Holiday like an oligarch as you sail from Athens to Dubrovnik via Greece's most secluded and enchanting islands aboard a cruise yacht so luxurious it resembles a floating boutique hotel
“You never truly know someone, until you've walked a mile in their shoes.” It's an old adage that speaks for humanity's ability to imagine another person's situation, and one that seems very appropriate after spending a week on the Crystal Esprit. Everything about this luxury yacht, from the chic interiors to the gracious service is designed to make each guest feel like an oligarch with the world at their fingertips, if only for a short while.
Refurbished in 2015, the Esprit is the very epitome of elegance: it boasts a beautiful sun deck with splash pool, a one-room spa for massages and facials and the gorgeous Cove bar, where passengers gather nightly to sip Champagne and mingle. Like other ultra-luxe lines, Crystal is all-inclusive, so the price includes drinks, gratuities and a few excursions.
The décor is no less exquisite and resembles a floating boutique hotel; the cabins in particular stand out with their marble bathrooms and luxurious furniture and fabrics. Top London-based design team AD Associates were hired to ensure the Esprit could compete with the world's best – they clearly succeeded.
But this is just the beginning. The Esprit also has a retractable aft marina, where guests can try their hand at windsurfing, kayaking, jet skiing, diving or paddle-boarding, at no extra charge. Feeling energetic, we made full use of the kayaks and jet-skis most days - here, the Esprit's staff wisely allow passengers to go at their own pace and offer as much, or as little tuition as guests need.
Meanwhile, the more adventurous amongst you will want to experience Esprit's most tantalising feature, a three-person submersible. Bought for a cool £2million, the C-Explorer 3 offers guests a unique opportunity to descend beneath the waves in a plexiglass cabin and marvel at the aquatic life below. The expedition comes at considerable additional expense, of course, but the best things in life are rarely free. And besides, to my knowledge no other luxury yacht boasts its very own submarine. It represents the very essence of modern luxury, being able to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
However, despite all the bells and whistles, the itinerary does not play second fiddle to the yacht itself. On our voyage, we sailed from Athens to Dubrovnik via Greece's most secluded and enchanting islands – off-the-beaten-track is very much the ethos of a small vessel like the Esprit. It was a glorious journey through fascinating and crucially, unspoiled places.
Hydra, an idyllic hideaway situated in the Aegean Sea between the Saronic Gulf and the Argolic Gulf, definitely falls into the unspoiled category. The views on approach to the island from our water taxi were stunning - sumptuous mansions and humbler vernacular homes flank the marble-quayed harbour in all directions.
It shot to fame in 1956 as the location for The Girl in Black, directed by Michael Cacoyannis, yet today Hydra remains endearingly time-warped: the town is blissfully free of cars, and modern development is forbidden. There are also plenty of small boutiques dotted around the town, selling crafts, local olive oil and high-quality leather goods.
Even better still for shopaholics is the historic capital of Corfu. For a relatively small destination, Corfu Town boasts an astonishing amount of stores, selling everything from expensive designer goods, leather products and jewelry to tacky trinkets and forgettable souvenirs. But trust me, if your preference is to spruce up your wardrobe rather than stare at monuments, then you will find plenty to keep you interested.
Overall though, I must concede that we spent the majority of the week enjoying the life of Riley onboard the Esprit, rather than committing hours and hours to sightseeing. Which, ironically enough, is both the vessel's greatest strength and weakness, for so seductive are its charms that you actually find yourself dreading the outside world.
For a start, the staff are simply exceptional. Things on board are arranged to suit you rather than the other way round - the level of service during our trip put most 5-star hotels to shame. Yet everything is very relaxed and there is little in the way of a dress code for example. During the day everyone was very low-key, wearing shorts and summer casual attire, although in the evening a few glamorous outfits did emerge (this is optional not obligatory).
This obviously suited the yacht's clientele, an international, well-traveled and physically active crowd who would meet nightly in The Cove to exchange stories and sip cocktails. The average age was 50 plus, but then again age didn't come into it; making friends is very easy on a vessel like the Esprit and passengers provide their own entertainment – no tacky shows and poolside lap-dancing here, thank you very much.
Instead, passengers were more concerned with savouring the exquisite culinary art on display at the ultra-luxe Yacht Club restaurant. Presided over by head chef Adam Jenkins, who cut his teeth at the Ritz and the Sloane Club in London, the food was outstanding and memorable.
There were no flashy gimmicks, instead the emphasis is firmly on pampering service and fine dining; beef carpaccio, dover sole and rack of lamb are just some of the gastronomic highlights. In addition, the kitchen was very flexible in its approach to mealtimes and I made several off-piste requests, such as rosemary foccacia, that were happily granted.
The extensive selection of exclusive wines must also not be omitted from this discussion. Fine and Rare is the sommelier's ethos (in addition to the complimentary selection) and connoisseurs can expect such gems as Cristal 2007 and 1995 Krug Clos d'Ambonnay at over £2,000 per bottle.
Yet I must concede that the Esprit isn't for everyone: there is little in the way of organised entertainment and it lacks the amenities of larger yachts. But then, larger vessels couldn't hope to compete with the Esprit on so many levels, particularly in the culinary and service department.
There are plenty of firms that cater to passengers who want quantity over quality. I hope Crystal's ethos never moves an inch.