

Spread across an expanse of the vast South Pacific, from New Guinea to the Solomons, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, the islands composing Melanesia present a dizzying array of indigenous cultures, magnificent bird and marine life, tropical flora, volcanic islands, and coral atolls. We've designed our Faces of Melanesia expedition, departing 08 November 2002, to present as complete a picture of these islands as possible, an 18-day voyage aboard the Clipper Odyssey. This voyage of discovery, combined with our pre-extension to the Papua New Guinea Highlands and Sepik River, and our New Caledonia post-extension, represents a comprehensive Melanesian exploration.

Traveling on the Clipper Odyssey, we will experience the ways of a different culture every couple of days. We will visit with the Trobriand Islanders of Kitava to view energetic, age-old dances imbued with ritualistic significance. Villagers welcome us with the blowing of conch shell trumpets and traditional songs as we come ashore on Santa Ana in the Solomons. Our stop on Tikopia well illustrates the cultural richness of the region. While Tikopia is geographically part of Melanesia, its inhabitants are actually Polynesian.

The artifacts and handicrafts reflect the ethnic melange. From the canoe builders of the Laughlin Islands to the woodcarvers of Ghizo and the crafters of the elegant headdresses of Ambrym, the artisans of Melanesia preserve the techniques of their forebears. Despite the many differences, the islanders share one trait: hospitality. We shall be warmly welcomed wherever we land.

In addition to our encounters with these thousands-of-years-old cultures, we shall witness history of a more recent vintage. A dramatic juxtaposition exists between the tranquility of island life today and the historical reality that this was the setting of the savage battles waged as Japan and the United States strove for control of the Pacific in World War II. Guadalcanal, in the Solomons, was a turning point in the war. There, we will visit war memorials and Henderson Field. Offshore, divers and snorkelers can explore Iron Bottom Sound, so-named for the large numbers of Japanese and American ships sunk beneath the waves. Today, these sundered vessels provide habitats for colorful reef fishes and luxuriant corals.

The natural wonders match the variety of the human inhabitants. Geologically, the islands represent three types found in the Pacific: volcanic, uplifted coral, and coral atoll. The Vanuatu Archipelago remains a hotbed of seismic activity. Its nine active volcanoes, two of which are below sea level, form part of the Ring of Fire. The dramatic terrain of some Melanesian islands was another factor that kept the human populations divided into small cultural and linguistic communities and impeded their penetration by outsiders.

The remarkably fecund landscapes make for spectacular birding and botanizing. During our Faces of Melanesia expedition in 2000, we identified 140 different species of birds. With our naturalists, we will hike the forests and marshes of Espirutu Santo, home to the rare chestnut-bellied kingfisher, mountain starling, and Santa Cruz ground pigeon. Other colorful species we may encounter during our travels include lorikeets, black-naped terns, and the greater frigatebird.

The undersea world dazzles with its kaleidoscope of life. As an ichthyologist and a diver, I am greatly anticipating November's departure. The seas of Melanesia are some of the warmest and clearest in the world. We will be able to snorkel or dive nearly every day of our voyage. Whether you prefer to snorkel off a pristine sandbar in the Laughlins, or join our dive master over a reef drop-off, you will come face-to-face with an astonishing variety of fish.

The vivid underwater landscape presents a tapestry of hard and soft corals, ranging from delicate seafans to staghorn formations, replete with colorful sponges, anemones, and giant Tridacna clams with iridescent blue mantles. Fish species are too numerous to list, but, among others, they include parrotfish, neon damsels, striped harlequin tusk-fish, and elegant Moorish idols. Of special interest will be our exploration of the USS President Coolidge, a troop ship that sank near Luganville during World War II and is one of the world's greatest wreck dives.

It is impossible to catalog all the wonders of this region. Come with me this November aboard Faces of Melanesia and experience firsthand the fantastic natural setting and time-honored traditions of Oceania.