Set sail and see three European countries in eight days

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

You don't have to go to the Caribbean to try a cruise. Ian White took a short break around the coasts of France, Portugal and Spain

Cruises almost always start better than flights. There's no queuing to check-in, no crush through security, no long wait in the airport lounge. Within minutes of parking my car alongside Black Watch, one of Fred Olsen's floating hotels, I'd had my face digitally captured, my bags whisked from car to cabin, and my palm crossed with a swipe card, which served as my ID, room key and means of paying for anything bought on board. Being processed never felt so efficient.

I was setting sail from Dover on a cruise around the western coast of France and the Iberian peninsula. Three countries in eight days, presented as a mixture of onboard life and keenly organised snapshots of several coastal destinations along the way.

Black Watch can carry up to 868 passengers and has three restaurants, seven bars, shops, the Neptune Lounge – a ballroom-cum-theatre – gym, sauna, beauty salon, casino and internet room. Cabins are compact but well furnished. At 205ft long, Black Watch may be tiny compared with many of today's cruise ships, which regularly carry 4,000 passengers, but it still took a lot of marching up and down her grand, brass-railed staircases to find my way around all 11 decks.

The ship's décor is reminiscent of a grand country house and suave sophistication is on offer in the form of a strict dress code, gaming tables, cocktails, and chain-smoking. In the evening passengers meet in the Observatory Lounge for aperitifs. Three decks below, in the elegant Glenatar restaurant, five-course dinners are served. Afterwards, the Lido Lounge beckons for a nightcap and live music aimed at the "younger set".

Between big breakfasts, large lunches and gargantuan dinners, the boat stopped here and there. Our first port of call was Cherbourg, not one of France's prettiest towns, though it does evoke a certain nostalgia with its creaking old department store and charming art nouveaux Café du Theatre. The next day we crossed the notorious Bay of Biscay to Portugal – using the stairs became a little hazardous – docking the following morning at Leixoes. From there a coach tour was laid on to Oporto, a World Heritage Site, to visit the wine cellars of Ferriera, one of the country's best known port producers.

We sailed on to the naval shipbuilding harbour of El Ferrol in Spain in the late afternoon and, during the night, encountered rough seas. The wind roared, the waves crashed and the ship groaned an ominous lullaby. Next morning we called in at Santiago de Compostela, where a welcome shore excursion offered sanctuary in the cathedral at Plaza del Obradoiro, which houses the ashes of St James, patron saint of Spain. Originally built in 1075, the cathedral has been augmented with architectural add-ons in Gothic, Rennaisance and Baroque styles over the centuries.

Our next stop was Bilbao, said to be the most British city in Spain (well, it was raining). Landmarks such as an iron transport bridge built in 1893 are evidence of its industrial heritage, but its main attraction is Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum. Permanent installations include Richard Serra's sculptures wrought from steel shipbuilding plates and Jenny Holzer's dazzling "Installation for Bilbao", a row of floor-to-ceiling LED columns flashing words and messages in a constantly changing series of patterns and colours.

Finally, we called in at Honfleur, on the north-western coast of France. After another stormy night spent in the Bay of Biscay, this peaceful port, with its pretty harbour and tall, slate-roofed buildings, was a welcome sight.

By the end of the journey, I'd visited five locations in three countries without having to pack my bags and check out each morning. But next time I visit these destinations, it will be without the tyranny of a timetable.

COMPACT FACTS

How to get there

Fred Olsen (01473 742424; fredolsencruises.co.uk) is offering a similar seven-night Iberia cruise from Dover, departing 21 June, calling at Bilbao, La Coruna, Leixoes for Oporto, and St Peter Port, Guernsey, from £529 per person, based on two sharing, and including all meals and accommodation on board, and port taxes.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Getty
News
Women have been desperate to possess dimples like Cheryl Cole's
people Cole has secretly married French boyfriend Jean-Bernard Fernandez-Versini after just three months.
Arts and Entertainment
AKB48 perform during one of their daily concerts at Tokyo’s Akihabara theatre
musicJapan's AKB48 are one of the world’s most-successful pop acts
News
Ian Thorpe has thanked his supporters after the athlete said in an interview that he is gay
people
News
The headstone of jazz great Miles Davis at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York
news
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll has brought out his female alter-ego Agnes Brown for Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie
filmComedy holds its place at top of the UK box office
News
newsBear sweltering in zoo that reaches temperatures of 40 degrees
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Kathy Willis will showcase plants from the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew
radioPlants: From Roots to Riches has been two years in the making
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Extras
indybestThe tastiest creations for children’s parties this summer
Arts and Entertainment
TV The follow-up documentary that has got locals worried
Arts and Entertainment
Paolo Nutini performs at T in the Park
music
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

Arts and Entertainment
Eminem's daughter Hailie has graduated from high school
music
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Sales Manager (Fashion and Jewellery), Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Volunteer Digital Marketing Trustee needed

    Voluntary, reasonable expenses reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: Are you keen on...

    Java Swing Developer - Hounslow - £33K to £45K

    £33000 - £45000 per annum + 8% Bonus, pension: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: ...

    Day In a Page

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream as Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil

    Super Mario crushes the Messi dream

    Germany win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil
    Saharan remains may be evidence of the first race war, 13,000 years ago

    The first race war, 13,000 years ago?

    Saharan remains may be evidence of oldest large-scale armed conflict
    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Scientists find early warning system for Alzheimer’s

    Researchers hope eye tests can spot ‘biomarkers’ of the disease
    Sex, controversy and schoolgirl schtick

    Meet Japan's AKB48

    Pop, sex and schoolgirl schtick make for controversial success
    In pictures: Breathtaking results of this weekend's 'supermoon'

    Weekend's 'supermoon' in pictures

    The moon appeared bigger and brighter at the weekend
    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor