Your guide to cruising the Mediterranean - which destination is best for you?
Let’s put it this way – the past year has given us all plenty of time to plan where we’d love to cruise next. And while we’re still some distance from a return to the wonderful world of free travel, the signs are very hopeful, writes Lauren Ho.
Some cruise lines, including Celestial and Holland America – whose new flagship, Rotterdam, will be making her maiden voyage – are now offering Mediterranean cruises this summer.
And if you think about it, what could be a finer way to bring back the lifestyle we love?
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 voyage in the warm waters of the Med.
So dust off your passports and bring those suitcases down from the attic, because it won’t be long now...
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.
Get on board
Silversea 9-night ‘Mediterranean Cruise’ aboard Silver Dawn, from Rome to Venice via Sorrento and Sicily, departing 18 April 2022, from £3,870 including flights silversea.com
Azamara 10-night ‘Italy Intensive Voyage’ aboard Azamara Quest, from Rome to Venice via Sorrento, Amalfi and Sicily, departing 9 October 2021, from £1,839 azamara.co.uk
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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.
Get on board
Celebrity 10-night ‘Best of Spain & Portugal’ cruise aboard Celebrity Infinity, from Lisbon to Barcelona via Cadiz, Malaga and Valencia, departing 9 October 2021, from £1,194 celebritycruises.com
Marella seven-night ‘Magic of Spain’ cruise aboard Marella Explorer, round trip from Palma via Cadiz and Malaga, departing 2 October 2021, from £1,051 including flights tui.co.uk
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.
Get on board
Princess 10-night ‘Grand Mediterranean’ cruise aboard Enchanted Princess, from Rome to Barcelona via Toulon/Provence, departing 4 November 2021, from £1,599 princess.com
Crystal seven-night ‘Italia, España & The Riviera’ cruise aboard Crystal Symphony, from Rome to Barcelona via Nice and St-Tropez, departing 17 May 2022, from £1,916 crystalcruises.co.uk
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.
Get on board
Holland America Line 12-night ‘Greek Odyssey’ cruise aboard Volendam, from Rome to Venice via Santorini, Athens, Nafplion and Katakolon, departing 5 October 2021, from £1,689 hollandamerica.com
Norwegian Cruise Line seven-night ‘Greek Isles: Santorini, Mykonos & Rhodes to Athens’ cruise aboard Norwegian Spirit, from Istanbul to Athens, departing 31 October 2021, from £667 ncl.com
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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.
Get on board
Windstar 10-night ‘Island Gems of Spain & Portugal’ cruise aboard Star Pride, round trip from Lisbon via Madeira, Canaries and Casablanca, departing 1 April 2022, from £2,306 windstarcruises.com
P&O 12-night ‘Spain & Portugal’ cruise aboard Ventura, round trip from Southampton via Lisbon, Malaga and Cadiz, departing 4 April 2022, from £849 pocruises.com
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.
Get on board
Ponant 12-night ‘Black Sea Odyssey’ cruise aboard Le Bougainville, round trip from Istanbul via Odessa, Trabzon and Samsun, departing 30 July 2022, from £6,460 uk.ponant.com
Seabourn seven-night ‘Greek Isles & Turquoise Coast’ cruise aboard Seabourn Encore, from Istanbul to Athens via Cesme, Bodrum, Rhodes and Santorini, departing 24 April 2022, from £4,999 including flights seabourn.com
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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.
Get on board
MSC Cruises seven-night ‘Mediterranean’ cruise aboard MSC Splendida, round trip from Trieste via Dubrovnik and Kotor, departing 18 September 2021, from £749 msccruises.co.uk
Saga 22-night ‘Croatia and Cities of the Central Mediterranean’ cruise aboard Spirit of Adventure, round trip from Southampton via Split, Zadar and Dubrovnik, departing 6 August 2022, from £5,710 travel.saga.co.uk
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