Our final port of call was a surprise to all onboard. We were scheduled to spend the day in Marseilles, France, but due to high winds, the port of call was changed to Monte Carlo. It was a happy surprise for us to visit Monaco. We took the tender in to Villefranche-sur-Mer , then boarded a tour bus from there for the short ride along the cliffs into Monte Carlo. We spent the day on a walking tour of the small principality visiting the highlights. The views of the sea, the gardens, buildings, and the luxury of the area left me wanting more. The French Riviera has a sunny appeal that draws individuals from around the world. I, too, was drawn to the sun, surf, and beauty—and anxiously await my return to the French Riviera. As the final port on our Mediterranean cruise, it was the “cherry on top of the sundae”. We truly enjoyed our entire cruise and found this port to be a sweet ending.
The mega-port of Civitavecchia is the gateway to Rome. It has an ancient history supporting the Roman Empire and is still a major entry point for visitors to Rome. Civitavecchia itself has limited tourist appeal and most cruisers make the hour plus bus ride into Rome for tours. However, since we had little interest in a too-long-to-enjoy 11 hour touring day and had recently visited Rome for a week, we opted to take a nice walk in Civitavecchia during the morning hours and then enjoy a peaceful spa day on the ship later in the afternoon.
To start our day, we rode the shuttle bus from the ship’s dock to the tourist office located next to the Michelangelo Fort that once protected the port. Part of the fort was designed by Michelangelo and gives a hint at the strength once needed to protect such a significant link to Rome. Today, the fort looks tiny compared to the enormous modern ships that utilize the port. We started our walk from there after picking up some maps at the tourist office. We made our way down the main pedestrian walkway, Corso Centocelle, stopping to see the Trajan Theater and the Etruscan excavations on view below the sidewalk. We continued on to the local open air farmer’s market, and then returned back to the shuttle bus stop via some of the small side streets branching off the main pedestrian area. Our self-guided tour was a nice way to kick off another beautiful cruise day.
Kotor, Montenegro (located in the former Yugoslavia) was a surprisingly beautiful and interesting port. We woke up early just to watch the arrival into the port city from our verandah. The sailing into the beautiful harbor at first morning light was impressive. The steep mountains surrounding the small crescent-shaped harbor made it feel like we were passing through fiords. The sail-away at the end of the day was equally impressive and included narration from the bridge, plus an extra swing around the two tiny islands near Kotor. During our port day we visited the well-preserved medieval town inside the fortified walls of the old city. The old city houses cathedrals, family palaces, antique shops, restaurants, and shops along its narrow and winding streets. The old city entrance was within easy walking distance of the pier and proved to be a delightful stop. It is certain that this incredibly scenic destination and fascinating town will gain popularity with visitors in the coming years. The former Yugoslavia is slowly being discovered by travelers and this city will likely increase that interest. I can imagine that this city will become a destination hot-spot someday and I can certainly see myself spending an extended vacation in this area sometime in the future.
Port #3 was Brindisi, located on Italy’s boot heel. The port was a good starting point for a tour to nearby Alborobello, Italy. The scenic drive along the coastline from Brindisi to Alborobello was just a short hour ride away. Alborobello is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its collection of preserved trulli homes. A trullo home is a small round home with a conical roof, built without mortar. The unique homes were built in the 1400s to avoid taxes due to landowners, but are likely based on much older designs. The homes were simply knocked down to avoid tax assessments and later rebuilt following the departure of the assessors. Today, the village of Alberobello (the capital of trulli in the region) includes more than 1,000 trulli, including a small trullo church and souvenir shops in former trulli homes. On our tour, we were able to go inside one of the trullo and see how one family lives in these historic homes. The charming homes give the area a fairy-tale look and wandering the small streets is an enjoyable way to spend the day. This is a highly recommended tour if you are visiting the Puglia (Apulia) region of Italy.
Port number two on our itinerary was Argostoli, Greece. This small city is located on the Greek island of Kefalonia. The visitor offerings nearest the pier are limited, consisting of a few shops, cafes, and a walking area. The surrounding island scenery is lovely, as many of the Greek islands are, and it is worthwhile to seek out the best views. Nearby, you can visit religious sites, wineries, Melissani Lake and Drogarati Cave.
For some, these tiny port cities can be appealing for their small size and as a pleasant counterbalance to the metropolis-sized cities visited. I particularly enjoy a small port city following a longer, more strenuous tour the previous day. For me, it is more pleasant to have a “recovery day” in a small city. I can go for a walk off the ship, enjoy the sunshine, and not feel a tremendous need to see a great deal of the area. Those who are looking for big cities and bright lights will want to select ports with multiple tour options to keep them busy. Others, who enjoy the slower pace, will be happy with fewer activity choices.
When on a cruise, as in my own daily life, I try to seek a good balance of activity and rest. And I personally like the idea of moving slowly in a sleepy island town.
The first port on our cruise was Messina, Italy in Sicily. We chose to do a self-guided walking tour in the city since a major tourist site is within easy walking distance of the pier.
We headed for Piazza Duomo to see the famous bell tower there. The campanile houses the largest and most complex mechanical and astronomical clock in the world. The clock was built in 1933 in the bell tower of the Cathedral of Messina. At noon each day, the automated clock changes through a system of counterweights, levers, and gears. Quite a large group of tourists, both on foot and on tour buses, gathered there with us a few minutes before noon to hear and see the clock. The clock includes movement of large gold statues and scenes that change for the days of the week, month, year, liturgical seasons, hour and quarter hours of the day, solar system rotation, phases of the moon, as well as, scenes representing the four stages of life, the awakening of man, and several stories of local history and lore.
Although this piazza cannot compete with more beautiful ones in Italy, it is a good starting point for further exploration. In this piazza you can also visit the cathedral, see the fountain (Fontana di Orione, built in 1547), obtain tourist information, get a taxi, eat at a café, or buy a gelato. Walking the nearby streets gives you a good feel for this part of the city, which appears to be heavily focused on students. The University of Messina was established in 1548, but had to be rebuilt following an earthquake in 1908 that killed 84,000 Messina residents. Today, Messina is a busy port city that reflects not only Italian culture, but all of the many ruling powers that have claimed Sicily since its founding in the 8th century BC.
Local attractions near Messina include: the town of Taormina (a favorite resort destination for many famous figures), Mt. Etna (for hiking in summer and skiing in winter), and the town of Savoca (a particularly interesting destination for fans of the movie “The Godfather”, directed by Francis Ford Coppola).
Our next port: Argostoli, Greece on the island of Kefalonia.
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