On This Mediterranean Cruise There's No Need to Leave the Ship for an Unforgettable Culinary Experience

Eat, drink, and cook your way from Italy to Istanbul aboard Oceania’s Riviera.


Courtesy of Oceania Cruises

In a flowering garden in the mountains on Turkey’s Aegean coast, at Kirazli Sultan Konak, a boutique hotel and restaurant, cooking instructor Muslume Corak speedily rolls a mound of dough into a nearly sheer rectangle. She cuts it into teensy precise squares before filling each with ground lamb and pinching the sides shut to make manti. Next, it’s time for me and my 10 fellow travelers — all voyaging on Oceania’s Riviera, on a 10-day sail between Trieste, in Italy, and Istanbul — to try. We have to laugh at our clumsiness fashioning such delicate dumplings, but nevertheless toast our attempts with a Pinot Grigio – like 2015 Turasan Emir, an indigenous grape grown only in the Cappadocia region, then feast together on an alfresco lunch. Boiled manti doused with creamy yogurt, lamb-stuffed zucchini blossoms, near-melting roasted eggplant, lamb kebabs, and local apricots and plums fill our wood-planked table overlooking green hills and a mosque, far from Ephesus’ tourist crowds.

Ordinarily, I seek out my own culinary discoveries on shore when cruising, but the experience of traveling aboard the 1,238-passenger Riviera is no ordinary cruise. There are numerous food and wine outings of the kind that would be difficult to secure independently, such as an olive oil degustation at an estate outside Kotor, Montenegro. There are culinary discoveries aplenty on board, too. Oceania Cruises boldly declared the Riviera (and its twin, Marina) purpose-built for food lovers more than a decade ago, and the vessels harbor complimentary high-end specialty restaurants and hands-on cooking classes taught by chef-educators.

On my cruise, I marvel over the stellar ingredients and expert techniques evident in every dining venue, from casual to fancy. Over at Jacques, the namesake eatery of iconic chef Jacques Pépin, chefs patiently caramelize onions for the richest, most deeply flavored onion soup I’ve savored in ages. At Red Ginger, which embraces modern Asian fusion cuisine, chefs toss crispy duck into watermelon salad, fashion sole into tempura, and embellish pad thai with fat lobster chunks.

Red Ginger’s chef-instructors teach the restaurant’s most popular dishes at the Culinary Center, the first-of-its-kind cooking school at sea, so my husband and I sign up for a class. We gather around the instructor as he demonstrates each step, and then, back at our individual stations, we duplicate it ourselves. I’m excited to work with rice paper for fresh pomelo spring rolls, but how do you soften it just enough to roll it without tearing? We learn tricks like moistening our hands and work surface, and to firmly roll the filling, really packing it snugly.

Later that evening, we dine at La Reserve, the only restaurant on board that charges a fee, for the six-course extravaganza paired with three different Dom Pérignon vintages (including generous pours of their 2008 rosé).

Wine is also front and center at another memorable moment — an excursion to a winery in Santorini, Greece. Our van driver weaves along narrow roads up steep hills, the Aegean a constant shimmering blue below. On a random roadside, we pull over so our guide can show us the grapevines. Growers cultivate the vines into low basket-like shapes, protecting the grapes from the sun, heat, and fierce island winds. We applaud nature and ingenuity before continuing to Santo Winery in Pyrgos, a village not far from Fira, Santorini’s capital.

Many people return home from cruises raving about jaw-dropping world wonders like the Acropolis. Not me. I’m still thinking about all that I’ve eaten and learned. 

10-day cruise from Trieste to Athens from $1,499, oceaniacruises.com

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