They say there is no better way to see the Mediterranean than by ship so I recently boarded the cruise ship Azura operated by P&O Cruises to see if this is true. On arrival at Southampton’s Ocean Terminal I’m handed a check in card and wait with other passengers for my ‘letter’ to be called. Eventually having been checked in, passed through security, I am on board this large cruise ship and heading for my cabin, an inside of good proportions on ‘A’ deck. Azura entered service in 2010 and carrying over 3,000 passengers has become a favourite with many.
Sailing late in the afternoon we are routed round the Isle of Wight, south into the Atlantic and across the Bay of Biscay before arriving 38 hours later In Vigo, a small town on Spain’s north west coast.
Walk up the steps from the harbour and sample the oysters in the fish market, enjoy a fish based meal in one of the numerous small restaurants or simply enjoy a beer at an outside table and watch the world go by. Carry on walking up the incline you pass the Church of Santa Maria built originally in the middle ages but then demolished and rebuilt in the 18th century. Housed there is the Cristo de la Victoria which is paraded on the 1st Sunday in August, followed by thousands of worshipers. The weather is not good, rain and wind, so back to the ship for lunch and a drink at one of the many bars on board.
Next day is Lisbon, a city set on 7 hills and one I always enjoy visiting. Approaching along the River Tejo (Tegus) past the Monument to the Discoveries built in memory of Henry the Navigator and the Belem Tower built in 1520 before passing under the 25th of April Bridge, a twin to the Golden Gate Bridge, where it always appears that the ship is too big to pass under until you actually reach it. Standing high on a hill to the right is the 110 metres high statue of Christ the King Sanctuary similar in many respects to Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janero. Lisbon has much to see and quite often a day is not long enough. It’s an excellent place to buy shoes and other leather goods, travel in an old fashioned tram, visit the Hard Rock Café for one of their excellent Pina Coladas or just walk up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge and enjoy wonderful views out over the city and river.
Back on the ship and time for dinner as we head to Gibraltar. Many people are looking forward to this port because of the duty free shopping, views from the top of the rock and much more but on arrival the rain is torrential. Those that do go ashore come back with tales of flooded streets and head for the dryers in the ships laundry’s with wet clothes. Late morning the sky starts to clear but too late to go ashore as we are sailing that afternoon. With us in port is P&O’s newest and biggest ship Britannia on her way back to the UK. She sails first to much sounding of ships whistles and passengers waving farewell to one another.
Next day we are at sea sailing north east along the Spanish coast, passing the islands of Ibiza and Mallorca towards our next port of call, Monte Carlo. Like many cruise lines P&O on sea days have lecturers who talk on a variety of subjects and today is one that I really want to attend. It’s Adam showing passengers how to use the various applications on iPads and iPhones. Most people who have smart phones never use them to their full potential, Why? Because they don’t know how. For me a well spent 40 minutes and I now know what the ‘Pano’ feature will do.
The weather improves as we near our destination of Monte Carlo where we arrive the following morning to brilliant sunshine and from the open deck can be seen the familiar sight of the famous Casino of Monte Carlo featured in so many films. The harbour area is busy with large motor yachts that are the privilege of few and the envy of many. After a leisurely breakfast it is time to go ashore and walk in the footsteps of the rich and famous. The white stoned St. Nicholas Cathedral of Monaco where Prince Rainier and Princess Grace formerly Grace Kelly were married, and now, where they are buried, Princes Palace, Hotel de Paris, Exotic Garden, all places that many have seen on film and now have a chance to visit and if that is not enough there is even a bus that will take you round the Grand Prix circuit. Hotels with verandas overlooking the marina are the place to be after exploring, you can sip coffee in the sunshine and dream of owning one of the yachts. Back on board we sail late in the afternoon for our next port, Livorno.
Livorno, Tuscany’s second largest port is the gateway to Florence and Pisa as is made apparent by the number of taxi drivers offering trips to these areas of attraction. I settle for the ships shuttle bus into the town and from there board one of the Hop On- Hop Off buses that give an excellent hours tour of the surrounding areas. Beautiful beaches, small villages and the bustling town of Livorno itself. Visit the Church of San Ferdinando completed in 1717 or explore the town and admire the architecture. The town is a shopper’s paradise with well known names selling their designer clothes. The main square, surrounded by street cafes and restaurants where after shopping you can sit, drink coffee, enjoy a beer and people watch.
Next day is Civitavecchia although described as the port for Rome it is nearly 50 miles north west of this famous city. The port area has changed since my last visit and the railway station to board the train for Rome is now no longer walkable but a 2 Euro bus ride. A shuttle is run from the docks into the town where you are met by a host of taxi drivers trying to sell you trips to Rome. However walking passed them and along the main street brings you to the new Corso Marconi, a walkway with restaurants and views out over the harbour and blue sea beyond. Enjoy a cappuccino in the sun and the free wi-fi that all the establishments offer. Much improvement has been carried to this beautiful old city and it is a pleasure to do nothing more than walk around it admiring the mix of old and new. The time passes quickly and soon it’s back to the shuttle for return to the ship.
From Civitavecchia we travel to Ajaccio on the island of Corsica and the birthplace of Napoleon. Indeed everywhere you go the name of either Napoleon or Bonaparte appear. Street names, areas, monuments, statues. It is Sunday and a street market is in full swing with the bars and cafes bursting at the seams with happy customers. I board the ‘Little Train’ for a tour and this turns out to be the best value for money tour of the trip. 12 Euros for a tour with commentary in English of the town and surrounding areas. First stop is the Place d'Austerlitz Napoleon monument where we have a 10 minute stop to take photographs. It’s then through the town and along the coast passing complexes, small sandy beaches and the old cemetery of Ajaccio along the Route des Sanguinaires where the tombs are more like small dwellings. An amazing site that I have never seen anywhere else. Finally we reach a large beach area where we have a 15 minute stop for refreshments before boarding the train and being delivered back to our start point. The market is starting to close so I manage to find a seat outside a bar and have a beer whilst catching up on emails.
The next day is a sea day as we sail across the Mediterranean to our last port of call Cadiz, a beautiful city set in southern Spain from where Christopher Columbus sailed on his 2nd and 4th voyages and one of the oldest continuously inhabited city’s in Spain. One of the best ways to see the city and surrounding area is again on the Hop On-Hop Off buses that run at frequent intervals from outside the main dock exit gate. Passing historic monuments and buildings you head for the beach road taking us along the bay of Cadiz. The huge beach features in the James Bond film Die Another Day. Totalling 8 kms in length it forms a yellow boarder to the blue sea beyond. Leaving the beach area you travel along tree lined avenues, passed the famous Botanical Gardens with stops for the Cathedral and the Central Quarter behind the walled area of the city.
Back on the ship it’s time to say farewell to Spain as we set sail for Southampton where we are due to arrive in 3 days’ time.
So is the Mediterranean best seen from a cruise ship? After 14 days of visiting some wonderful cities in 3 different countries the answer has to be yes. I now understand why they say, visit many countries and only unpack once.
Alan Fairfax -
is a travel writer for
YOUR HOLIDAY TV
Alan also writes for the
Ashford Advertiser Media Group with regional papers across Kent with regular holiday & travel sections in all editions
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