Brilliant beaches, colorful culture, dramatic scenery and fascinating history – the Mediterranean has it all. Here’s our pick of the best itineraries for the year ahead.
Viking Ocean Cruises’ brand new ship Viking Sea will leave its native Norwegian waters for an epic Bergen to the Bosphorus trip in July. There are just five ports on the journey to Istanbul – all with included guided tours – so it is perfect for those who love sea days and with the added bonus of a new ship to explore. In the Mediterranean it will stop at Valletta on the garden island of Malta, where UNESCO-listed Grand Master’s Palace of the Knights of St John is remarkable.
Istanbul is one of the most dramatic ports to arrive or depart from, with its ancient walls clearly visible and a forest of minarets soaring into the sky over this incredible city. Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ brand new luxury ship Seven Seas Explorer leaves from Istanbul for Venice after a day enjoying the city then sails to Kusadasi in Turkey where you can visit the ancient Greek ruins of Ephesus or jump on a bus to the nearby beaches. The Greek islands of Rhodes, Santorini, Zakynthos and Corfu offer idyllic taverns, bars and small beaches while there is more sights for sore eyes during the overnight stop in Venice.
Mooring in the center of Seville in the River Guadalquivir is a highlight on Swan Hellenic’s A Maritime History of Iberia cruise. Included excursions such as the Seville City Tour will take you to the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world, which houses Christopher Columbus’ tomb, and the stunning Alcázar Palace, where the gardens are like an oasis (Game of Thrones was filmed here). From Seville there is also an included excursion to Cordoba, once a Moorish capital where the 8th century Mezquita – a former mosque – is unforgettable. Http://swanhellenic.com
Tunisia’s capital is a rare highlight of Mediterranean Getaway, Viking Ocean Cruises’ eight-day exploration of classic Mediterranean cities such as Rome, Naples and Barcelona onboard Viking Sky. More unusual is Trapani on Sicily’s rugged coast, home of the fortified wine Marsala – as well as a timeless Mediterranean mix of Greek, Gothic and Medieval architecture. http://vikingcruises.co.uk
Norwegian Jade, which will homeport in Southampton in 2017, is in the Mediterranean this summer and has a fabulous Adriatic and Greece round trip from Venice that will suit lotus eaters as much as culture vultures. The Greek islands of Corfu, Santorini and Mykonos offer sunny beaches with the ancient ruins of Olympia accessible from Katakolon and Athens’ ancient ruins near its port of Piraeus. Medieval Dubrovnik and Split in Croatia have both beaches and medieval streets. http://ncl.co.uk
There are maiden calls to the Greek fortress town of Monemvasia and Croatia’s Rijeka on Voyages of Discovery’s Dalmatian, Venetian & Greek Wonders cruise. Starting with an overnight in Dubrovnik, Voyager sails along the Croatian coast to Split and Rejika, where the Austro-Hungarian Empire architecture dominates. Kopor in Slovenia is a charming terracotta roofed historic town, while Monemvasia is a rock-like island with a medieval village enclosed within the castle walls. http://voyagesofdiscovery.co.uk
Viking Ocean Cruises’ Secrets of the Southern Mediterranean not only takes you to Tunisia, where you can see the ruins of Carthage just outside Tunis, but also to Algeria for a day in the North African country’s Algiers. Both are former French colonies and the French influence remains, for instance at Algiers’ Notre Dame d’Afrique Catholic basilica. Also on the itinerary is Valencia in Spain, which boasts one of Spain’s most modern City of Arts and Sciences complexes. http://vikingcruises.co.uk
There are few places more romantic than Italy’s Amalfi coast, and Azamara Club Cruises’ Sicily & Malta Voyage on Azamara Journey offers the very unusual opportunity to be moored off the beautiful town of Sorrento in the Bay of Naples for two full days. That gives you time to drink limoncello in the stylish bars of Capri, like Liz Taylor and Richard Burton once did, as well as visit Sophia Loren’s Naples, pop into Pompeii or explore pastel-coloured fishing villages along the Sorrentine Peninsula. http://azamaraclubcruises.co.uk
Get the best of the Caribbean and Mediterranean with this Atlantic crossing from Puerto Rico to Barcelona. There’s a day in the Caribbean’s St Martin, where you can explore the Dutch capital Philipsburg, or cross the island to the French capital Marigot, then you can enjoy the luxury of six days at sea with nothing to do but relax and enjoy the onboard facilities. The first European landing is Madeira, then there is a day in Morocco’s Casablanca before visiting the old naval city of Cadiz and on to Valencia before arriving in Barcelona. http://vikingcruises.co.uk
A ‘refreshed’ Norwegian Epic has a Western Mediterranean mini cruise from Barcelona to Rome (Civitavecchia), which would be a great taster cruise for anybody wanting to experience a classic Mediterranean sailing in the relative calm of spring. During the stop in Naples you can see its palaces and museums, take the train to Pompeii or a boat trip to Capri off the romantic Amalfi Coast. http://ncl.co.uk).
If you’re not staying with the Grimaldis (the royal family that has ruled Monaco since the 13th century), try the palatial Hotel de Paris. The regal stopping place of emirs and archdukes since its inception one year after the opening of the Grand Casino next door, the Hotel de Paris looms over the main square, a must-see for curious tourists and destination for the fabulously rich and very famous.
Much of the hotel’s acclaim owes to its highly rated restaurants, particularly the formal Le Louis XV, a dazzling jewel box that has been the domain since 1987 of Alain Ducasse, one of the world’s most celebrated chefs.
Here Ducasse prides himself on using humble Mediterranean ingredients of the finest quality and refining them into a superb, albeit simple, haute cuisine. The restaurant’s opulent Louis XV decor includes Baccarat crystal, damask linens, gold-rimmed china, and silver service.
The new Centre Thalassotherapie de Thermes Marins, wedged into a cliff adjacent to the hotel, is reached through an adjoining walkway beneath the hotel. Time spent at this state-of-the-art spa is—like an evening at Le Louis XV—sheer heaven.
The tiny principality of Monaco, no bigger than London’s Hyde Park, has catered to gamblers and the idle rich for the last 100 years. Both types can be found with all their over-the-top idiosyncracies at the legendary Grand Casino, the world’s most renowned casino, and indisputably the most glamorous.
This is one of the last places on earth to witness chaffeur-driven Rolls-Royces disgorging wealthy exiles, sun-baked yacht owners, and celluloid divas weighed down by serious jewelry. The sedate, even discreet, Belle Epoque setting was designed in 1863 by Charles Gamier, grand architect of the Paris Opera.
Black tie is no longer required, but jackets and ties are a must in the inner sanctum of high rollers, and many women wear long dresses. No Monegasque gambler sets foot in the casino without first stopping by the lobby of the Hotel de Paris—a poker chip’s toss across the impeccably groomed Place du Casino—to rub the left knee of the bronze statue of Louis XIV’s horse for good luck.
Facing the hotel and alongside the casino, the Garnier-designed Cafe de Paris is a de rigueur stop for a pre -or apres-casino drink or a crepe Suzette, invented here in the early 1900s and named after a friend of the Prince of Wales.