The Western Mediterranean
A cruise to the western Mediterranean sector is everything a real traveller dreams of: Taking walking tours of quaint and winding cobbled streets, enjoying the balmy climate of the Mediterranean cities and villages on the cruise’s port-stops, where the air is scented with lavender and brightly decorated al fresco restaurants offering a mix of Spanish, French and Italian cuisine beckon gourmands to come sample local foods are just some of the highlights offered by Western Mediterranean cruises.
A typical Mediterranean cruise season starts in April and ends in October, thus enabling passengers to sail either during the sublime European summer or during the high-revelry months of July-August, when sun-seekers from the northern hemisphere hit these beautiful shores in large numbers, depending on the personality of the traveller.
However, it must be mentioned that the standard Western Mediterranean cruise typically begins in the far West (think Lisbon, situated on the Portuguese coast) and extends to Venice, located on the eastern coast of Italy. Among the biggest draws of this beautiful cruise region are the glitzy resort towns that large luxury liners can enter easily, namely Capri, Nice, Marseille, Cannes, Monaco and Amalfi, in addition to cities made famous by Hollywood movies, like Casablanca, Naples, Barcelona, Venice and Genoa.
For those choosing to combine a land and sea journey on this cruise sector, must-visit shore excursions or even over-night stays include the chic town of Portofino, where the shorefront is neatly lined with colourful villas, lush vegetation on the rising hillsides and along the picturesque valleys, visit to the San Giorgio fortress and local vino sampling with olive tasting opportunities at the harbour cafes dotting the streets.
Valletta in Malta and Ajaccio in Corsica are two other must-visit port stops on the Western Mediterranean cruise, especially for those that love history and culture. The former is a 16th century city built like a fort, replete with stone streets from a bygone era where the Knights of St John were housed. Visitors can view the Palace of the Grand Knights, take photographs of the grand Baroque architecture and savour the delights of Italian-Maltese cuisine. In Ajaccio, the birthplace of Napolean where a museum is named after him, cruise passengers can delight in roaming the quaint pastel-tinted French resort town on foot or by cycle, visiting a magnificent citadel, cathedral and sandy beaches, lounge at the waterfront boulevard, tasting local eats at the various cafes and restaurants and come back to their luxury liner with tasty Corsican cheese available at the daily market to view a spectacular sun-set from their decks.
Pick of the Ships
Braemar: Fred. Olsen's' tastefully-decorated ship offers a high level of comfort and a very British style of cruise. Conveniently, her Mediterranean itineraries operate round-trip from Dover, eliminating the need for return flights to the Med from London - a particularly wise move during the 2004 Athens Olympics. A 14-night cruise on September 7 calls at Almeria, Spain; Ajaccio, Corsica; Toulon, France; Barcelona; Cadiz, Spain; and Lisbon.
Costa Romantica: Costa Cruises' chic, 4-star ships lend an authentic Italian flavour to Mediterranean cruising. A 10-night Iberia Morocco round-trip cruise on this dazzling, newly refurbished ship departs Savona (on Italy's Ligurian coast) on September 10, calling at Barcelona; Alicante, Spain; Lisbon; Cadiz, Spain; Casablanca, Morocco; Gibraltar and Malaga.
Star Clipper: This 4-star, four-masted luxury sailing ship is by far the most romantic way to explore the Mediterranean. It is large enough for two pools, a library, piano lounge and indoor/outdoor bar but small enough to slip into secluded bays that larger ships miss out on. A 7-night round-trip Tyrrhenian cruise departs Cannes in September, calling at the French island of Porquerolles; Costa Smeralda, Sardinia; Bonifacio and Calvi, Corsica; and St Tropez.