Mediterranean cruise: Some cruise lines are now offering Mediterranean cruises this summer. Credit: Shutterstock

Your guide to cruising the Mediterranean - which destination is best for you?

Author: Lauren Ho

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Mediterranean cruise holidays are the favourite choice of countless travellers - but how do you know which hotspot to pick? Our guide will help.

Whether it’s hopping through the Greek Islands, exploring the great sites of ancient Rome or savouring the fine cuisine of Provence, nothing beats a cruise in the warm waters of the Med.

So dust off your passports, bring those suitcases down from the attic and find out which Mediterranean country suits your holiday needs best.

Italy best for… romantics

Thanks to its long Mediterranean coastline, packed with enticing ports, Italy is one of the world’s classic cruise destinations.

From Rome’s ancient landmarks, elaborate fountains and atmospheric piazzas to the Renaissance glories of Florence, this ever rewarding country is filled with some of the world’s greatest works of art and architecture. And as you make your way south towards the gorgeous island of Sicily, you’ll pass fabulous scenery – from Sorrento’s colourful sun-bleached façades to the sheer cliffs and rugged shoreline of the Amalfi Coast.

In between, don’t miss out on the lively pizzerias and bustling neighbourhood trattorias – perfect for a plate of pasta and a crisp glass of wine, followed by a romantic stroll with a gelato in hand.

And if you book with Azamara, late departures in some ports mean you’ll be able to capture the true essence of la dolce vita.

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Spain best for… social butterflies

While the wild beauty of its Atlantic coast has undoubted allure, it’s Spain’s Mediterranean shore that draws the crowds – and not just to those famous beaches.

From charming coves to fabled Moorish landmarks such as the Alhambra in Granada; from the rugged pine-scented Costa Brava to the unique vibrancy of Barcelona via the many medieval hill towns in between, southern Spain is a feast for all the senses.

And the fun continues long after sundown, so grab a siesta and then – if your schedule allows – dive into a lively tapas bar for delicious plates of jamon, patatas bravas and croquettas, before heading to a traditional Barcelona tavern to savour a glass (or two) of vermouth. The perfect end to a memorable evening? Get swept away by a soul-stirring flamenco performance.

Mediterranean cruise: France is ideal for foodies. Credit: Shutterstock

France best for... culinary connoisseurs

Offering yacht-speckled harbours, long stretches of sandy beach and soaring cliffside roads, France’s sun-drenched southeastern corner has long been a popular cruise destination.

Here you can rub shoulders with the rich and famous as you hop along the Côte d’Azur, visiting glitzy coastal hotspots such as Saint-Tropez or Cannes.

Alternatively, why not hire a car and spend the day motoring through a landscape of rolling lavender fields and ancient olive groves? Or you could simply settle into a cosy Marseille bistro and taste your way through the flavours of Provence, paired of course with a chilled bottle of sauvignon blanc.

Just make sure to conserve your appetite for the culinary creations back on board – especially if you’re sailing with Enchanted Princess or Crystal Symphony, where the Umi Uma & Sushi Bar serves up an inventive Peruvian-Japanese fusion menu by Michelin-starred chef Nobu Matsuhisa.

Mediterranean cruise: By cruise ship is the optimum way to explore the many islands of Greece. Credit: Shutterstock

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Greece best for... sun seekers

There’s only one way to explore a nation of 6,000 islands – a mere handful of them on the tourist map – and that’s by cruise ship. Then you’ll never have to worry about ferry timetables as you hop from one sun-kissed paradise isle to the next – each offering something unique, whether it be sugar-cube villages and whitewashed lanes, gorgeous beaches and enticing tavernas or the awe-inspiring ruins of classical antiquity.

There’s a vast range of itineraries and cruising styles on offer, but popular stop-offs include the party island of Mykonos, history-steeped Crete, and beautiful Santorini with its blue-domed churches and sheer cliffs.

Book with Holland America Line and you’ll also get to explore the amazing fusion of ancient and modern that is Athens, while Norwegian Cruise Line will transport you to picture-perfect Patmos and the lovely beaches of Rhodes.

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The beautiful Portuguese capital of Lisbon features on the itinerary. Credit: Shutterstock

Portugal best for... wine lovers

With close to 500 miles of rugged Atlantic coast, on which both of its main cities are perched, Portugal is a natural cruising destination.

From the narrow, cobbled streets, stately bridges and rolling vineyards of Porto you can sail south along wild shores, past pretty fishing hamlets and resorts such as Nazaré – now a magnet for the world’s most fearless big-wave surfers – to the postcard-perfect Moorish castles and tiled facades of Lisbon.

Book with Windstar Cruises and your itinerary will also include a stop in Madeira, that balmy archipelago off the northwest coast of Africa where you can sample the island’s world-famous fortified wines against a gorgeous tropical backdrop.

Mediterranean cruise: Istanbul in Turkey boasts richly decorated great mosques and bustling Grand Bazaar. Credit: Shutterstock

Turkey best for... adventurers

Clustered with popular resort towns such as Cesme and Bodrum, Turkey’s west coast is classic cruising territory, especially when combined with a few days’ island-hopping in Greece. But you’ll discover a fascinating new side to this great country with a Black Sea voyage along its northern shores.

Book yourself on Ponant’s Le Bougainville and you can meander westwards from the buzzing port cities of Trabzon and Samsun, past tiny fishing villages to the ancient city of Safranbolu, a UNESCO World Heritage Site defined by its muddle of red-roofed Ottoman houses on quaint cobblestone streets.

End your journey in the magnificent city of Istanbul, with its richly decorated great mosques and bustling Grand Bazaar.

Back on board, deepen your knowledge at an enrichment lecture or simply savour the day’s events with a cocktail in the Panoramic Lounge.

Enjoy a quiet trip around Croatia's coast. Credit: Shutterstock

Croatia best for... history buffs

Turquoise waters, ancient walled towns and a dramatic coastline make Croatia a holiday dream come true. Sandwiched between central Europe and the Balkans, it has a unique cultural identity, strongly marked by Venetian and even Roman heritage.

With Italy just a ferry ride across the Adriatic, cruise itineraries usually start from Venice or Trieste before meandering down Croatia’s Dalmatian coast, past the ancient ruins and medieval churches of Zadar and the buzzing city of Split to Dubrovnik.

Here you can take a stroll along the ancient city walls for views of the terracotta rooftops and beautiful Old Town; visit the historic Rector’s Palace and stop by the Franciscan Monastery with its fascinating Old Pharmacy Museum.

Then, when the sun begins to dip, end your day with a cold beer in hand, admiring the view from a clifftop bar.

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