The Significance of the Spice Islands

8th March 2018

South-East Asia is filled with gorgeous paradise islands and some of the most isolated and pristine beaches anywhere in the world. A cruise within this region, visiting destinations throughout either Thailand or Indonesia, offers one of the best places to soak up the sun and relax. Sailing aboard one of the three traditional tall sailing ships of the Star Clippers fleet also adds a unique level of authenticity to your voyage.


Travel back up to 500 years, however, and these waters will have been teeming with tall ships – all searching for new lands and precious cargo. Word travelled fast that these islands did indeed hold a range of valuable treasures. Unlike the gold of California or the tea of China, these islands were known for their spices including mace, nutmeg, cloves and pepper.

One destination in particular was targeted by explorers from Europe – the Malaysian island of Malacca. Throughout the Middle Ages, this island was highly contested by various nations, with the Portuguese staking their claim followed by the Dutch and the British. Many ships came to a fateful end prior to completing their voyage, but those that were successful returned to Venice, which was one of the leading trading centres in the world at the time.

The first Portuguese voyages began as early as the 1520’s, with British and Dutch voyages commencing 80 years later. A total of three vessels were sent during the first British voyage, although only one of these successfully completed the journey. Indeed, getting to Malacca was no easy feat when you consider this was at a time before the Panama and Suez Canals, and vessels were nowhere near as robustly built as they are today. Vessels were required to go around the treacherous Cape Horn of Argentina and head west or, more commonly, head eastward around South Africa’s Cape of Good Hope.

Malacca Malaysia

Over time, the arrival of western visitors started to have a noticeable impact on the architecture and culture within the city. Dutch and Portuguese influence is noticeable across a number of government buildings, churches, squares and fortifications. In the nearby city of Georgetown, the British influence is much more noticeable, while both of these settlements are also home to an array of ornate palaces and spectacular private mansions.

As you wander the streets of Malacca, the impact of the spice trade still remains evident today. Wonderful aromas fill the air and will act as your guide to a number of authentic street food stalls, where you can sample some of the very finest cuisine Malaysia has to offer.

You can experience the Malaysian island of Malacca for yourself on selected South-East Asia sailings aboard the traditionally-designed Star Clipper. Alternatively, Star Clippers can also offer a range of traditional tall ship sailings in regions including the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.

For more information, contact our friendly team via the freephone number above or chat to an advisor online.

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