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It's no wonder that all roads lead to the fascinating and maddening metropolis of Athens. Lift your eyes 200 feet above the city to the Parthenon, its honey-color marble columns rising from a massive limestone base, and you behold architectural perfection that has not been surpassed in 2,500 years. But, today, this shrine of classical form dominates a 21st-century boomtown. To experience Athens—Athína in Greek—fully is to understand the essence of Greece: ancient monuments surviving in a sea of cement, startling beauty amid the squalor, tradition juxtaposed with modernity. Locals depend on humor and flexibility to deal with the chaos; you should do the same. The rewards are immense. Although Athens covers a huge area, the major landmarks of the ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine periods are close to the modern city center. You can easily walk from the Acropolis to many other key sites, taking time to browse in shops and relax in cafés and tavernas along the way. From many quarters of the city you can glimpse "the glory that was Greece" in the form of the Acropolis looming above the horizon, but only by actually climbing that rocky precipice can you feel the impact of the ancient settlement. The Acropolis and Filopappou, two craggy hills sitting side by side; the ancient Agora (marketplace); and Kerameikos, the first cemetery, form the core of ancient and Roman Athens. Along the Unification of Archaeological Sites promenade, you can follow stone-paved, tree-lined walkways from site to site, undisturbed by traffic. Cars have also been banned or reduced in other streets in the historical center. In the National Archaeological Museum, vast numbers of artifacts illustrate the many millennia of Greek civilization; smaller museums such as the Goulandris Museum of Cycladic Art Museum and the Byzantine and Christian Museum illuminate the history of particular regions or periods. Athens may seem like one huge city, but it is really a conglomeration of neighborhoods with distinctive characters. The Eastern influences that prevailed during the 400-year rule of the Ottoman Empire are still evident in Monastiraki, the bazaar area near the foot of the Acropolis. On the northern slope of the Acropolis, stroll through Plaka (if possible by moonlight), an area of tranquil streets lined with renovated mansions, to get the flavor of the 19th-century's gracious lifestyle. The narrow lanes of Anafiotika, a section of Plaka, thread past tiny churches and small, color-washed houses with wooden upper stories, recalling a Cycladic island village. In this maze of winding streets, vestiges of the older city are everywhere: crumbling stairways lined with festive tavernas; dank cellars filled with wine vats; occasionally a court or diminutive garden, enclosed within high walls and filled with magnolia trees and the flaming trumpet-shaped flowers of hibiscus bushes. Formerly run-down old quarters, such as Thission, Gazi and Psirri, popular nightlife areas filled with bars and mezedopoleia (similar to tapas bars), are now in the process of gentrification, although they still retain much of their original charm, as does the colorful produce and meat market on Athinas. The area around Syntagma Square, the tourist hub, and Omonia Square, the commercial heart of the city about 1 km (½ mi) northwest, is distinctly European, having been designed by the court architects of King Otho, a Bavarian, in the 19th century. The chic shops and bistros of ritzy Kolonaki nestle at the foot of Mt. Lycabettus, Athens's highest hill (909 feet). Each of Athens's outlying suburbs has a distinctive character: in the north is wealthy, tree-lined Kifissia, once a summer resort for aristocratic Athenians, and in the south and southeast lie Glyfada, Voula, and Vouliagmeni, with their sandy beaches, seaside bars, and lively summer nightlife. Just beyond the city's southern fringes is Piraeus, a bustling port city of waterside fish tavernas and Saronic Gulf views.
Whilst the busy resort town of Kusadasi offers much in the way of shopping and dining – not to mention a flourishing beach life scene, the real jewel here is Ephesus and the stunning ruined city that really take centre stage. With only 20% of the classical ruins having been excavated, this archaeological wonder has already gained the status as Europe’s most complete classical metropolis. And a metropolis it really is; built in the 10th century BC this UNESCO World Heritage site is nothing short of spectacular. Although regrettably very little remains of the Temple of Artemis (one of the seven wonders of the ancient world), the superb Library of Celsus’ façade is practically intact and it is one of life’s great joys to attend an evening performance in the illuminated ruins once all the tourists have left. The history of the city is fascinating and multi-layered and it is well worth reading up on this beforehand if a visit is planned. Another point of interest for historians would be the house of the Virgin Mary, located on the romantically named Mount Nightingale and just nine kilometres away from Ephesus proper. Legend has it that Mary (along with St. John) spent her final years here, secluded from the rest of the population, spreading Christianity. An edifying experience, even for non-believers. For the less historical minded amongst you, Kusadasi offers plenty in the way of activities. After a stroll through the town, jump in a taxi to Ladies’ Beach (men are allowed), sample a Turkish kebap on one of the many beachfront restaurants and enjoy the clement weather. If you do want to venture further afield, then the crystal clear beaches of Guzelcamli (or the Millipark), the cave of Zeus and the white scalloped natural pools at Pamukkale, known as Cleopatra’s pools, are definitely worth a visit.
The second-largest city in Crete and capital of the Homonym Prefecture, Chania is located in Minoan Kidonia at the end of the Homonym Gulf between the Akrotiri and Onicha peninsulas. Chania City is divided into two parts; the Old Town, which is comprised of several connected districts built around the old Venetian Harbour, and New Town, a larger, more modern city whose centre is situated next to, and south of, the Old Town. The Old Town is home to Venetian buildings and Turkish elements that combine to create a unique architectural style, and is considered to be the most beautiful urban district on Crete. It was once surrounded by old Venetian fortifications that separated it from the New Town; however, only the eastern and western parts remain today. Due to its compact size, Skiathos can be easily explored in just a single day.
Corfu town today is a vivid tapestry of cultures—a sophisticated weave, where charm, history, and natural beauty blend. Located about midway along the island's east coast, this spectacularly lively capital is the cultural heart of Corfu and has a remarkable historic center that UNESCO designated as a World Heritage Site in 2007. All ships and planes dock or land near Corfu town, which occupies a small peninsula jutting into the Ionian Sea.Whether arriving by ferry from mainland Greece or Italy, from another island, or directly by plane, catch your breath by first relaxing with a coffee or a gelato in Corfu town's shaded Liston Arcade, then stroll the narrow lanes of its pedestrians-only quarter. For an overview of the immediate area, and a quick tour of Mon Repos palace, hop on the little tourist train that runs from May to September. Corfu town has a different feel at night, so book a table at one of its famed tavernas to savor the island's unique cuisine.The best way to get around Corfu town is on foot. The town is small enough so that you can easily walk to every sight. There are local buses, but they do not thread their way into the streets (many now car-free) of the historic center. If you are arriving by ferry or plane, it's best to take a taxi to your hotel. Expect to pay about €10 from the airport or ferry terminal to a hotel in Corfu town. If there are no taxis waiting, you can call for one.
Nothing can prepare you for your first sight of Dubrovnik. Lying 216 km (135 miles) southeast of Split and commanding a jaw-dropping coastal location, it is one of the world's most beautiful fortified cities. Its massive stone ramparts and fortress towers curve around a tiny harbor, enclosing graduated ridges of sun-bleached orange-tiled roofs, copper domes, and elegant bell towers. Your imagination will run wild picturing what it looked like seven centuries ago when the walls were built, without any suburbs or highways around it, just this magnificent stone city rising out of the sea.In the 7th century AD, residents of the Roman city Epidaurum (now Cavtat) fled the Avars and Slavs of the north and founded a new settlement on a small rocky island, which they named Laus, and later Ragusa. On the mainland hillside opposite the island, the Slav settlement called Dubrovnik grew up. In the 12th century the narrow channel separating the two settlements was filled in (now the main street through the Old Town, called Stradun), and Ragusa and Dubrovnik became one. The city was surrounded by defensive walls during the 13th century, and these were reinforced with towers and bastions in the late 15th century.From 1358 to 1808 the city thrived as a powerful and remarkably sophisticated independent republic, reaching its golden age during the 16th century. In 1667 many of its splendid Gothic and Renaissance buildings were destroyed by an earthquake. The defensive walls survived the disaster, and the city was rebuilt in baroque style.Dubrovnik lost its independence to Napoléon in 1808, and in 1815 passed to Austria-Hungary. During the 20th century, as part of Yugoslavia, the city became a popular tourist destination, and in 1979 it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the war for independence, it came under heavy siege. Thanks to careful restoration, few traces of damage remain; however, there are maps inside the Pile and Ploče Gates illustrating the points around the city where damage was done. It’s only when you experience Dubrovnik yourself that you can understand what a treasure the world nearly lost
Split's ancient core is so spectacular and unusual that a visit is more than worth your time. The heart of the city lies within the walls of Roman emperor Diocletian's retirement palace, which was built in the 3rd century AD. Diocletian, born in the nearby Roman settlement of Salona in AD 245, achieved a brilliant career as a soldier and became emperor at the age of 40. In 295 he ordered this vast palace to be built in his native Dalmatia, and when it was completed he stepped down from the throne and retired to his beloved homeland. Upon his death, he was laid to rest in an octagonal mausoleum, around which Split's magnificent cathedral was built.In 615, when Salona was sacked by barbarian tribes, those fortunate enough to escape found refuge within the stout palace walls and divided up the vast imperial apartments into more modest living quarters. Thus, the palace developed into an urban center, and by the 11th century the settlement had expanded beyond the ancient walls.Under the rule of Venice (1420–1797), Split—as a gateway to the Balkan interior—became one of the Adriatic's main trading ports, and the city's splendid Renaissance palaces bear witness to the affluence of those times. When the Habsburgs took control during the 19th century, an overland connection to Central Europe was established by the construction of the Split–Zagreb–Vienna railway line.After World War II, the Tito years saw a period of rapid urban expansion: industrialization accelerated and the suburbs extended to accommodate high-rise apartment blocks. Today the historic center of Split is included on UNESCO's list of World Heritage Sites.
Up until the end of World War I, Trieste was the only port of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire and therefore a major industrial and financial center. In the early years of the 20th century, Trieste and its surroundings also became famous by their association with some of the most important names of Italian literature, such as Italo Svevo, and English and German letters. James Joyce drew inspiration from the city's multiethnic population, and Rainer Maria Rilke was inspired by the seacoast west of the city. Although it has lost its importance as a port and a center of finance, it has never fully lost its roll as an intellectual center. The streets hold a mix of monumental, neoclassical, and art-nouveau architecture built by the Austrians during Trieste's days of glory, granting an air of melancholy stateliness to a city that lives as much in the past as the present.
Salerno is an Italian city located on the Gulf of Salerno. Famous for being home to the first medical university, Salerno is a great destination for anyone looking for gorgeous sea views filled with sunshine and Italian food.
Italy's vibrant capital lives in the present, but no other city on earth evokes its past so powerfully. For over 2,500 years, emperors, popes, artists, and common citizens have left their mark here. Archaeological remains from ancient Rome, art-stuffed churches, and the treasures of Vatican City vie for your attention, but Rome is also a wonderful place to practice the Italian-perfected il dolce far niente, the sweet art of idleness. Your most memorable experiences may include sitting at a caffè in the Campo de' Fiori or strolling in a beguiling piazza.
Livorno is a gritty city with a long and interesting history. In the early Middle Ages it alternately belonged to Pisa and Genoa. In 1421 Florence, seeking access to the sea, bought it. Cosimo I (1519–74) started construction of the harbor in 1571, putting Livorno on the map. After Ferdinando I de' Medici (1549–1609) proclaimed Livorno a free city, it became a haven for people suffering from religious persecution; Roman Catholics from England and Jews and Moors from Spain and Portugal, among others, settled here. The Quattro Mori (Four Moors), also known as the Monument to Ferdinando I, commemorates this. (The statue of Ferdinando I dates from 1595, the bronze Moors by Pietro Tacca from the 1620s.)In the following centuries, and particularly in the 18th, Livorno boomed as a port. In the 19th century the town drew a host of famous Britons passing through on their grand tours. Its prominence continued up to World War II, when it was heavily bombed. Much of the town's architecture, therefore, postdates the war, and it's somewhat difficult to imagine what it might have looked like before. Livorno has recovered from the war, however, as it's become a huge point of departure for container ships, as well as the only spot in Tuscany for cruise ships to dock for the day.Most of Livorno's artistic treasures date from the 17th century and aren't all that interesting unless you dote on obscure baroque artists. Livorno's most famous native artist, Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920), was of much more recent vintage. Sadly, there's no notable work by him in his hometown.There may not be much in the way of art, but it's still worth strolling around the city. The Mercato Nuovo, which has been around since 1894, sells all sorts of fruits, vegetables, grains, meat, and fish. Outdoor markets nearby are also chock-full of local color. The presence of Camp Darby, an American military base just outside town, accounts for the availability of many American products.If you have time, Livorno is worth a stop for lunch or dinner at the very least.
Genoa is a port city in the Northwest of Italy. Home to the Genoa Aquarium, famous for having the largest exposition of biodiversity in Europe, the city is also a great place to visit for anyone interested in architecture.
Considered Corsica’s primary commercial and cultural hub, the largest city and regional capital of Ajaccio is situated on the west coast of the island, approximately 644 km (400 miles) southeast of Marseille, France. Founded in 1492, vestiges of ancient Corsica in this ville impériale revolve around the city’s most famous son, Napoléon Bonaparte, whose family home—now the national museum Maison Bonaparte—pays tribute to the emperor’s historical influence.Remnants from what was originally a 12th-century Genoese colony are still visible around the Old Town near the imposing citadel and watchtower. Perfect for exploring, the luminous seaside city surrounded by snowcapped mountains and pretty beaches offers numerous sites, eateries, side streets, and a popular harbor, where sailboats and fishing vessels moor in the picturesque Tino Rossi port lined with well-established restaurants and cafés serving fresh local fare.
If you look north of the cathedral (La Seu, or the seat of the bishopric, to Mallorcans) on a map of the city of Palma, you can see around the Plaça Santa Eulàlia a jumble of tiny streets that made up the earliest settlement. Farther out, a ring of wide boulevards traces the fortifications built by the Moors to defend the larger city that emerged by the 12th century. The zigzags mark the bastions that jutted out at regular intervals. By the end of the 19th century, most of the walls had been demolished; the only place where you can still see the massive defenses is at Ses Voltes, along the seafront west of the cathedral.A torrent (streambed) used to run through the middle of the old city, dry for most of the year but often a raging flood in the rainy season. In the 17th century it was diverted to the east, along the moat that ran outside the city walls. Two of Palma's main arteries, La Rambla and the Passeig d'es Born, now follow the stream's natural course. The traditional evening paseo (promenade) takes place on the Born.If you come to Palma by car, park in the garage beneath the Parc de la Mar (the ramp is just off the highway from the airport, as you reach the cathedral) and stroll along the park. Beside it run the huge bastions guarding the Almudaina Palace; the cathedral, golden and massive, rises beyond. Where you exit the garage, there's a ceramic mural by the late Catalan artist and Mallorca resident Joan Miró, facing the cathedral across the pool that runs the length of the park.If you begin early enough, a walk along the ramparts at Ses Voltes from the mirador beside the cathedral is spectacular. The first rays of the sun turn the upper pinnacles of La Seu bright gold and then begin to work their way down the sandstone walls. From the Parc de la Mar, follow Avinguda Antoni Maura past the steps to the palace. Just below the Plaça de la Reina, where the Passeig d'es Born begins, turn left on Carrer de la Boteria into the Plaça de la Llotja (if the Llotja itself is open, don't miss a chance to visit—it's the Mediterranean's finest Gothic-style civic building). From there stroll through the Plaça Drassana to the Museu d'Es Baluard, at the end of Carrer Sant Pere. Retrace your steps to Avinguda Antoni Maura. Walk up the Passeig d'es Born to Plaça Joan Carles I, then right on Avenida de La Unió.
Valencia, Spain's third-largest municipality, is a proud city with a thriving nightlife and restaurant scene, quality museums, and spectacular contemporary architecture, juxtaposed with a thoroughly charming historic quarter, making it a popular destination year in year out. During the Civil War, it was the last seat of the Republican Loyalist government (1935–36), holding out against Franco’s National forces until the country fell to 40 years of dictatorship. Today it represents the essence of contemporary Spain—daring design and architecture along with experimental cuisine—but remains deeply conservative and proud of its traditions. Though it faces the Mediterranean, Valencia's history and geography have been defined most significantly by the River Turia and the fertile huerta that surrounds it.The city has been fiercely contested ever since it was founded by the Greeks. El Cid captured Valencia from the Moors in 1094 and won his strangest victory here in 1099: he died in the battle, but his corpse was strapped into his saddle and so frightened the besieging Moors that it caused their complete defeat. In 1102 his widow, Jimena, was forced to return the city to Moorish rule; Jaume I finally drove them out in 1238. Modern Valencia was best known for its frequent disastrous floods until the River Turia was diverted to the south in the late 1950s. Since then the city has been on a steady course of urban beautification. The lovely bridges that once spanned the Turia look equally graceful spanning a wandering municipal park, and the spectacularly futuristic Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (City of Arts and Sciences), most of it designed by Valencia-born architect Santiago Calatrava, has at last created an exciting architectural link between this river town and the Mediterranean. If you're in Valencia, an excursion to Albufera Nature Park is a worthwhile day trip.
The fishing village of Sète serves as gateway to Montpellier, in the North. Other noteworthy destinations in this area include Carcassone, Aigues Mortes, the Abbaye de Fontfroide, and Pezenas. For a look at the real fisherman's life, however, stay right where you are. Sète is the Mediterranean's biggest fishing port. Canals winding through town make it fun to stroll around, and there are a number of good walking paths leading to the beach (about 30 minutes to the west). Although it's small and unspectacular, Plage de la Corniche has calm, pristine waters that are perfect for swimming. For a panoramic view of the area, climb Mont St-Clair or Les Pierres Blanches and pick a beach to settle down on.
The infinite variety of street life, the nooks and crannies of the medieval Barri Gòtic, the ceramic tile and stained glass of Art Nouveau facades, the art and music, the throb of street life, the food (ah, the food!)—one way or another, Barcelona will find a way to get your full attention. The capital of Catalonia is a banquet for the senses, with its beguiling mix of ancient and modern architecture, tempting cafés and markets, and sun-drenched Mediterranean beaches. A stroll along La Rambla and through waterfront Barceloneta, as well as a tour of Gaudí's majestic Sagrada Famíliaand his other unique creations, are part of a visit to Spain's second-largest city. Modern art museums and chic shops call for attention, too. Barcelona's vibe stays lively well into the night, when you can linger over regional wine and cuisine at buzzing tapas bars.
|Use of swimming pools, hot tubs, fitness centre and leisure facilities where available|
|Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks in a choice of included dining venues|
|WiFi included on-board|
|Return flights included from a choice of UK airports (fly cruise bookings only)|
|24-hour room service|
|Shuttle service to and from ports and airport where available|
|Complimentary in-suite bar in selected suites|
|Butler service in Penthouse Suites and above|
|1:1.6 staff to guest ratio|
|1:1.6 staff to guest ratio|