by April Hutchinson, The Telegraph, August 20, 2018
A cruise can provide plenty of storytelling currency, especially in the Mediterranean, where one day you could be roaming the gardens of Sicily and soon after on the same trip, taking a private cooking class at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Sorrento.
A clutch of luxury cruise lines such as Silversea, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn, Crystal Cruises, SeaDream Yacht Club and Ponant combine both classical and niche port stops with culturally enriching and exclusive trips ashore, while also offering the finest of service and cuisine back on board.
Cruising in the Mediterranean also means a long season that often extends into October and November when crowds have thinned out.
One of the beauties of a cruise is the number of places you’ll have chance to soak up local atmosphere, history, cuisine and coastline during just one trip. On a seven-night Mediterranean cruise with Crystal Cruises from Athens to Rome, you get to visit not only the classical Greek capital, but arguably one of the mainland’s most attractive towns, Nafplion, as well as one of the country’s most famous islands, Santorini.
The same cruise will also take you onto the ancient honey-coloured Maltese capital of Valletta, as well as Taormina, before heading onto Sorrento, where you can try a cooking class at the Michelin-rated Ristorante Don Alfonso.
There’s certainly plenty of choice in the Mediterranean, where Seabourn has four ships exploring the region with more than 66 departure options from 14 ports. Thanks to a partnership with Unesco, Seabourn can also include some special tours from Mediterranean ports of call.
From La Joliette, Marseille, you can drive through Provence to spend the day in historic Avignon with a local photographer, shooting sites such as Popes’ Palace, a Unesco World Heritage Site in the heart of Avignon.
As part of the same 11-day Italy and Spanish Splendours cruise on Seabourn Odyssey, you could also take in two Unesco-inscribed works in Barcelona – Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau and Antonio Gaudi’s famous Palau Guell.
If Spain is your passion, you can embark on an even deeper exploration of the country on Ponant’s Iberian Shores eight-day cruise aboard Le Bougainville. It starts in Barcelona, then takes you to Palma de Majorca, Valencia and Altea, a superb example of a typical Spanish village.
From Malaga, there’s also the opportunity of a private tour by night at the incredible Alhambra in Granada and you will also be able to discover Cadiz and Seville, before leaving the ship in Lisbon.
An 11-Day Italy & Spanish Splendours itinerary on Seabourn Odyssey (sailing between Civitavecchia and Barcelona) costs from £2,999pp and departs October 27, 2018, seabourn.com
The hot new spot
Croatia has now established itself on travellers’ wishlists and some lines feature cruises that focus almost entirely on its Adriatic ports and historic highlights mixed with Montenegro, which boasts a beautiful coastline of its own.
Ponant’s Best of Croatia cruise means you can access seven cities in seven nights, including Korcula – which some say was the birthplace of Marco Polo – then Unesco-listed Dubrovnik, and on to Montenegro’s Bay of Kotor, known for its captivating fjord scenery and namesake medieval city, also Unesco-listed.
Other stops include Sibenik, the heart of central Dalmatia and proud of its pure Croatian architecture – compared to its neighbours’ Roman origins – and Split, another city where history rubs along beautifully with seaside lifestyle.
Off the coast of Split, Hvar – where you will find Croatia’s oldest town, Stari Grad – is also on the agenda and other highlights include Pula, lying at the southern tip of the Istrian Peninsula and the pretty town of Rovinj.
All of these can be explored from the comfort Ponant’s Le Lyrial, which has just 122 cabins and suites so you feel as if you are sailing on a mega-yacht, complete with spa and two restaurants.
If the idea of smaller ships and a yachting lifestyle appeals, then Crystal Esprit also covers a lot of ground in Croatia, on a seven-night sailing from Venice to Dubrovnik.
All-suite and butler-serviced, Crystal Esprit is home to just 62 guests, which means you get even higher levels of personal service mixed with the sense of adventure and exclusivity of a yacht sailing.
During the cruise, your off-ship options could include a countryside horseback ride or snorkelling in the Trogir archipelago, fishing in Vis and exploring beautiful Mljet island, the southernmost of the larger Dalmatian islands.
An eight-day Best of Croatia 2019 itinerary with Ponant on Le Lyrial costs from £3,699pp round-trip from Venice (depart May 20, 2019), ponant.com
Keeping it chic
St Tropez, Ibiza, Monte Carlo – if you love to don a pretty flowing dress and bejewelled sandals on your holiday, stroll cobbled streets in search of take-home trinkets or a chilled glass of rose, then a Mediterranean cruise will give you plenty of opportunity for all of that. Even better, most suites have large walk-in closets leaving space for multiple outfits and spots to stash the shopping.
An 11-night cruise on Crystal Serenity from Lisbon to Monte Carlo allows you to visit Ibiza, Barcelona and St Tropez – and to make the most of these pretty Mediterranean playgrounds, the ship stays in each of the ports overnight, so you can head off into town to sample some fine dining and nightlife, as well as giving you the night in Monte Carlo.
A far cry from its hedonistic reputation, in Ibiza, excursions include time to explore the pretty villages of the island, a 4x4 adventure and beach break, wine tasting in Can Maymo or snorkelling the Posidonia meadows, vast underwater stretches of seagrass that earned Unesco designation as World Heritage Site in 1999.
From Monte Carlo, you could opt to see views of the French Riviera from a helicopter and explore the principality by foot on a half-day adventure. It’s also a golf-focused cruise, so there will be plenty of opportunity to fit in a few rounds – the ship even has golf driving nets for perfecting your swing.
Other elements on board Crystal Serenity include speciality dining at Prego and Nobu Matsuhisa’s only sea-going restaurants, as well as enrichment at the Creative Learning Institute and Computer [email protected].
A great mix of French and Italian Riviera style come together on SeaDream’s Nice to Civitavecchia (Rome) cruise, one that will take you to some of the chicest spots of the Med, including some in Corsica and neighbouring Sardinia. From Porto Cervo Marina so you can soak up Sardinia’s chi-chi Costa Smeralda, as SeaDream II is one of few commercial vessels allowed to call to this amazing port set within a protected national park zone.
The cruise also calls at Corsica’s Bonifacio, known for its incredible medieval clifftop citadel. Life on board SeaDream II is akin to a glamorous large yacht, with this intimate boutique ship providing a real travelling experience for just 112 guests. The perfect way then to arrive into other stops on this Mediterranean cruise, such as Monte Carlo, St Tropez, Cannes and Nice.
One of the ultimate Mediterranean experiences is to combine a cruise with the two-day Grand Prix de Monaco, and via Silversea’s Golden Package, you can get close to all the excitement of the world’s most renowned road race.
Among the inclusions with the programme are F1 Monaco Dance Academy tickets to view the time trials and final race, a talk and question and answer sessions by ex-F1 drivers, which have previously included Mark Webber and David Coulthard.
An 11-day Lisbon to Monte Carlo cruise on Crystal Serenity costs from £3,936pp (depart August 12, 2019), crystalcruises.co.uk