© Nick Karvounis/Unsplash
Six underrated destinations to explore in the Mediterranean
Discover some of southern Europe’s hidden gems on your next cruise holiday
Most people don’t expect a cruise to take you off the beaten track, but it’s one of the unexpected benefits of a sailing holiday – you’ll drop in on beautiful, lesser-known towns and cities that often don’t make it onto a land-travel itinerary. Here are six Mediterranean destinations that are sometimes overlooked in favour of their country’s headline acts, but will enrich your travel memories – and your souvenir collections – just as much.
Discover the historic city of Sibenik in Croatia © Tom Wheatley/Unsplash
Though far less famous than its Dalmatian sibling Split, Sibenik is Croatian to the core and absolutely dripping with history. Its medieval city centre is a patchwork of atmospheric squares and peaceful churches, all linked by narrow streets and winding steps. Sibenik’s pièce de resistance is the Cathedral of St. James, a gothic renaissance masterpiece that took 100 years to build and was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. The city is also the best base from which to visit the region’s magical Krka National Park and Waterfalls.
Grand, tiled buildings line charming residential streets and leafy squares in this calm and collected city that’s so much more than simply Lisbon’s little sister. A river cruise down the Douro in Porto will give you spectacular views of the port wine cellars that are stacked on the steep southern banks, and their tours and tastings are well worth your time. On a wander through the city centre you’ll easily find traditional pastries (hello, pastel de nata!), trendy restaurants, elegant homewares and even a bookshop – Livraria Lello – that’s said to be one of the most beautiful in the world.
Fill up on delicious pesto pasta when in Genoa, north-west Italy © Amirali Mirhashemian/Unsplash
Italy’s biggest seaport offers everything from a dimly-lit tangle of narrow streets in its old town to a magnificent collection of luxurious avenues and palaces, the Palazzi dei Rolli. As the capital of the Liguria region, Genoa is officially the home of pesto, and every restaurant offers its own incredibly fresh and fragrant version of the stuff. Once you’ve explored the city, you can head a little further down the Italian Riviera to Cinque Terre, a must-see national park comprising five colourful clifftop towns, none of which can be accessed by car.
Nestled down on Italy’s ankle, in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, Naples is the black sheep of Italy’s major cities, and all the more exciting for it. Its residents have their own brand of confrontational cheer and its old town in particular buzzes with life. Naturally the Roman history is not to be missed – a day in Pompeii is obligatory – but do also allow some time to eat world-famous pizza at Da Michele, where the sourdough base is so good that it’s only topped with tomato, basil and optional mozzarella.
See ancient ruins from the first Olympic Games in Olympia, Greece © Princess
An archaeological site of such size and importance that it must be seen to be believed, Olympia was the site of the Olympic games from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. As well as the Temple of Zeus – one of the seven wonders of the world – a tour of Olympia will allow you to set foot inside the stadium, where the Olympics began, and the ancient wrestling school and admire many intricate monuments. The towns and villages nearby are quaint and traditional (a relaxing contrast to a visit to Athens) and perfect for a hearty lunch of local olives, bread, feta and wine.
Just 30 miles south of Murcia on the Mediterranean coast, the ancient city of Cartagena was founded more than 2,000 years ago. City walls from 227BC, a 1st century Roman amphitheatre, the remains of a 13th century cathedral and elegant Art Nouveau buildings are all important stops on a tour of Cartagena’s history; fortunately its compact size makes it possible to see the best of Cartagena on a half-day walking tour. Having worked up an appetite exploring, we suggest you stop for cold beer and tapas on the pretty waterfront.