Chris Hutchinson explores islands in the Atlantic on a memorable cruise

BROWSING through the Fred Olsen brochure, I was intrigued to read of “Fred’s enjoyment promise”, an offer made to new guests.

My interest was captured when I saw the itinerary for cruise liner Balmoral, including visits to the islands of the Azores, Cape Verdes, Canaries and Madeira.

Three days sailing on calm waters under blue skies to our first destination gave us the opportunity to relax and familiarise ourselves with the ship, it was apparent she was a refined vessel with amenities to suit all. We were impressed with presentations given on the ship’s excursions, and booked a series, which proved to be great value.

First port in the Azores was the island of Terceira. Our tour took us through beautiful countryside, on a narrow road we stopped as a herd of cows refused to let us pass. I was fascinated when the herdsman shouted one word which saw them form a straight line for us to continue. If only our grandsons would react to a one word request!

The highlight was the town of Angra, a World Heritage Site with colourful Portuguese architecture and cobbled streets. In the centre, a botanical garden adds to the charm.

Neighbouring town Praia de Vitoria, also in traditional mould, is a haven for shopping bargains and she who collects handbags bought two, with minimal damage to my wallet.

Next on to the island of Sao Miguel, we weaved through lush countryside, ablaze with hedges of hydrangeas and exotic shrubs, and reached the highest point, Sete Cidades, a former volcano which crumbled a quarter of a million years ago. Surrounded by forests, dales and pastures, it had two adjoining lakes in the centre, one is blue and the other green. Legend has it a young princess and shepherd boy were in love but the king made them separate, both shed tears as they parted and the princess had blue eyes and the shepherd green, forming the lakes. We stood for half an hour marvelling at nature’s best.

Leaving the Azores, we glided across the Atlantic to the Cape Verde islands off the coast of Africa, and there was much excitement from fellow passengers as a school of whales passed by at close range.

Arriving on the island of Sao Vincent, our tour’s first stop was the fish market where ladies dressed in colours straight from the rainbow were bargaining their exotic fish, then we moved to the African market where quality goods were sold at keen prices. Arriving at Cat Fish Bay, nestling between the Green Mountain and turquoise sea, we were entertained by local musicians playing traditional African/Brazilian music.

With local wine, beer and tasty delights served, I could have watched and listened all day.

The next island, Santiago, brought us to Cidade Elvha. Once a slave colony, the village lies between two rocky gorges surrounded by tropical trees and plants. A small church built in 1495 was visited by the great explorers, Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus, adjacent is Rue de Banana (Banana Road) a row of cottages with thatched roofs made from banana leaves. Both the church and cottages are said to be the oldest European buildings in Africa. At the village square we were greeted by locals in traditional dress, singing and dancing, and we watched enthralled.

During sunny sailing days to the Canary Islands, I spotted turtles bobbing alongside Balmoral’s wake. We were thoroughly enjoying life on board, with a variety of things to do, or relax with a book. Fine food and evening shows ended perfect days.

We wanted to explore the three Canary Islands away from the popular resorts. First Gran Canaria and the theme of the tour, The Essence of Gran Canaria, captured the sights we wanted to see, including the oldest quarter, Vegueta, a labyrinth of cobbled streets and small squares. We visited Columbus House which the great sailor used as a stopover on his journeys; artefacts and exhibits adorn every room and you can get lost in its history.

Tenerife was next, a must to visit is the inland village of Icod de Los Vinos with Mount Tiede as its backdrop. In the centre of the village reigns the 1,000-year-old Dragon Tree, as imposing as its backdrop. The old part, La Laguna, is vibrant with musicians and street entertainers creating a carnival atmosphere and here we enjoyed a delicious tapas lunch and local beer.

Then it was the smaller island of La Palma, where we walked through the enchanted Laurisilva Forest with imposing cliffs ablaze with vegetation, and sampled local olives, cheeses and wine.

Inland, the Canary Islands offer hidden secrets to explore. Madeira was our final island visit, we stayed overnight in port and meandered around Funchal, enjoying floral parks and boulevards. Our last tour took us through the picturesque fishing village of Camara de Lobos where Winston Churchill used to stay and paint. Next came Cabo Girao, the second highest sea cliff in the world. The glass floor viewing balcony protrudes from the cliff face, stepping on it is a little scary, but it's worth it for the sensational views. No visit would be complete without sampling the Madeira wines.

Sailing out of Madeira, Balmoral was joined by a group of dolphins bidding us farewell, leaping and twisting until we were out to the open sea. A fitting way to end a cruise.

Was “Fred’s enjoyment promise” kept? It certainly was.


Chris Hutchinson travelled with Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines. A similar cruise will be a 21-night Islands of the Canaries and Cape Verde on board Boudicca, departing Liverpool on November 20. Ports of call include: Oporto (from Leixoes), an overnight stay in Funchal, Mindelo, Praia, Santa Cruz (Tenerife), Las Palmas, Arrecife, Lisbon and Vigo, returning to Liverpool on December 11.

Prices start from £1,799 per person, based on an inside twin-bedded cabin, subject to availability, and includes all food and entertainment on board, and port taxes.

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