At the beginning of May 2016 I hosted a Regent Seven Seas cruise on the Regent Navigator from Venice to Barcelona, a 10-day Gondolas & Gaudi journey. The Regent Seven Seas Navigator is a great cruise ship to take exploring to Europe. With a cres of 345 for just 490 guests, the level of service is high and your wish is their command.
This time, we opted to do a little pre-time on our own in Florence and then took the new Italian train "Italo" train to Venice, where we boarded our ship.
We "set sail" late afternoon and it was still daylight. The Captain took the ship all around Venice and we had a great view of the Buildings and Canals. Even St. Marks was in plain sight.
Our first port of call was DUBROVNIK, also known as "The Pearl of the Adriatic." It has become a more prominent tourist attraction on Mediterranean cruises, especially since it has joined the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. The most popular sights are in the Old Town, including monuments, museums, forts and churches. When you enter the Old Town, which is pedestrian only, a wonderful promenade extends before you. Walking through the Old town is a great way to experience Dubrovnik.
Our next port was in Greece, CORFU to be exact. Corfu is a Greek Island in the Ionian Sea, on the northwestern most part of Greece. The Island's history is full of battles and conquests. Two of its city castles enclose its capital, and it is the only city in Greece to be surrounded in such a way. We went to the "Achillion Palace," about five miles from Corfu town. The palace has a gorgeous view, overlooking the sea and the town. The palace was built in 1891 as a summer home for the Empress Elizabeth of Austria. I grew up watching the life of Empress Elizabeth unfold on the big screen -she was simply known as "Sissy," and was named after her favorite Greek hero, Achilles.
After cruising all night, we arrived in TAORMINA, a small town on the east coast of Sicily and a big tourist destination. The old town is about 850 ft above the sea, while a steep and isolated rock crowned by a Saracen Castle rises even higher. Having been to Taormina several times in the past, I opted to take an excursion to Mt. Etna, which was not possible before. The bus ride took us through the countryside and up a very winding road to the summit.
The weather changed from sunny to overcast and cloudy in a matter of minutes. Glad I took my coat. I did not know what to expect and was surprised to see restaurants and local ski resorts on top of the lava flows. We were able to walk around and into some craters while watching the steam rise. One minute we had clear views, the next it was shrouded in fog and you could not see the rocks in front if you. A great experience.
The weather, so far, was great and got even better when we arrived in AMALFI. We tendered, and right away took a boat ride to Positano, enjoying the view of the coastline and sunshine along the way. It was absolutely breathtaking how the town has been built on the face of a cliff. In the far distance we could even see the Island of Capri. We walked all around and up and down, and the views did not disappoint. Taking the boat back to Amalfi let us enjoy the open sea and the spectacular coast line.
Amalfi is not as hilly and easier to explore. The Duomo di Amalfi is worth seeing but we also made time to people watch while enjoying some local pizza.
ROME was our next stop. Being Sunday, we took the excursion to the Vatican where we were only able to go to the doors during the Jubilie year. We had reservations at the Colliseum, not only to walk around outside, but to go up to the different levels with a view into the Arena from the inside. The history surrounding it is still fascinating to hear. Our guide was great and made the stories come to life.
The port of LIVORNO was our gateway to LUCCA. We had to take a bus in order to get there from the Port. Approaching the town, you are amazed by the well-preserved Renaissance walls encircling the historic city center. The area around the walls are well taken care of with green grass and trees everywhere along the walls. This park surrounds the city and blocks out modern life. While walking around Lucca, be sure to focus on at least on one of the 100 churches. Even Lucca has a famous street in the historic center, called Il Fillungo, where you find all the most important and prestigious stores (if you are in the mood for shopping). Many of the local restaurants and shops look onto the square.
We arrived in CANNES a day before the Cannes Film Festival was about to begin. From the ship you could already see the preparations being done in town, as well as the million dollar yachts in the harbor.
We headed to NICE. They also have a beautiful long promenade along the seaside. We went into the old town and walked to a farmer's market where all the locals are. The little cobblestone streets are filled with shops, restaurants and local cafe's. On our way back to Cannes, we drove along the promenade with all it's high end hotels and beautiful gardens.
France's second largest city, MARSEILLE was actually founded by the Greeks in the 6th century BC. The old harbor still exists and is the Gem of Marseille, including the remains of ancient walls, Roman docks and temples. The medieval structures blend in and stand alongside modern buildings and restaurants. Not to be missed is the "Basilique Notre Dame de la Garde. Overlooking the old port, this church was built in the 19th century and is crowned with a statue of the Virgin Mary. The church's terraces offer amazing views.
The island fortress protecting the harbor of Marseille in the 16th century was eventually converted into a prison; it is was here where the fictional character, The Count of Monte Cristo, was locked up. What was not fictional is the hole he escaped through.
Our last port to explore was PALAMOS in Spain. An added highlight on this otherwise rich Itinerary.
Palamos is in the Mediterranean Costa Brava area on the same side as Barcelona. It had been a sleepy fishing and cork manufacturing town until the sixties, when it experienced a growth in tourism. Old Palamos can be seen in narrow streets, old colorful buildings and winding alleys and stairs. The towns night life is focused around the old port, which is surrounded by bars and restaurants where one should definitely indulge in the local delicacy, prawns.
The Costa Brava is peppered with charming medieval villages, and we visited three of them. The cobblestone streets of PALS are framed by ancient towers overlooking some wonderful beaches. PERATALLADA features a palace and a twin towered castle. To get to the last village, LA BRISBAL, we took a open air Trolly Train. Again, lots of cobblestones and towers. The gelato here was as good as in Italy. What a ride.
Leaving Palamos behind, we arrived in Barcelona for disembarkation.
It is amazing how organized everything down to the last detail is on a Regent cruise, and it runs like clockwork.
The transfer to the Airport was a breeze and we noticed that a host of Regent Seven Seas was on hand to make sure nothing was left behind on the transfer buses and if it was, to make sure it was brought to the rightful owner (us being one if them).
In addition to serving up an amazing itinerary, the Regent Seven Seas cruise offered plenty of dining options throughout the day, including room service and afternoon tea. Cuisine was excellent. The entertainment was just right, with a complement of musicals, piano tunes, with something for every taste. Activities included everything from yoga to Bingo, and a guest lecturer. Regent is one of the only ocean cruise lines that includes compliimentary shore excursions (most river cruises do, too). Our excursions were fairly small groups with knowledgeable guides who enjoyed their work.
If you are ready for a Mediterranean or European cruise adventure, give me a call.