Azamara Club Cruises: Spotlight On Beautiful Ports Of Call

Some people travel to sightsee. Some travel to learn a new language, and others, to immerse themselves in new and different cultures. I happen to travel for a combination of all those reasons, but most importantly, to explore the local food and drink culture. Azamara Club Cruises provides the vehicle for total destination immersion, where guests have the ability to eat and drink onboard and then do more of the same, but this time, in exotic locales.

The boutique cruise line now offers longer stays and more overnights in port that allow guests to grab dinner in a quaint town of Livorno and go dancing late-night in Monaco, which is often simply not an option on more traditional cruise lines.

Recently, I sailed on the Azamara Journey for an eight-night tour of Tuscany and Provence. While on board, there were opportunities to dine in the two specialty restaurants, a steakhouse and seafood restaurant, as well as multiple casual dining options. It was the best of both worlds for a full-time eater and drinker. I was able to fuel up in the morning with the in-room breakfast service that I leisurely ate on my veranda while plotting the day ahead. (My usual became the corned beef hash with poached eggs over gluten-free toast).

While on land, I couldn't run fast enough to local gastronomic treasures, like the olive oil shop in St. Paul de Vence, the picturesque Tuscan winery that served gluten-free pasta, or the best fried artichokes in Rome in the Jewish ghetto.

Below is a roundup of the ports of call including: Rome, Livorno, Monaco, Nice, St. Tropez, and Elba, and the corresponding culinary highlights of the trip:

Rome: We began and ended our Azamara journey in the eternal city of Rome. While there are many tours offered for those who are looking to see the unforgettable sights of Rome, like the Pantheon, the Coliseum, the Vatican, and so on, we decided to meander through the city and check out the Jewish ghetto. We made our way to Nonna Betta for traditional Roman Jewish cuisine. On the menu were fried artichokes and whole sea bass roasted to perfection. (Don't worry, we spent hours in the Coliseum, too! Unforgettable photo op at dusk.)

Livorno/Florence: The beauty of Livorno is that once you're in port, guests can choose to venture to Florence, Lucca, and nearby Pisa. If you've spent time in any one of those cities before, you can easily amend your schedule to explore somewhere new. On day one we visited the small town of Maiano, nestled on top of a hill just outside of Florence. We stopped at local restaurant Trattoria Le Cave di Maiano for an unforgettable meal consisting of burrata and tomato, prosciutto and melon, zucchini flower risotto, and grilled beef. That night, we visited Goldoni Theater to catch an exclusive performance of three Italian tenors who performed classics from famous operas such as Rigoletto.

Livorno/Lucca/Pisa: While still in port in Livorno, it was time for an Italian wine tasting and food pairing. Off we went to the town of Lucca to the Torre a Cenaia Estate winery in the hills of Valdera. We toured the large vineyard in a horse-drawn carriage before we began our tasting that was paired with a mixture of antipasti and homemade pasta with ragù. We also sampled the Torre del Vajo, one of the most popular wines produced on the estate. (They were kind enough to serve me delicious gluten-free pasta.) Before returning to the ship, we had one last photo op at the Leaning Tower of Pisa to complete our visit to the region.

Kristen Oliveri

Monte-Carlo/Monaco: Beautiful, super-wealthy Monaco looked to me like a Hollywood movie set, until I realized that in fact, I was actually hobnobbing with the elite. We visited the famous Café de Paris for a rather unusual event: Oktoberfest. The classically French restaurant transformed into a beer garden serving traditional German food and beverages, showcasing the band Echt Gaut, accompanied by the Bavarian singer Sabine Kapfinger. When the group had had its fill of German rieslings and the beers of the Bavarian state brewery Weihensteph, we made a final stop at the famous Monaco Casino to play a hand at roulette and throw back a dirty martini, à la James Bond.

St. Tropez: We could think of nothing better to do in the home of Bridget Bardot then take a leisurely stroll and soak in the scenery. We started with an espresso to keep us fully motivated while bouncing from store to store and peeking into the windows of shops that were closed for lunchtime. My favorite discovery came when I saw a woman strolling down a side street with a pale-green signature Ladurée macaron bag. Within a few seconds, I was in front of the beautiful shop right on the water. And I thought that a box of four macarons was plenty for my afternoon snack, right? Wrong! I also swung by an Italian-owned gelato shop in St. Tropez where I had one small bowl of baci and hazelnut gelato, for good measure.

Elba: The island of Elba is famous for being Emperor Napoleon's residence during his exile. For an Azamara excursion, we enjoyed an exclusive visit to Villa San Martino, the summer island residence of Napoleon. After a tour of the stunning villa, we toasted to Napoleon during an exclusive champagne cocktail reception including fresh fruit where we swapped stories of an era gone by and took full advantage of the picturesque photo op.

Nice: While still docked in Monaco, we drove through the neighboring town of Nice to our final destination, St. Paul de Vence, a 16th-century walled village that is the epitome of all that is Provence. The quaint cobblestone streets were filled with art galleries and  boutique shops like Boutique Première Pression Provence for olive oil and Cave de Saint-Paul for French wine. Another must-do activity is frequenting popular sidewalk cafés for a cup of coffee or a small bite. We happened to pop into Restaurant L'Atelier for a quick meat and cheese plate after purchasing a selection of olive oils, naturally.