Two Coasts, Three Continents, One Sea: Crusing the Mediterranean

Posted by admin | Posted in Europe | Posted on 23-11-2010

There are two sides to everything. It’s true. And if you’re heading for a Mediterranean cruise, it’s good to know that old saying holds just as true for ports of call as it does for points of view!

The Mediterranean isn’t the world’s most popular cruise destination for nothing, you know. Its coastline, whether deeply scalloped with bays, lined with elegant promenades, or blissfully remote and untouched, holds more magic per square mile than any other of comparable size, anywhere in the world.

But the Mediterranean is even more blessed – for few seas can claim to span three continents. And few cruise destinations make it as easy to experience the sights, sounds, culture and colour of so many different lands, and so many different periods of history.

Along the northern coastline of the Mediterranean lies the sea, sun and sangria resorts of Spain’s costas, the sultry south of France, the eternal city of Rome, Greece and her myriad islands and the kaleidoscopic Dalmatian coastline of Croatia.

In the south, you’re cruising along the coastline of Africa, Arabia, the Holy Land, and, at the striaghts of Bospherus, the tip of Asia too. Along the way, you’ll encounter souks, sand dunes blown straight from the Sahara, ancient civilisations and some of the oldest trading cities in the world.

So, whether you opt for the cosmopolitan resorts of the north, or the ancient trading ports of the south, the Mediterranean will be a voyage of discovery from start to finish.

Shopping, sightseeing and splendour in the North

Palma
For many, Majorca is an island of sunny coves, cheap and cheerful resorts, and magnificent beaches. It is, in fact, all that. But in its working, gritty and immensely likeable capital, Palma, it also has one of the most accessible and human-scale Spanish cities, too. Voted the Spanish city with the best quality of life (by Spaniards, too – it must be said!) Palma is home to a vibrant, stylish and passionate island community. In its atmospheric old town, huddled beneth the shadow if its majestic Medieval cathedral, you’ll find some of the best tapas restaurants not just in the Balearics, but in the whole of the Motherland too! But its Palmas shops that most thrill, with its ruler straight avenues lined with funky Spanish fashions, designer brands and world-famous chains. And, if you really want to get a lesson in oneupmanship, head to the town’s glitzy marina, lined with swanky bars on the landside, and eye-popping yachts moored along its jetties.

Rome
The Eternal City is actually a short transfer from Civitavecchia. Walking the streets of the city is the best history lesson any cruise holiday could offer. Start at the Colosseum, and it’s not difficult to imagine the roar of the crowd, and, in the rooms beneath its floor, picture the animals and gladiators awaiting battle. Across the street from the Colosseum the ancient Roman Forum, and on to the Trevi Fountain fed with water from the Acqua Vergine aqueduct since 1762. The Pantheon in the Piazza della Rotunda is the best-preserved ancient monument in Rome, constructed for Hadrian in 125 A.D. Light floods through the ceiling – the widest dome in the world. And, while its dome is a full three foot narrower, no one can argue against the jaw dropping might of St Peter’s Basilica, in the Vatican. But this is not just a religious shrine, it’s a world class gallery too, works by some of the greatest Renaissance artists, including Bernini and Giotto, lie within.

Dubrovnik
The timeless city of Dubrovnik was heavily bombarded during the break up of Yugoslavia, but, incredibly, it has risen from the ashes of conflict once more and remains the jewel of the eastern Mediterranean. This Medieval city is, of course, used to being bombarded. A fortified city, Dubrovnik is a UNESCO world heritage site and Croatia’s loveliest port. It had its Golden Age in the 16th century, its palaces still glitter with ostentation and unseemly wealth, their facades ever more elaborate and ornate. The main pedestrian thoroughfare, Placa, is a vibrant stew of cafés and shops with outstanding monuments stately marking either end. Churches, monasteries and museums, galleries and arcades lie off every side street. But for the best view, walk out along the city walls over the mass of red tiled roofs early in the morning, or as the sun is setting, and watch the town glisten in the Adriatic sunlight.

History, Mystery and Gastronomy in the South

Algiers
A bustling modern town of some 3,500,000 inhabitants, Algiers is, quite literally, dizzying. It’s a thriving metropolis, with a historic heart. But you have to dive inland to find it. The old part of Algiers, the ancient city of the deys, rises from the slopes of the steep hill and is, appropriately enough, topped off with the city’s ancient Casbah or citadel, 400 feet (122 m) above the sea. The Casbah, the walled and deeply historic city, dates to the 17th century, and is lined with coffee shops, souks, mosques and museums. It’s history can be traced in the architecture, from Moorish, mosiac-lined mosques, Ottoman influenced palaces, and Berber fortifications. The French brought modern, tree lined boulevard, colonial houses and peaceful squares. And, in the Notre Dame d’Afrique, on a high cliff overlooking the bay of Algiers, one of the city’s best landmarks. The basilica is said to be the spiritual sister to the church of Notre Dame on the other side of the Med, in Marseille.

Hammamet
Traditional Tunisian cuisine blends the very best influences of Moorish, Mediterranean and African dishes, combining to create some memorable one-pot wonders! Hammamet’s thrilling 15th century Medina, the Avenues de la République and on the seafront is the place to sample Tunisian cooking at its colourful and spicy best. With twinkling lights slung above courtyards, and terraces overlooking the sea, this is al fresco African dining you’ll love. During the day, Hammamet is a vibrant resort with, in Yasmine Hammamet, more slinky stores than you’ll ever need. Look for carpets, pottery, lanterns and silverware, jewellery and slippers. The daily Municipal Market (avenue de la République) may be a less pricey alternative, though.

And, at Carthageland (rue de la Médina) children will adore the theme park with thrilling rides and shows loosely based on Tunisia’s colourful history.

Alexandria
Egypt’s second largest city is a bustling, lively and cosmopolitan affair. Founded by Alexander the Great in 331 BC, Alexandria became the capital of Greco-Roman Egypt, and its lighthouse – one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The city you see today is largely a 19th century creation, build when the port was fast becoming a maritime powerhouse.

Its promenade, or Corniche, is lined with casinos and world class hotels, but its Grec-Roman museum is perhaps the biggest draw, and contains the largest Greek and Roman collections in the whole of Egypt. It’s due to reopen in 2011 after a major refurbishment. Alexandria is still a cultural city – it was known as the city of libraries after the The Library of Alexandria, the largest library of the ancient world. Now it could easily be called the city of museums.

The Alexandria National Museum presents over 1800 archaeological pieces chronicling the city’s past, from Prehistoric and Pharonic, Greek to Roman, Coptic to Islamic. As you can see – there’s an awful lot of history to wade through! But if you’re simply after some jaw-dropping bling, perhaps the Royal Jewelry Museum, recently reopened after renovation, will be more your style.