Towns still have the charm of the undiscovered.
The true measure of a charter yacht captain and crew is not how they handle the smooth seas and the balmy days, but in how they make the best of it when the weather turns ugly. After all, when you’re paying thousands of dollars a day for the privilege of being aboard a luxury yacht, you don’t want to watch that money going down the drain while you sit out wind and rain in some harbor.
Our charter cruise aboard Slipstream was just such a test of a crew and, by the end of the week, it was abundantly clear that their seamanship, quiet competence, good humor and ingenuity had carried the day.
One would assume that a charter linking the two jetset capitals of Monaco and Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda would be as smooth as a glass of Louis Roederer Cristal, and that was exactly what we expected as we helicoptered along the Riviera coastline bound for Monte Carlo. Our chopper swooped low over the grandiose pillared façade of the Oceanographic Museum and the Port de Monaco opened before us, tightly packed with megayachts of all sizes and ages.
In spite of having a trackside charter during the hectic and demanding days of the Monaco Grand Prix, Capt. Phil Stevens and his crew awaited us in crisp whites at the gangplank. In seconds, our luggage had disappeared and we were enjoying chilled flutes of champagne on the upper deck, and amuse bouches from the gourmet chef.
Our plan was to harbor-hop the serrated coastline of Corsica, sampling the small harbors and quiet coves before arriving in the jetset playground of Porto Cervo on Sardinia. But when Capt. Phil approached us with the suggestion that it might be a good idea to depart a little earlier that evening than planned, I knew that he had looked at the weather chart and seen something. The unspoken implication was that if we didn’t get the heck out of Dodge, we might be there for a while.
As the yacht slipped its moorings and eased out of the harbor at dusk, it was hard not to think of the famous who had gone before us: industry magnates and sheiks, movie stars and kings. Monaco truly is a fairy-tale kingdom, and the rows of megayachts are simply the icing on the cake.
Our charter aboard Slipstream had been organized by the Nigel Burgess charter firm; at 142 feet, she is far from the largest Burgess offering. Built in 2001 by Warren Yachts in Australia, she also isn’t the newest but, by the end of the week, it was clear why she is one of the most popular charter yachts in the entire Mediterranean.
As we cleared the harbor, it was time for our first encounter with the cuisine aboard Slipstream. Quite frankly, the owner of a Michelin-starred restaurant would cry with shame if he saw how well we dined. Carefully tailored to individual tastes (a form is prepared beforehand of guest preferences), the meals were leisurely and exceptional. From salads that blended tastes and textures to creamy risottos to filets under a blanket of tangy béarnaise, it was too good. Freshly caught fish, vegetables straight from the farm and impeccable meats were the rule, as were the delightful wines from Slipstream‘s “cellar.
The accommodations are equal to the five-star cuisine, and I drew the owner’s stateroom, which spans the full width of Slipstream on the main deck. Entry is through a study, and the spacious suite has a lounge, dressing room, his-and-hers baths, and an immense bed facing a hidden plasma television. Picture windows on each side allowed us to look out over spectacular Corsican scenery every morning.
Our plan had been to spend the first day in St-Florent at the northern end of Corsica but, with a storm not far behind, the captain had kept moving. Now we were anchored off Calvi, with its ochre bastions atop a ville of red roofs and belfries. But the morning light showed more than the picturesque village: long lines of graybearded seas march past before booming onto a lee shore. There would be no going ashore today. The good news was that we were all perfectly content aboard Slipstream. The skylounge proved to be a popular gathering place, with club chairs and sofas surrounded by windows, and the outside deck with its shaded settee was our favorite spot for breakfast, devouring fluffy croissants, delicious omelettes and freshly squeezed juices. Sea air makes you hungry!
Corsica’s superb beaches and quaint towns have been discovered by tourists, and the quiet anchorages are likely to be more popular with yachts than ever before. But even with these incursions, Corsica remains stunning for its untamed side: gorgeous blue waters and hillsides covered with Spanish broom, hyacinth and scrub brush. The little towns are Italy before Under the Tuscan Sun, with narrow cobbled streets, pleasant bistros and friendly shopkeepers.
That afternoon, the weather cleared so we headed to our planned stop at Girolata, which proved to be the very essence of old Corsica. Hidden in a small cove, Girolata is reachable only by sea if you don’t count a dirt mule path/road. A 17th-century Genoese guard tower still stands watch over the harbor and its 15 residents, and we found wonderful handmade jewelry in the only shop on the waterfront. The next day took us to Bonifacio, which clings impossibly to vertical cliffs lining a deeply cleft harbor.
The next day, we cruised past where the kitchen of one of the cliffside homes had suddenly fallen into the sea in mid-soup, mercifully when the cook had stepped away to look for ingredients. Later, we stopped in the Maddalena Islands to play with the fleet of water toys aboard Slipstream, from the jet skis to the wakeboards, towed inflatable banana to the speedboats.
When our gleaming blue and silver yacht slid into Porto Cervo, we found ourselves stopping traffic ashore and afloat as people paused to watch the stunning megayacht. Capt. Phil greased her into a difficult slip as easily as you’d park a bicycle, and we had one last flute of champagne on the upper deck, looking over the bougainvillea-covered villas of this jetset paradise.
Contact: Nigel Burgess;www.nigelburgess.com