Somehow it’s fitting that on the day England reach second in the medals table at this year’s Olympics, I’m walking round the ruins of the ancient Greek city Olympia. It’s the birthplace of the modern-day Olympic Games, and at the atmospheric old Palaestra wrestling-school site, I can almost picture the athletes energetically pummelling each other to the ground. This is the second day of my Empires of the Mediterranean cruise on board the gso-passenger Viking Sea (the company branched out from river cruises last year with the launch of Viking Star) and as you’d expect from a Norwegian cruise line, the airy communal spaces and light palette of cream and blue are a nod to modern Scandinavian design. During the day, the ship is deserted as everyone heads out exploring.
No trip with such a historic bent would be complete without seeing the iconic Acropolis in Athens (of course) but the itinerary also takes in lesser-known but equally fascinating spots such as the Mount Profitis monastery, perched on top of the mountain with the same name, in Santorini, and the UNESCO World Heritage old town of Corfu. Heading north from Greece, we stop in Montenegro, walking the cobblestone streets of the charming medieval city of Kotor, which is surrounded by a proud hilltop fortress. I’m mesmerised by the cascading waterfalls in Croatia’s Krka National Park and the Romanesque architecture of the former capital Dalmatia.
Around gpm each day, once everyone is back on board, the main pool area springs to life with guests taking a dip or sipping strawberry daiquiris from their sun loungers. It’s also the most popular time to be in the Liv Nordic spa. Based around the Nordic concept of hot-cold, hot-cold to get the circulation flowing, the idea is to pair a spell in the ‘snow grotto’ with a session in the sauna – and repeat.
Dinner is the highlight of the evening (the dress code is relaxed but if you do want to glam up, the shoe shine and pressing service is a treat): porcini dry-rubbed rib-eye steak that has been marinated for 24 hours at Manf’redi’s Italian restaurant or the Kitchen Table experience (only available in Dubrovnik), which involves learning how to prepare regional dishes for a 12-course feast: tuna and seabass ceviche, stuffed courgette flowers, saffron risotto with red mullet, and heavenly apricot sorbet.