Ancient Cultures and History
One of the most popular cruising regions in all of Europe
The Eastern Mediterranean has been gaining in popularity as a cruising region over recent years. Encompassing the area ranging from Italy’s east coast to the Adriatic and Greek Isles (all the way to Turkey, in fact), the Eastern Med is now Usually an Eastern Mediterranean sailing will often start in Piraeus (the port city for Athens), Rome (served by the port city of Civitavecchia) or Venice. Sandwiched in between could be stops in the Greek islands, Croatia, Italy or Turkey. Some cruise lines mix a combination of Eastern and Western Mediterranean ports into their Med itineraries and will include stops in Barcelona or Genoa as well.
Using Athens, Venice and Rome as the starting and ending points of the voyage is a wise choice on the part of the cruise lines since those cities present the most varied options for pre or post-cruise stays. Neither can be seen adequately in a one-day port stop, so most cruisers will opt to add on a two or three-day stay in these cities.
Depending upon the length of the sailing, many cruise lines will include at least one overnight port stay on their Eastern Mediterranean cruises. The most popular ports for this would include Barcelona and Venice since those places offer the most varied nightlife that passengers can take advantage of during an overnight port stay. Also, some cruise lines, especially those embarking or disembarking in Athens, may include a more comprehensive exploration of the Greek Isles, including port stops in Santorini and Katakolon. In fact, for those cruisers who prefer more time in and around the water, rather than an itinerary that involves a lot of touring through ancient cathedrals and other historically significant sights, an itinerary that primarily features the Greek Isles may be just the ticket. These types of sailings will provide for some touring, but also for lots of quality beach time, a uniquely Eastern Mediterranean atmosphere, and ports that are steeped in lots of rich history as well. Common ports on these Greek Isles itineraries often include Santorini, Rhodes, Mykonos, Corfu, Samos and even the small island of Patmos. A visit to the Cave of St. John is a must see for cruise passengers who are lucky enough to make a port call here.
While some of the cruise lines base ships in the Eastern Med year-round, historically it has been a summertime cruising destination. Most Eastern Mediterranean cruises run from Spring to Autumn, with the focus being on the high summer season. Winter cruising in the Med, though, has become more and more popular in recent years, especially since the temperatures are more moderate (usually in the 50’s to 70’s as opposed to the 80’s and 90’s of summer), and the crowds are significantly less. Prices are usually more reasonable during this time too; a significant consideration if one is planning for a pre or post-cruise stay of some duration.
Most of the mass market cruise lines including Holland America, Cunard, Norwegian Cruise Lines, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean Cruises will position a ship in the Eastern Mediterranean at least during the warmer months of the year. Additionally, some cruise lines base smaller ships in the Eastern Med including Crystal Cruises, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas and Viking Ocean Cruises which are capable of getting into some of the smaller, more exotic ports of call inaccessible to the big vessels.
The Eastern Mediterranean presents one of the most wonderful cruising options in all of Europe. It is a place that will delight even the most seasoned traveller and it will provide for a holiday that will never be forgotten no matter how many subsequent trips you take to other luxurious destinations in the future.
It offers a unique blend of ancient cultures and history along with such wonderful treasures as pristine beaches and quaint little villages. Because of the sheer diversity of the region and its features, it probably offers the greatest array of holiday options in Europe.
Alexander the Great founded the city of Alexandria in 331 BC and it is only 25 kilometres from Cairo. It is still today a beacon of culture in Egypt and many say that the atmosphere of the city is not so much Egyptian or Middle Eastern as Mediterranean. It was the home of the Pharos, a lighthouse that formed one of the Seven Wonders of the World and the scene of the relationship of Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. It was also the ancient world’s centre of learning and when it was discovered by Napoleon, it was barely a fishing village, it had declined so much.
By the 19th century, Alexandria had become the commercial and maritime centre of Egypt. Authors have immortalised the city and the city today has been influenced by Greeks and Italians alike. It is the commercial, cosmopolitan, and bohemian city that should be explored at random in order to see the sites in the right atmosphere. With hotels and hostels galore and plenty of restaurants to try, the city is yours for the taking at a leisurely pace.
Located off the West coast of Greece, the island of Corfu is one of the many islands enjoying the warm Mediterranean climate. It is one of the Ionian Islands, and is hot and dry during the summer with rainy winters that feed the 2 million plus olive trees that are to be found all over the island. Olives are the island’s major cultivated crop. Tourism to the island, however, has overtaken the export of olives.
Greeks, Romans, Venetians and French people have inhabited Corfu and all of them have left their mark on this small island. There are two forts available for exploration and the island is surrounded by myths and legends that include names such as Heracles, Homer, Odysseus, and Jason and the Argonauts. The main town of the island, also named Corfu, has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site, which protects and preserves the many beautiful buildings and monuments on the island. It is interesting to note that the coast seen from the island is that of Albania and not Greece as most would think, and the channel that separates the two is less than 2 kilometres deep in places.
Croatia is one of the few countries you may not think of when planning a trip to the Mediterranean, yet it is one of the most beautiful countries to be found in the region. It has a rich cultural heritage, magnificent natural constructions and warm weather. The historic city of Dubrovnik is in the southern part of the country below the Roman city of Pula and is on the coast of the Adriatic Sea. Visitors can explore the reefs and islets from Dubrovnik and the city is within driving distance of ski resorts during the winter.
Dubrovnik was founded in the 7th century and today it encompasses two separated settlements from that time. It is surrounded by high city walls that were built to protect the city from Arab, Venetian, Macedonian, Serb and other invaders who attempted to conquer this unique position on the coast. At the time the population was very aristocratic and there were three classes occupying the city. Today, everyone lives as one and the city is booming with tourists and visitors.
The island of Crete is one of the most beautiful in the Mediterranean. The main city of the island is Heraklion and it is the key business centre of the island. A major cruise destination, the city is consistently bustling with activity day and night. You can find the usual types of shop in the city if shopping is your passion, but if you look closer, you will find a unique shop here and there that holds a treasure you never would expect.
With beautiful weather all year long, visitors to Heraklion can stay at one of the many hotels the city offers or they can relax in the warm setting of homely Bed & Breakfasts. Self-catering accommodation is also readily available. Plus, the city offers plenty of restaurants for your enjoyment, serving all types of cuisine, but you should make it a point to try at least one Greek dish before going home.
Katakolon is the gateway to Olympia, the area where the first Olympic Games was held in honour of the Greek god Zeus. This small Greek town has a population that is just over 600 people and it is located on western Ilia in Pyrgos. The town overlooks the Ionian Sea, as it is located on a peninsula. It has a lighthouse in the southwest that was opened in 1865 and it is the perfect place to relax for a weekend of exploring mythology and history, or for simply relaxing on the beach.
The town is also the stop of many cruise lines, as visitors to Greece wish to see Olympia and the ruins of the sanctuary, the athletic quadrangles, stadium temples, and treasuries before moving on to visit the Archaeological Museum that holds Archaic, Classical and Roman sculptures taken from the area. This museum is the home of the famed Nike Winged Victory. If you have the time, taking the guided tour of Ancient Olympia and the Olympia Museum is well worthwhile.
Smaller cruise ships are able to dock in the port, whilst larger vessels will anchor in the bay which is enclosed by hills. Passengers come ashore aboard a tender boat.
Many of the large cruise companies run cruises that visit Kotor, including Thomson Cruises, Royal Caribbean and P&O. Cruising to Kotor is often part of a cruise of the Eastern Mediterranean, and itineraries may include other countries, such as Serbia and Croatia. Over 450 cruise ships visit Kotor in the period between March and November, bringing over 500,000 tourists to one of the top destinations in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Koper, Slovenia, is located on the Adriatic Sea and enjoys the typical Mediterranean climate influenced by the weather deeper in the country. With mild winters and warm, dry summers, the city gets to feel the sirocco from Africa on a nice day. There are plenty of places to stay in the city, from hotels to hostels to self-catering establishments, and this city is filled with plenty of historical sites and museums.
As you enter the city you will see 19 Istrian limestone blocks that are the remains of the ancient city wall. The streets intertwine to lead to the square and you will immediately see the largest cathedral in Slovenia dominating the landscape. The city was once known as Iustinopolis, a remnant of the Venetian Republic. Indeed, the facades of the city’s buildings show the varying types of architecture that have built up the city over the years.
The city of Limassol on the island of Cyprus is located south of the island’s capital of Nicosia. It is the largest beach resort on the island, and many people come here to enjoy extended vacations. The second largest city in Cyprus, you can enjoy staying at one of its many hotels, resorts, or self-catering apartments. The city is ten miles long and the Troodos Mountains act as a beautiful backdrop to this historically rich city.
Limassol is the primary city for the island’s wine-making industry and it is bustling with shopping opportunities and a holiday feel. It has what is considered the best nightlife on the island and it is the home of Cyprus’ annual Wine Festival every September. The wineries here offer visitors free samples of their product for ten days, namely the ten-day pre-Lenten Carnival. There is also a drama festival held at Kourion just outside the city every year as well.
The Colossus of Rhodes was one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and today there are only images depicted on pottery and in murals to remind us of this great work of mankind. The largest of the Dodecanese Islands in the Mediterranean between the Aegean Sea and the Middle East coast, the island of Rhodes is still a tourist’s dream. With accommodation ranging from self-catering to modern hotels, this beautiful island is filled with plenty to do and see.
The island is wrapped in Greek mythology and rarely a day goes by when the sun isn’t shining. The majority of the island’s hills and low mountains are covered with natural forest, which is perfect for exploring and hiking. Roses grow freely from the fertile soil of Rhodes and the beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world. Littered with resorts, it is no wonder that Rhodes is so popular for both weekend and extended getaways. Full of life, the island is a mecca of sports, cultural, and nightlife events. And that is not including the trips visitors may wish to make to the other islands in the archipelago.
Cruising to Santorini, you will arrive at the cruise port which is at the bottom of the Caldera Cliffs. Santorini does not have a cruise terminal, so passengers are tendered ashore aboard small boats. During the high season, Santorini will receive around 80,000 visitors each day, and there may be as many as five cruise ships arriving each morning, making the port one of the most crowded in the world. The original port was called Skala, but now the larger port of Anthinios has taken over.
Santorini, with its stunning cliffs, and white and blue architecture framed against the cobalt blue sea, is the highlight of many Greek cruises. All the big cruise lines will offer cruises that include Santorini on their itineraries. The embarkation point may be Rome or Venice, and you can often book flights and transfers with the cruise companies. Alternatively, you can find cruises that start from the UK, which may include other countries such as Turkey and Gibraltar. All cruises will offer excursions at their stops, and these may be worth considering if time is short.
The city of Venice is definitely a unique place to visit. Located in Italy, the city is built with canals as streets and gondolas as cars. It takes more than just a steady hand to steer the gondolas as well, and the many gondoliers of the city are actually required to take classes and be licensed before offering their services to the many tourists and residents of Venice.
When visiting the city you will be able to enjoy staying in one of the many well-known hotels, self-catering establishments, or other types of accommodation the city has to offer. Food in the city is just as varied and you can enjoy everything from traditional Italian meals to other international cuisine. There are also plenty of cafes and bistros to enjoy for a different flavour of the city.
With a name like Zakynthos, you know that you are visiting a part of Greece. This small island with its beautiful green vegetation is surrounded by the Ionian Sea and it is the southernmost island in the archipelago chain. The island is actually a short distance from the north-western tip of the Peloponnesus and it has also been called Zante or ‘Flower of the East Wind’. It was a widely visited destination for Greek tourists long before it became one for international visitors.
The island has a varied geography that ranges from mountains to beaches to flat countryside and rolling hills. There are natural springs all over the island and these contribute to the beautiful green landscape. Wild flowers bloom here on the sunniest island in the Mediterranean. The coastal cliffs and beaches are rife with places to explore and wonderful flora and fauna to see. The island is home to sea turtles, and being able to watch these magnificent creatures in their own habitat is exhilarating.
The city of Istanbul is one of the most diverse cities in Turkey. The city has only two sides that are distinguishable; the European side and the Asian side, separated by the Bosphorous Strait. The city stretches from the Black Sea to the Bosphorus and touches the Sea of Maramara. Filled with historic sites, plenty of places to shop, and accommodation to suit all tastes, Istanbul is one of the most unusual cities located on the Mediterranean.
Most people come into Istanbul at Sultanahmet, a peninsula that juts out into the Bosphorous. The Tokapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and the Yerebatan Basilica Cistern are located in this part of the city. The Hippodrome is also here and visitors can enjoy restaurants, cafes, bars, rug stores, and other shops that are intermingled with the popular tourist attractions. You will also want to visit the huge Grand Bazaar.
The city was laid out based on plans drawn up by the architect Hippodamus and it was the home of the Athens naval power. Two smaller harbours – Zea and Munichia – were part of the bigger city and they are still active today. Zea is the largest marina in the Mediterranean and Munichia is filled with fishing boats, yachts, and many attractive taverns providing refreshments.
Above the two harbours is the hill of Kastella that is home to many traditional houses and which provides a beautiful view of the area. High above this location is the Church of the Prophet Elijah and the Veakeio Theatre where summer performances are held. Visitors to this commercial city can stay in one of the many hotels, self-catering establishments, or Bed & Breakfasts depending on their tastes. Finding great food here is not difficult as there are plenty of restaurants in the city that serve traditional Greek fare as well as more international cuisine.
Lying on the coast of Tunisia is the port city of La Goulette, part of the port system of Tunis. Located at the end of Lake of Tunis’ causeway, the suburb is part of the capital city and can be reached by bus or car over the causeway. The city has a population of about 50,000 and the name means ‘river mouth’. Over the years it has been a strategic location and has been controlled by the Spanish and the Turks who were attempting to control the entrance to the harbour.
The city was the most important possession of Spain during the reign of Charles V. In 1574 it was taken over by the Turks, enlarged, and strengthened, using the existing Spanish fort to build up its defences. It was only during the French colonial period and occupation that the Lake silted over and could no longer take ships. A channel was dredged out across the lake between 1888 and 1892, returning shipping once again and the city grew more important as Tunis slowly declined.
The city of Tripoli in Libya is an interesting and unusual holiday destination that has been avoided because of some of the strife and sanctions set upon western travellers. Because of this, many of the sites that are available to visit are new to even the most seasoned traveller. But travelling to Tripoli is safe when the proper precautions are taken, and the many antiquities and varied scenery are well worth the trip.
When packing for this trip, it is advisable that you bring appropriate clothing, as this is a conservative Muslim nation. As a guest there, you are expected to respect their customs in dress and behaviour. If you can do that then the city of Tripoli will be a wonderful place to visit. The city itself is serviced by most major European and Arab airlines and getting around the country is best done with car hire services, taxis, or by microbus. There are public transportation services between Tripoli and other cities and even though most everything else is expensive in the country, this is not.
The city of Yalta is best known for the famous conference that took place at the end of World War II. But this city has been known as a vacation destination for many years, and it was the favourite spot of Russian Tsars and princes. Located along 70 kilometres of the Black Sea coast, this city has a varied geography that ranges from mountains to beaches. There are 170 settlements and sanatoriums that make up the city and the sun shines around 2,250 hours per year. Since the fall of the Soviet regime and the opening of the Ukrainian borders, Yalta has grown by leaps and bounds and visitors will find all sorts of accommodation for their stay.
You enter the city at the 150-year-old Baidarsky Gate that is located 46 kilometres from the city proper. The view from the hillside over the city is beautiful. You will be able to see the silhouette of the Church of the Resurrection on the Red Cliff and the palace of Alexander Kuznetsov. You will also be able to visit the Iphigenia Cliff and the Devil’s Ladder pass all within the Greater Yalta area.
Situated in the North Aegean, Limnos is home to a charming capital - Myrina. The Town is draped around 2 stunning bays and sitting atop a volcanic rock formation is an imposing castle at its centre. Aside from the picture-perfect Greek port, Myrina is home to narrow cobbled streets, Venetian castle, Neoclassical mansions and Ottoman buildings. As you wander the whitewashed streets you will find plenty of seaside restaurants and tavernas serving traditional fresh dishes. Head to the ‘Agora’ or market and shop for locally produced products including pottery, handicrafts and award-winning honey and wine.