Every year, a photography competition is open to Probus members across Australia and in 2017, the first-prize winner of that competition – in association with Cruise Traveller and Voyages to Antiquity – was Jenny Kohlhagen. The theme of the competition this year was “40 years of friendship, fellowship and fun” and Jenny’s photo outshined all others, making her the lucky winner of a London to Rome sailing aboard Aegean Odyssey. This was her experience of small-ship cruising.

Jenny’s winning image

What a fantastic prize! It really was a ‘Grand Voyage’ from London to Rome aboard the MV Aegean Odyssey.  Thanks to the amazing generosity of both Cruise Traveller and Voyages to Antiquity – who sponsored the wonderful 2017 Probus photography competition – we enjoyed a fascinating journey taking in various ports of call and almost daily land-based excursions along the coastlines of France, Spain, Portugal and Italy. Eighteen ports in thirty days, with multiple-night stays at some.

Stunning view across Florence, Italy.

The crew on board were so obliging and couldn’t do enough for the passengers. The Voyages to Antiquity trip ran smoothly from beginning to end, with staff on hand to offer assistance and information from the moment we cleared customs at Heathrow. How glad we were to be on a ship with only a few hundred passengers, rather than the thousands on the massive cruise ship further down the docks!  One of the biggest benefits we noticed about small-ship cruising was that Aegean Odyssey was able to navigate up the estuaries and rivers where the larger cruise ships could not, and dock closer to the heart of each destination due to her smaller size, enabling us, on many occasions, to walk into town.

The small town of Bayeux, France

Highlights? Definitely the on board lectures, providing a greater understanding of the history of the areas we visited and of the history of Europe. These informative and, at times, very amusing lectures were a definite ‘must do’ on the daily itineraries for all on board. An absolute 12 out of 10! Our excursions were so much more enjoyable for having that background information before we set out. The arrival of the Normans in France; The Reconquest and Origins of Portugal; Medical tourism; The Cathars and the Albigensian Crusade; The Great Plague of Marseille; Sex, Nudity and Greek Vase Painting; Pilgrimage and the Road to Santiago; Early Greek and Roman Settlements  and more!

We were treated to a lengthy, early evening tour of the Alhambra Palace at Grenada – cooler, wonderful light for photography and devoid of tourists – other than our own group. What an absolute delight!

Alhambra Palace

From exploring the very old Roman city of Barcino, located under the Barcelona Museum, to seeing the stunning new civic buildings in Valencia, it really was a trip through the ages. Fascinating tales of local people commemorated in the cities we visited – get to work on Google and check out the amazing story of Maria Pita, the first woman in Spain to be awarded a military pension in her own right. In 1589, Maria led the soldiers and townspeople of La Coruna (in the Galicia region of Spain) to a victory over the invading English troops. Architectural delights – the Tower of Hercules at La Coruna, a 1900 year-old structure built by the Romans and still functioning.

Inside the old Roman city of Barcino

The lovely French holiday spot, the Isle de Re, just off the coast from La Rochelle was a delightful surprise. The wine producing region of Bordeaux and the chateaux region around Vouvray, accessed from the port of Nantes, were stunning.

Portugal, with its numerous eucalypt plantation was still suffering many bushfires, but we were able to visit Guimaraes, with a lovely UNESCO heritage-listed medieval old-town centre, where they happened to be holding markets that day as well as hosting a wedding in the village church. And the fresh produce market in Aix-en-Provence was a treat not to be missed – it was not your average supermarket fare.

Market in Aix en Provence

We wandered around the beautiful Italian villages of St Margherita and Portofino; spent hours soaking up the artworks in the awe-inspiring Uffizi Gallery in Florence and marvelled at the architecture of the Colosseum in Rome.

Homeward bound, we reflected on our newfound knowledge of Europe, new friends made on the cruise, and what has to be one of the best photography competition prizes in Australia.

If you have been inspired by Jenny’s blog and her photographs from the destinations she visited, then why not explore the breath-taking sites of the Western Mediterranean for yourself. We have a selection of cruises to Spain that feature Roman Cartagena, the vibrant city of Barcelona and river cruising along the Guadalquivir River. You can also revel in the glamour of the French Riviera, admire Papal Palace in Avignon and the remarkable fortified city of Carcassonne on our visits to France. If you’d like to get closer to the Grand Voyage that Jenny herself embarked on, our 2018 ‘Grand Voyage To The Mediterranean’ is available to book now.