Cruise news / Why cruising the Mediterranean is magical
From the lavender fields of Provence to the spice-scented souks of Tangier, a western Mediterranean cruise is an experience you’ll never forget.
Marrying rich history and fascinatingculture with dazzling natural beauty,the western Mediterranean is perfectfor first-time cruisers wanting to diptheir toe in the water.
Not only dothese sailings take in many ofEurope’s most famous landmarks,from the Roman Colosseum to theboulevards of Cannes, but they tick offa string of superlative cities, as well as the French andItalian Rivieras, making them great value for money.
While the Med is always the focus, these fabulousitineraries can range as far as Portugal or even NorthAfrica. And best of all, you can time-travel throughcenturies of history in a matter of days, discoveringMalta’s megalithic temples and drinking in therenaissance glories of Italy.
Lasting anywhere from five to 14 nights, voyagestend to be city-centric, often overnighting in port, andthe most popular week-long itineraries typically sailround-trip from Rome or Barcelona.
There’s a Medcruise for every budget, too, from the wallet-friendlymega-ships of MSC to the six-star luxury of RegentSeven Seas.
And while April to October is the mainsailing season, an increasing number of cruisecompanies are hosting year-round voyages.
The options are almost endless, so turn the page andtake your pick...
Morocco - great for culture and shopping
The only African country to border boththe Atlantic Ocean and theMediterranean, Morocco is anintoxicating blend of African, Araband European cultures. And you
can experience the best of its vibrantmedinas, scented souks and tastytagines on a port call.
Overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar,and visible from Spain on a clear day,lies Tangier. Founded in ancient timesby Phoenician traders, and dubbed‘The White City’ after its whitewashedhillside medina, Tangier was a meccafor artists and intellectuals in the 1950sand 60s.
It’s still a magnet for visitorstoday, and in just one afternoon youcan tick off the city’s 15th-centuryfortified ramparts, the gloriouslyscented Mendoubia Gardens and theUNESCO-listed Hercules Caves – aunique archaeological site reachablevia a 15-minute taxi ride.
Despite its position on Morocco’sAtlantic Coast, Casablanca is includedin many a western Med cruise itinerary.Made famous by the classic filmstarring Humphrey Bogart, Morocco’smost populous city offers urbanbeaches, palm-lined 20th-centuryboulevards and an atmospheric ArtDeco district that transports you
back to its French colonial past.
But if time is pressing, the onemust-see monument in Casablanca –if not in all of Morocco – is the HassanII Mosque. Gleaming white in thesunshine, and filled with stunningmosaic decoration, this immensebuilding – completed in 1993 – canaccommodate 25,000 worshippersbeneath its retractable roof.
France - great for cuisine and glamour
From its picturesque squares andpastoral landscapes to its mouth-watering markets and world-famouswines, France’s Mediterraneancoastline is many holidaymakers’idea of heaven.
Most itineraries include Nice, longknown as the gateway to the glamorousRiviera. Larger cruise ships dock atnearby Villefranche, but that’s no more than a 10-minute cab ride fromthe centre of town, so hop ashore andpeople-watch in the pretty PlaceMassena, go on a baroque church-crawlin the Old Town, or marvel at artisticmasterpieces in the museums dedicatedto Matisse and Marc Chagall.
A little way along the coast you’llfind cosmopolitan Cannes. Turnedinto a holiday resort by British visitorsin Victorian times, it’s a town of twohalves. If you’re feeling flush, you canstroll along its seafront promenade,known as La Croisette, past high-endboutiques (think Gucci, Prada andChanel). Alternatively, you can get
lost among ancient frescoes in themedieval quarter of Le Suquet.
Another classic port of call isMarseille, where African and Frenchcultures colourfully intertwine. As wellas claiming 300 sunshine days a year,its very own Notre-Dame cathedral anda 2,400-year-old harbour, this greatmaritime city serves up a famous fishstew (bouillabaisse), and a fiery localaniseed liqueur (pastis de Marseille).
Marseille is also the gateway tolavender-scented Provence, thatstoried corner of southeastern Francewhere charming hilltop villagesmeander among Roman ruins. Andsome voyages venture even furthersouth to the craggy isle of Corsica,birthplace of Napoleon and nowa magnet for outdoor adventurers.
Portugal - great for culture and history
Yes, we do know our geography, and no,Portugal is not on the Med. ButEurope’s westernmost country is oftenincluded in sailings to the region, andit’s easy to see why. At one time thegreatest maritime nation on earth, itblends enthralling history and fine foodwith beaches to rival any in the world.
Lisbon, built where the Tagus Rivermeets the Atlantic, feels like an open-air museum, and Portugal’s hilly capitalis best appreciated from one of its manymiradouros (viewpoints).
Look down andyou’ll see vintage yellow trams trundlingfrom one historic neighbourhood to thenext, whilst the city’s UNESCO-listedwaterfront is crowded with monumentsto the 15th-century Golden Age ofPortuguese navigators.
Elsewhere you’ll find clusters of warehouses-turned-microbreweries, not to mentiona flourishing street-art scene.
A couple of hundred miles further upthe coast lies Porto, the city that lent itsname to the country itself, and to itsfamous fortified wine. Perched on thesteep banks of the River Douro, this2,000-year-old northern strongholdcharms with its Romanesque andGothic architecture, intricately tiledchurches, renowned wineries andgorgeous terrace bars. And right on the doorstep is a smattering of smallfishing towns that you can cycle to or visit as part of an organised tour.
Monaco - great for style and glamour
Situated a dozen miles from the city of Nice and barely nine miles from theItalian border, this fairytale principalityis the world’s second-smallestindependent state after the Vatican.
Famous for its F1 Grand Prix, thescores of superyachts that line itsharbour, and for being a tax haven,this moneyed microstate has a wealthof cultural riches, too. You’ll discoverthese among the medieval streets ofMonaco’s charming Old Town, set ona 200ft promontory overlooking the sea.
Also known as The Rock, this isthe site of the Prince’s Palace– oncehome to Hollywood star Grace Kelly,aka Princess Grace of Monaco. Youcan tour the State Apartments andthe nearby Cathedral, then dress toimpress at the famous Casino deMonte-Carlo (don’t even try to enterwearing shorts or trainers).
Other highlights include a spectaculartrio of seafront gardens and theOceanographic Museum, also knownas the Jacques Cousteau Museum.Clinging to the cliffs, this neo-baroquebeauty was founded in 1910 by PrinceAlbert I, dubbed ‘the Navigator Prince’.
Spain - great for beaches and late nights
Stretching more than a thousand milesfrom Catalonia to Cadiz, Spain’ssun-kissed Mediterranean coastline isone of the longest in Europe. As for thecountry’s port cities, they’re a headycocktail of world-class art, gloriouslygolden beaches and high-end cuisine.
A fixture on most itineraries, thestunning seaside city of Barcelona is alive with activity 24/7.
Here you can ride a cablecar to a 17th-centurycastle, shop till you drop on La Rambla,make a pilgrimage to Gaudi’s SagradaFamilia – the great architect’sunfinished ecclesiastical masterpiece – then time-travel back to the MiddleAges in the atmospheric GothicQuarter. And if you’re lucky enough tobe overnighting in port, Barcelona’sbars and clubs are legendary.
A little more than 200 miles furthersouth, smack in the centre of Spain’s Mediterranean coastline, lies Valencia. Known as the birthplace of paella,this city of superlatives also featuresEurope’s biggest aquarium and largestinner-city park, as well as the Queen Sofia Palace of the Arts – a futuristicperformance venue by locally borncelebrity architect Santiago Calatrava.
From Valencia, a few hours’ cruisingbrings you to the island of Mallorca –a Balearic paradise of golden beachesthat also offers great hiking in itsmountainous interior, not to mentionMichelin-starred restaurants andhistoric coastal castles.
Malta - great for architecture and history
Rising from the shimmering seabetween Sicily and Tunisia, thisEnglish-speaking three-islandarchipelago offers 130 miles of gorgeouscoastline to explore, along with a historythat predates the pyramids.
Despite suffering intense bombingduring the Second World War, Maltaboasts a wealth of pristine UNESCO-listed treasures, and from world-classwreck-diving and dreamy lagoons toancient walled cities and mysteriousmegalithic temples, there’s somethingto thrill every visitor.
Cruise ships enter one of the world’smost spectacular natural harbours inthe Maltese capital Valletta, a jewel-like city where ornate palaces and gildedcathedrals vie for your attention.Must-sees include the baroque TeatruManoel – one of the world’s oldesttheatres – and Caravaggio’s Beheadingof St John the Baptist, a celebratedmasterpiece that hangs on publicview in St John’s Cathedral.
Separated from the main island by a three-mile channel, Gozo is Malta’srockier and more rural sister, with acoastline of sleepy bays and family-runharbourside restaurants. Thought tobe the inspiration for Calypso’s isle in Homer’s Odyssey, it’s also home tothe amazing 5,000-year-old Ggantijaneolithic temples, among the oldestmanmade structures on earth.
Meanwhile, on car-free Comino – atiny islet sandwiched between Gozo and Malta – the famous Blue Lagoonoffers crystal-clear waters, perfect forswimming, snorkelling and exploringthe nearby sea caves.
Italy - great for cuisine and culture
With its ‘boot’ extending far into the Mediterranean Sea, Italyoffers sun-blessed coastlines and atraveller’s dream of panoramic vistas,postcard-perfect villages and medievalcities. And La dolce vita comes in many forms– from peering into the crater of MountVesuvius to savouring artisan gelato inthe gracious squares of Pisa.
Scores of Mediterranean cruisescall at Civitavecchia, the cruise port for Rome, and from here it’s just anhour by bus or train to the Eternal City itself, where 3,000 years of historyhave left their mark in form of theColosseum, the Roman Forum, thebohemian neighbourhood of Trastevereand Michelangelo’s stunning frescoesin the Sistine Chapel.
No more than 140 miles to the south,but somehow part of a different world,lies the colourful port city of Naples.This is your gateway to lemon-scentedSorrento, the ghostly ruins of Pompeiiand the achingly beautiful Amalfi Coast.It’s also the ferry terminal for Capri,the delightful island where Romanemperors once holidayed, and wherethe super-rich keep villas to this day.
Sailing north again brings you toLivorno, within striking distance ofglorious Pisa. A major maritime powerin its day, Pisa is now an architecturalshowpiece, with its medieval towerhomes, gleaming white Romanesquecathedral and – of course – thatfamously canted campanile.
Italy’s fourth major Mediterraneanport is Genoa, nearer the Frenchborder, where a trip ashore can takein the gorgeous Italian Riviera andthe famous pastel-coloured hilltophomes of Portofino.
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