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Pasta making, Roman mosaics & Tuscan lakes: Best Italy cruise excursions

Author: Harriet Mallinson

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Italy cruise holidays tick almost every box when it comes to culture, food and gorgeous scenery – and shore excursions are undeniably the best way to make the most of it all.

From Byron to E.M Forster to James Bond, Italy has been exciting the imagination of wanderlusting Brits for centuries and there's almost nothing the country doesn't offer a holidaymaker.

It's a truth universally acknowledged that a cruise is the best way to visit multiple destinations on one trip and on a cruise to Italy there is oodles to see, do and taste (no, Penny, we don't mean the Italian men).

Princess Cruises is one cruise line offering an array of thrilling Italy cruises complete with a plethora of shore excursions to choose from, whether you're in Tuscany, Rome or on the Amalfi Coast.

We've rounded up some of the best Princess cruise excursions for foodies, history buffs and countryside lovers to make sure everyone enjoys the Bella Vita to the utmost.

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Cruise Italy for the food

Let's face it, you're going to need to bring some elasticated waistbands on any cruise to Italy if you want to make the most of the country's gastronomic excellence. Here is a nation where you can hardly move for cheese or tomato, or wine or bread or fish or... phewf, let's undo a button.

On a Princess Cruises shore excursion, you can shop for food, eat food and even make food depending on what you fancy (Penny, eyes away from the poor chap).

In Rome, on a cruise around Italy, there's the Eating Italy Foodie Walking Tour, which pretty much does what it says on the tin. You'll visit Prati, a quieter and calmer Roman neighbourhood accompanied by a guide who will share nuggets of wisdom about the local culture as you explore.

- READ MORE: Best Princess excursions for food and drink -

For retail therapy, you'll hit Via Cola di Rienzo, Prati's main shopping street, and for feasting, you'll tuck into top regional food such as suppli (fried risotto balls), pizza, local wine, cured meats and cheeses and homemade artisan gelato, all rounded off with a freshly roasted Italian espresso. Maybe we'll loosen a second button.

Another excursion when in Rome is part of Princess's series of excursions that envelop you into the lives of residents: Local Connections: Pasta Making & Lunch at a Local Farmhouse. Guests will travel north to the countryside, where the mighty Etruscan empire flourished 5,000 years ago, and be welcomed into a farmhouse where the local owners will teach you how to prepare and cook an authentic Italian meal.

Lunch on your very own homemade pasta, crunchy bruschetta, ham salami and scrumptious dessert all washed down with wine or soft drinks and coffee. Gosh, it puts that readymade soup from Sainsbury's to shame, doesn't it?

Rome: Locals will teach you how to prepare and cook an authentic Italian meal. Credit: Shutterstock

Over in Tuscany, travellers can discover a different regional cuisine. Livorno may be the gateway to much-vaunted Florence and Pisa, but it offers gems of its own. Join Princess' Livorno Foodie's Walking Tour and Culinary Traditions excursion to find out why the Renaissance-era port city is famous for its cuisine.

At the local Fish Market, you'll board a typical fishing boat on which the chef will prepare "cacciucco," the famous Livorno fish soup, and serve it with a delicious "panino cacciuccoso" (fish sandwich) accompanied by a glass of wine. Back on land, and after exploring the 500-year-old Outdoor Market, take a breather at Il Frataio Restaurant for a "bombolone," a sweet treat filled with chocolate or custard cream.

Other local delicacies you'll feast on include a savoury chickpea cake ("panino cinque e cinque"); bruschetta with tomatoes, anchovies, and cold cuts; and Spuma, a soft drink made of a natural extract of Rhubarb mixed with orange peel and caramel. Oh dear, we might not look so clever in our swimsuits after this.

- READ MORE: What you didn't know about dining on Princess Cruises -

Those cruising to the south of Italy will call at Naples, from where you can enjoy the Essence of Italy: Sorrento, Gragnano & Pasta Factory shore excursion. Visit the Sorrento countryside where a host family will serve up mozzarella, caciocavalo cheese and salami teamed with bruschetta and wine or mineral water in their hillside farmhouse.

Then, after roaming the enchanting coastal town of Sorrento, you'll be taken to Gragnano, the self-proclaimed "pasta capital of Italy" (hello!) on a pasta factory tour. It's said the spring water, mountain air and sunshine combine here to make conditions ideal for making and drying the pasta. We reckon we’d flourish pretty well, too.

You'll find out how to make the classic Italian staple yourself and then tuck into some of the cooked pastas with a glass of wine. This could be a good stop for souvenirs (snacks not husbands, Penny).

Italy: Roam the enchanting town of Sorrento before joining a pasta factory tour. Credit: Shutterstock

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Cruise Italy for history and culture

Well, the Romans were a pretty big deal, we can all agree, so there's plenty to feed the mind as well as the body on cruises in Italy. Where better to plunge yourself into Italian history than in Rome? Only, please, please bring comfortable walking shoes.

For immersion in ancient history join the St. Peter's, Colosseum, Forum & St Peter's In Chains excursion. First up is the Colosseum which once catered for 50,000 spectators who took in entertainments ranging from gladiatorial combats and staged sea battles to historic re-enactments and even mass executions. Lovely.

Next is the Roman Forum – the centre of political, religious and commercial life in Ancient Rome. Spot the ruins of the Temple of Venus and Roma, the Temple of Castor and Pollux, the basilicas of Maxentius and Constantine, and, near the Capitoline (today's Campidoglio), the great triumphal Arch of Septimius Severus (Harry Potter jokes to yourselves, please).

- READ MORE: Which Mediterranean cruise destination is best for you? -

Afterwards check out St. Peter's in Chains – nope not a David Blaine type who's really into bondage, but a basilica built in the middle of the 5th century to house the relic of the chains that bound Saint Peter while imprisoned in Jerusalem. However, should inspiration strike for later that night, you do you...

After lunch head to the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica. The latter and its superb colonnaded square are among of the highlights of Western art and architecture. Soak up art by Bramante, Michelangelo, Raphael, Bernini and other great masters.

If you want to visit the Vatican in even greater depth, why not sign up for Princess' Ultimate Vatican Behind-The-Scenes excursion? On this tour, you'll access the Vatican Gardens (offering popes 57-acres worth of peace and quiet since 1279, lucky them) and the Cabinet of the Masks, which boasts beautiful Roman mosaics of masks underfoot.

Italy: Explore Rome and its famous Colosseum which once catered for 50,000 spectators. Credit: Shutterstock

Afterwards enter the Sistine Chapel and ogle its world-famous ceiling painted by Michelangelo alongside other masterpieces from artists such as Botticelli, Perugino and Signorelli. Shhh with the innuendos about the many naked men Penny, have some decorum.

Tourists will also take in Peter's Square – designed by Bernini and constructed between 1656 and 1667. Expect delightful fountains and a 13th-century, Egyptian, 82-foot-tall obelisk plus countless statues of saints and two whopper effigies of St. Peter and St. Paul, the patron saints of Rome.

For those on cruises to Florence, Italy, opt for the Florence, Pisa & Santa Croce Church shore excursion by Princess to really pack it all in. Enjoy a walking tour of the awe-inspiring city of Florence and visit the Piazza Duomo Cathedral, Piazza Della Signoria and Santa Croce Square and Church.

Santa Croce's Basilica is the largest Franciscan church in the world and, fun fact, is the final resting place of greats including Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Galileo. You may need a rest yourself after all this exercise!

- READ MORE: What to see, do and eat in the dazzling city of Florence -

Then, take a relaxing drive through the countryside to Pisa with its famous Leaning Tower in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Piazza dei Miracoli (Square of Miracles). Why does the redundant bell tower not stand straight? One might ask. Well, it's all down to faulty design and loose soil beneath it apparently. How you choose to pose for photos by the tower says a lot about you, we reckon. Oh god, Penny don't embarrass yourself.

Down south, to discover the history of the region, join the Ultimate Bay of Naples: Pompeii, Positano & Amalfi Coast - A Discovery Exclusive excursion. We have a sneaky suspicion that if heaven does exist, it looks an awful lot like the Amalfi Coast. This corner of Italy is as beautiful as it comes with its towering cliffs, turquoise sea and jostling houses the colour of vibrant gelato.

You'll be treated to a drive on which you can lap up the vistas before heading to Pompeii - you know, the Roman city destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D but remarkably frozen in time beneath the ash? From ancient brothels to well-preserved frescoes, there's so much to admire here. Bonus points if you can remember anything from your school days. All together now, amo, amas, amat...

This excursion will then take you to stunning Sorrento and Positano, one of the prettiest towns on the alluring Amalfi Coast (yes, you'll likely recognise it from pictures of the region) and includes an elegant four-course lunch with wine at a five-star property. Remember to try the local limoncello, too, it's divine!

Pompeii was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D but is remarkably frozen in time. Credit: Shutterstock

Cruise Italy for scenic countryside

Sometimes, of course, one just wants to breathe in the countryside air and step away from the hustle and bustle of a city. Luckily, Italy is blanketed in jaw-dropping scenery, from rolling vineyards and olive groves to glistening coastlines.

Tuscany is a region famous for its charming landscapes and cruisers can soak up its beauty on the Etruscan Countryside & Olive Oil Tasting excursion. A scenic drive takes you to the ninth-century hilltop village of Tuscania – according to legend it was founded by the son of Hercules, but, having seen the titular Disney film, we're not convinced.

Admire Etruscan and medieval structures before travelling to a local farmhouse that produces a variety of olive oils. Fun fact, the Etruscans would use olive oil in cosmetics, medicines, soaps and as fuel for oil lamps as well as cooking. Here you can taste a variety of oils accompanied by bruschetta, tomatoes, different cheeses, salami and local wine as you admire the gorgeous scenery.

- READ MORE: Best wildlife to see on Princess Cruises excursions -

Alternatively, sign up for the Lake Bracciano & Wine Tasting trip. The highly scenic Lake Bracciano is one of Italy's major lakes and is a major source of drinking water for the Eternal City. Did you know, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes got married near here? (Although given the ensuing split perhaps it's not best recommended as an auspicious wedding destination...).

You'll also enjoy the lakeside resort of Anguillara, complete with a medieval town, lakeside promenade and beaches before heading to Tuscia wine country, the source of some of Rome's most popular vinos. Hoover up olive oils, cheeses and cured meats as you sup on the grapey goodness.

To enjoy the beauty of the southern Italian coastline, hop on the Sorrento & Amalfi Coast Cruise via motorboat. Sail along azure waters backed by Dolomitic Cliffs from Salerno taking in bougainvillaea-studded hillsides, pretty villages and church steeples. Lunch is included and you'll also be able to head ashore to explore Sorrento and Amalfi independently.

There you have it. Full tummies? Check. Photos to show off to friends? Check. Holiday mementoes? Oh, for Christ's sake Penny, he won't fit into your suitcase...

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