If you have holidayed in Europe then the likelihood is that you’ve visited the Mediterranean Coast. Stretching from the south coast of Spain to sun soaked Cyprus, the Mediterranean coastline encompasses some of the most beautiful parts of Europe. But if you only explore it one beach at a time can you really say you’ve seen it in its full glory? With dazzling stretches of shoreline road and cliff top views, why not take to four wheels and explore one of these fantastic routes:
Cassis to La Ciotat, France
At just 12 miles long, this short but sweet jaunt hugs the shoreline of the southern French Coast. Navigate your way between two of the region’s most unspoilt seaside towns Cassis and La Ciotat and negotiate the high altitude Route des Crêtes over Cap Canaille. Cap Canaille is one of the tallest maritime cliffs in Europe and the views from the top are truly spectacular.
Cassis itself is perhaps one of France’s best kept secrets. Charming, quaint, and picture perfect, it has maintained the appeal of a coastal fishing village whilst succumbing the laid back lifestyle of its Rivera counterparts (minus the crowds). Cassis is full of character so be sure to take a leisurely stroll through the old streets that offer a quintessentially ‘South of France’ experience.
Whilst it may be tempting to fill your camera’s memory card with pictures of Cassis remember to save some space for the drive! Les Route des Crêtes offers panoramic views over some of the most superb scenery in Provence. Whilst the route is only 12 miles long, the roads are steep and winding. They can be narrow in some places, so adopt the laid back Riviera attitude and take your time. The slower pace will give you more opportunity to enjoy the beautiful views of the coast, the mountains and the countryside in between!
Hiking trails lead off the road at a number of viewpoints. Why not break up the drive with a short stroll? Stretch your legs and get a closer look at some of the unusual rock formations that make the landscape so striking. Your vantage point up high on Cap Canaille also gives you a chance to experience a different perspective of the coastline and the hidden seaside gems of Cassis and La Ciotat. Rather than seeing things from ground level, your bird’s eye view puts this stunning section of coastline in perspective geographically. It’s an opportunity to experience the area as a whole, in all its natural glory.
But the beauty doesn’t stop there! La Ciotat is a truly authentic French town, having so far managed to side step the influence of tourism. Home to an array of unique boutiques and a lively market on Sunday mornings it is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir or two to complement your bursting holiday photo album. Like Cassis the centre is made up of winding streets and shady squares dotted with relaxed cafes and delicious restuarants. Finally, enjoy a day on the beach at L’Ile Verte. Take the ferry from the port and make the short 10 minute crossing to this picture perfect spot. Pack a picnic and admire the breath-taking shoreline from the beach or explore the island and uncover the range of fantastic viewpoints.
Otranto to Santa Maria di Leuca, Italy
The region of Puglia makes up the heel of Italy’s boot. The landscape is characterised by rugged hills dotted with whitewashed buildings and crystal clear waters lapping against the sun scorched coastline. The drive itself meanders between the seaside towns of Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca along a road that has been dubbed the ‘Little Amalfi Coast’. With its jagged coastline and secret beaches this stretch of the Puglia region is perfect for exploring by car and without doubt one of the most beautiful drives in Europe.
Otranto is a harbour town and is as gorgeous as it is historic. Before you embark on your scenic drive along the coast be sure to visit its unusual Cathedral. It is well known for the monumental mosaic which covers the entire floor of the Cathedral and dates back to the 12th century. Despite being hundreds of years old the mosaic has stood the test of time and the mythical illustrations which depict man’s struggle between good and evil can still be clearly deciphered.
If you get the chance take an evening stroll around Otranto. The town’s architecture is particularly impressive at night, especially the castle. Locate the turrets and walls open to the public and make your way to the top for breath taking views of the city. You will likely find yourself struggling to leave this picturesque town. Rest assured there are even better things to come. The drive runs past mile after mile of spectacular ocean views and is one of the most underrated attractions of the area.
The cliffs, grottos, ancients fishing villages and hidden beaches along the way are numerous, offering plenty of opportunity to take breaks, hike, picnic and swim. Don’t miss the ‘Grotta Zinzulusa’ which is famous for its stalagmites and stalactites. Be sure to take the guided tour of this ocean-side cave and hear the fascinating story of the cave’s discovery as you swim in the warm clear waters. As the midday heat beats down on the dramatic limestone cliffs of Puglia’s coastline, stop for a picnic beneath the shade of the abundant olive groves.
As you approach Gagliano del Capo you’ll come across a sea inlet spanned by an impressive bridge. Here you have two choices: descend the stone steps to access the water for a leisurely swim, or join the daring divers as they scale the cliffs and jump from heights of up to 50ft! Whichever you decide, the inlet is an idyllic place to cool off in the afternoon sun.
Leuca is framed by the Regional National Park of the Costa Otranto. Before you reach the town, stop and enjoy the view of the wild flower and shrub covered slopes as they cascade down the rocky hillsides. Round of your scenic tour of the Puglian coastline and climb the headland to the lighthouse. Here you will be greeted by a staggering vista where the Adriatic and Ionian Seas meet. As you relax in the Marina with a gelato or sit down to dinner at one of the delicious restaurants in the old town and reflect on the highlights of the drive, you wouldn’t be mistaken for thinking you had found your own piece of paradise.
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Other Mediterranean Delights
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I’m relatively new to cruising so my week’s cruise in the Mediterranean with MSC Cruises was a very enjoyable way of learning what cruising’s all about and how to get the most from this kind of holiday. I’ve realised that, just as there is a style of hotel or resort to suit each person’s taste and budget, every cruise line and cruise ship brings a different flavour, so it’s important to research carefully before you book your cruise. We had a wonderful week with MSC Cruises and if you’re thinking of booking or have already booked on MSC Splendida, here’s what you need to know to get the most from your cruise;
About MSC Splendida – big is beautiful
First the vital statistics. There’s no getting away from the fact that MSC Splendida is a big ship, with over 1600 staterooms and room for 3247 guests – or more if you happen to be travelling in the holiday season when there will be plenty of children to swell the numbers on board. She’s a relatively new ship too, built in 2009 and one of the four “Fantasia” class of ship in the MSC fleet which incorporate the most modern designs.
We found that MSC Splendida was a beautiful and glamourous ship and everything on board was extremely well maintained. A big ship has pros and cons – it means that there’s lots of choice of things to do and many different bars and restaurants to spread out, but you do need to be aware that the most popular areas such as the pool decks will become very busy especially on sea days.
I hope you enjoy the video below – my tour of MSC Splendida with MSC Cruises
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Who are the other guests on an MSC Mediterranean Cruise?
One of the key differences with MSC Cruises is that this is very much an Italian run cruise line, attracting a large proportion of European guests on the Mediterranean routes. Since passengers can board at different ports such as Barcelona, Marseille and Genoa, the majority of guests on our cruise were from Italy, Spain and France, with a few from China and Japan and a minority of English and Irish. This was never a problem from a language point of view since all announcements were made in 5 languages, including English and we were left in admiration at the multilingual skills of the crew.
The European flavour also extends to the way things are done on board, for instance the dress code is less formal, charging for bottled water seems strange for the British but is acceptable for European guests, and the service is friendly and efficient but less effusive than you might find on a North American ship.
The broad mix of European nationalities also meant that the entertainment could not rely on the language – so no comedy acts but more song and dance shows with a broad appeal. If you want a very British ship this may not be the cruise for you but if you are travelling as a family group or with friends then the cosmopolitan mix of guests will probably suit you.
MSC Cruises is also doing a great job in attracting a younger audience to the cruise market and on our cruise there were plenty of families, couples and groups of friends from 30+. This cruise certainly dispelled any preconception that cruises are only for the retired and the age range was similar to that you might find in a large resort hotel.
Dining options on MSC Splendida
There were two formal dining restaurants on board MSC Splendida, where you can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner as part of your inclusive cruise package. We were assigned to the Villa Verde restaurant on Deck 6 which was at the back of the ship, giving some nice sea views which we enjoyed at breakfast and we shared a table at dinner with a Norwegian and German couples who luckily spoke some English. The La Reggia restaurant was a two-level restaurant on deck 5 and 6 in the middle of the ship and we ate there for lunch on the sea day. The menus were the same in both restaurants and were excellent quality 3 or 4 course menus serving a mixture of European and Mediterranean dishes, with a few different choices of appetisers, soups, pasta, meat or fish dishes and deserts. Most guests were assigned a set dining time of 7pm or 9.30pm although in La Reggia there was also a flexible dining time option which you needed to opt for before your cruise.
For informal buffet-style dining, there were the adjoining Pago Pago and Bora Bora buffet restaurants on Deck 14 which merged into the pool area, with some seating outside. At main meal times there buffet restaurants were very busy and so we preferred to eat in the formal restaurants most of the time, although we would often dip into the buffet for a snack or a cake on our return from a shore excursion. The variety of food in the buffet restaurants depended on the time of day with a wide selection at meal times and at other times plenty of fresh pizza, sandwiches, fruit and cakes on offer.
We also took the opportunity to eat in the Santa Fe Tex-Mex Speciality Restaurant on Deck 7 which served exceptional steaks as well as other Tex-Mex specialities and brilliant Margaritas. There was an additional charge, depending on what you chose, just like a normal restaurant, rather than a fixed cover charge as I’ve found in other speciality cruise restaurants. Interestingly the restaurant seemed to be not very busy which could be that the guests were not looking to pay extra for dining on this cruise.
Overall the food on board MSC Splendida had a very Mediterranean feel with plenty of pizza and pasta and was high quality in taste and presentation. However, the speciality dining options were more limited than some other cruise lines so I would say that if you are looking for a gourmet experience on board, with a focus on trendy or more unusual food experiences, this may not be the ship for you.
Our Balcony Stateroom
We loved our balcony stateroom on deck 13 (room 140) which had a modern, Italian feel in the decor and a coffee and gold colour scheme. There was a seating area with sofa which could become a third bed and desk next to the windows, a fridge with mini bar and a flat screen TV. The bathroom had plenty of space with a moulded vanity unit and mirror above and a powerful shower with a curtain and some shampoo and soap in large refillable containers. Our balcony had room for 2 lounger chairs and the small table by the sofa could be used for drinks. The stateroom was a lovely place to relax before dinner or on the sea day when other areas of the ship were quite crowded, and we sometimes would pop up to deck 15 to get a coffee or cake and enjoy it in our room.
What additional charges will I need to budget for?
As with all cruise lines there are some things that are included in the price of your cruise on MSC Splendida and other things that you will need to budget for. My impression is that MSC Cruises pitch their cruises at a competitive entry price but that you may then need to budget for extras that some other cruise lines would include in the price, such as bottled water and bus transfers. Here’s what you need to budget for;
- As on most cruise lines gratuities are something extra you need to budget for and are not really optional. On MSC a service charge of 7 euros per person per day is added automatically to your bill, so there is no need to tip individual members of staff unless you have received exceptional service. An additional 15% service charge is also added to speciality restaurant, bar and spa charges.
- If you wish to take excursions, the prices are published on the MSC website and range from around €50 for a city tour to €80 for a longer all day tour.
- If you decide not to take the ship’s excursion but to explore on your own you may need to pay for the coach transfer to and from the port which may be some distance away. The price for the MSC bus service was typically €8-15 per person return. Another option is to take a taxi (likely to be a similar price to the cruise bus) or take public transport which requires some advance research.
- On MSC many people purchase a drinks package in advance which is likely to save you a lot of money, even if you are a moderate drinker and gives you the peace of mind of knowing that your drinks are at a flat rate. For our 7 day cruise on MSC Splendida the Cheers Adult drinks package was €115.50 per person allowing table wines, beer and soft drinks at lunch and dinner as well as soft drinks and coffee from the bar while the Alegrissimo package for €161 per person allowed the same type of drinks including drinks from the bar on a 24 hour basis.
- If you wish to try out the speciality restaurants on board (the main one on MSC Splendida being the Tex Mex Santa Fe restaurant) there will be an additional charge depending on what you choose from the menu – from memory a steak meal was around €20 supplement.
- If you enjoy spa, hair, nail or beauty treatments as part of your cruise obviously you would need to budget for these and there are plenty of different packages and special offers that you can check out when on board.
- Wifi is another extra and tends to be both expensive and slow (since it has to come via satellite) so it’s probably better to forget about catching up on your e-mails and use the time to relax.
So if you are a moderate drinker and take a couple of excursions during the cruise, you should budget €250-300 per person on top of the price of the cruise, more if you want to enjoy spa treatments, speciality dining and a wider range of drinks.
What’s there to do on board?
In my experience so far, you’ll never be short of things to do on a cruise, but will leave wishing there were more than 24 hours in a day to take advantage of everything on offer. For us one of the attractions of this cruise was being able to visit a different destination on each day of the cruise, which left us with limited time to try out all the entertainments on board. We did however very much enjoy the evening show each night, with two separate performances designed to fit in before or after your dinner sitting. The shows were mainly song and dance routines that would appeal to a wide audience with some juggling, balancing or acrobatic elements incorporated. Over the course of the cruise the evening shows transported us with different themes to Paris, Ancient Greece, Italy, the land of the Aztecs, as well as a Luciano Pavarotti tribute show one evening.
Of course one of the most popular parts of the ship is the pool deck and MSC Splendida had much to offer with an outdoor Aqua Park including jacuzzis and fountains as well as the pool. The second indoor L’Equatore pool area was ideal for younger children and families and had a retractable roof but was covered during our cruise. At the back of the ship was the smaller Playa del Sol Zen area, although the “Zen’” could be a bit misleading as this area was just as busy as the others. The Aqua Park was full of families and groups enjoying themselves with music, karaoke and dance classes taking place at one end, so great if you like a buzz of activities but not if you are looking for peace and quiet on your cruise. You would need to lay out your orange towel early to be sure of a sunbed in any of the pool areas although you could retreat to the Top 18 solarium area for an additional charge.
During the day and into the evening there was a wide range of entertainment including dance lessons, bingo, quiz events, sports tournaments, culinary demonstrations and Karaoke. We did attend a destination talk on our first day but this was mainly to provide information on the excursions on offer and one thing I did miss was any insights about the ports of call that we were about to visit. We found that the activities on board MSC Splendida were mainly about entertainment rather than education or culture, perhaps due to the issues of operating in multiple languages. So if you are a culture vulture or are looking for education from your cruise, you may have to create your own, but if you like plenty of lighthearted entertainment, there’s lots on offer.
Fitness and spa on MSC Splendida
Because we were so busy on this cruise visiting all the interesting ports of call, we didn’t make much use of the fitness facilities on board. However, Guy did use the gym a couple of times and on our sea day I had the treat of a lovely facial and Balinese massage. The spa has a large seating area with healthy snacks and drinks to order at the bar and a shop area selling sportswear and beauty products. I had a lovely relaxing facial and on a separate occasion indulged in a Balinese massage with scented aromas and soft music leaving me with my skin soft and glowing and in a soporific mood. It’s worth checking for special offers and packages if you are someone who enjoys a relaxing spa experience as part of your cruise.
What do I need to wear on board MSC Splendida?
Cruise ship dress codes can vary widely between different cruise lines and ships and also depend on the route and itinerary. Most people will pack comfortable clothes and shoes for sightseeing on shore excursions, something casual for relaxing around the pool on sea days and a few smart outfits to dressing up in the evening. However, the thing that concerns most guests who are new to cruising is what they need to pack for formal nights on board.
I was also unsure whether I should be packing my long evening gowns and whether Guy needed his dinner jacket/tuxedo as would be the norm on some more traditional and British cruise lines. However a bit of advance research told me that most guests on an MSC Cruises around the Mediterranean adopt a more European style of dress, since there are so many Italians, Spanish and French on board.
On our cruise noticed that there were not so many ladies on gala evenings were wearing long dresses, but they tended to adopt a more ‘cocktail’ style of glamour and that the men were wearing a wide range of different jackets but very few went for the “black tie” or tuxedo. In the end my sparkly Eileen Fisher sequin top and my versatile black Joseph Ribkoff evening cover-up were perfect for the two gala evenings on board and on other evenings I dressed as you would when going to any nice restaurant, while Guy wore a blazer and open neck shirt.
Did I say there were two gala evenings on our week’s cruise? This was because the Mediterranean route we sailed on MSC Splendida calls at many different ports on a circular route and so guests are able to start their cruise at different points such as Barcelona, Marseille and Genoa. Two different gala evenings gave everyone the opportunity to experience a formal night wherever they boarded. On other nights there were different party themes that included “Carnival Party”, “Flower Glory – a trip to the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s” and “White party” but I never saw anyone but the crew dress to these themes, since most guests would not know about them before they came on board.
On the sea day, dress around the ship was much more informal, such as you’d wear around the pool or for a day at the beach. You can read more about what I packed for my Mediterranean cruise in my article – What to wear on your Mediterranean Cruise – my 6 top tips
Who is this cruise suited for?
As I said at the beginning, there’s a cruise for every taste, so who is a Mediterranean cruise on MSC Splendida best for? In my opinion
You will enjoy this cruise and ship if…
- You enjoy visiting a lot of different destinations in one cruise
- You are looking for a lively atmosphere, lots of entertainment and plenty to do on board
- You enjoy a cosmopolitan European atmosphere on board
- You want a cruise with a youthful feel which is ideal for families with young children, groups of friends, multi-generational groups and those from their 30s upwards.
But this may not be the cruise for you if…
- You are looking for peace and quiet on your cruise
- You want a cruise that offers a gourmet experience or wide range of speciality dining options
- You enjoy a lot of cultural and educational activities
- You want to mix with passengers from an older age range
- You are looking to mix with mainly British or North American passengers on a ship that is mainly English speaking
Other articles in my Mediterranean Cruise series
Join me on a week’s Mediterranean cruise with MSC cruises
All aboard at Barcelona – Day 1 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Bonjour Marseille – Day 2 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Palazzo and Gelato in Genoa – Day 3 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Naples and an excursion to Pompeii – Day 4 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Messina and an excursion to Taormina – Day 5 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Tunis and Carthage – Day 6 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
A day at sea and back to Barcelona – Day 7 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
What to wear on your Mediterranean cruise – my 6 top tips
Thanks to MSC cruises who hosted Guy and Heather’s Mediterranean cruise. Heather and Guy travelled on MSC Splendida from Barcelona on a 1 week cruise calling at Genoa, Marseille, Naples, Messina, Tunis. Prices for a similar cruise start at around £700 per person. For more information, visit the MSC Cruises website or follow them on Twitter @MSC_Cruises_UK or on the MSC Facebook page.
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On the Greek island of Zakynthos I’ve been enjoying plenty of beach time while on holiday, hanging out with my daughter, my Greek niece and her friends. From behind my (designer) sunglasses I’ve been observing Greek beach etiquette and realising how different it is from a British day out at the seaside. The stylish Greek girls laugh at the English holiday-makers who get it wrong in every way on the beach, so if you want to blend in with the cool crowd on the beach, here’s where you need to know;
1. Don’t think that the beach is free
If you’re used to a week in Cornwall you may imagine that on your Greek holiday you’ll be laying your towel out on the sand and unpacking the picnic you brought with you. The beach is free, right? Wrong! In Greece you need to rent a pair of sunbeds which will cost you €4-10 for the day. No self respecting Greek would lay their towel on the sand unless they were in a completely deserted spot with no beach bar. The sand is way too hot for a start and there’s no shade, besides you need that handy table to put your drink and you’d want to relax and chat your friends without getting sand in your hair. Some beach bars don’t charge for sunbeds but you’ll still be expected to order a couple of drinks at the bar. For sun-beds and drinks you probably need to budget €10-15 for a day at the beach.
2. Don’t try to get bronze in a week
The Greeks look on with astonishment at the English girls who lie in the sun for hours, desperate to go home after a week’s holiday with a deep and lasting tan. You’ll never see a pink and peeling Greek girl. The Greeks respect the sun and will either stay in the shade or sunbathe for short periods with plenty of sun-cream and then have a siesta in the hottest part of the day. Why worry about your tan when the summer stretches ahead of you with plenty of beach time to develop that gorgeous brown body.
3. The coffee comes chilled not hot
Why would you order a hot drink when the temperature is in the 30’s? The Greeks love their coffee too but it has to be chilled. To be like a Greek you need to order a “Freddo” coffee, which is the typical Italian style of coffee such as expresso or cappuccino, but on ice. When the guy comes round to take your order as you lie on the sunbed, make it a Freddo cappuccino, Freddo Expresso or a Freddoccino (iced mocha coffee with chocolate). If you need something stronger then order an iced beer although the Greeks would never drink more than one or two since they’ll be going home for a home cooked meal later on and wouldn’t want to appear drunk in front of the parents.
4. Why spend the day at the pool when you can go to the beach?
The Greeks can’t understand why the Brits come on holiday for a week and then lie by the pool rather than going to the beach. You can find a pool in any city or hotel, but when you are on holiday you surely want to make the most of the beautiful beaches and swim in the sea as much as possible. The Greeks believe the pool water is full of chemicals and other people’s sweat, while the sea is natural and healthy. There’s a Greek saying that if you swim in the sea all summer, you’ll be healthy all winter. The Greeks on holiday will also want to see as many different beaches as possible and will hire a car to go and explore the best ones rather than keep returning to the same place. On Zakynthos you could probably find a different beach or rocky cove for every day of the month and still have not seen them all.
5. Be sure to wear the latest designer sunglasses
The sun in Greece is strong, so the Greek girls understand the importance of a good pair of sunglasses that will protect your eyes. This is an investment purchase, not a bit of 5 euro fun to throw away at the end of the holiday. A Greek girl will buy a new pair of designer sunglasses each summer, depending on the latest fashion, so she has a few pairs in her wardrobe. Last year it was all bright frames, this year it’s oversized rounded frames and iridescent lenses. My Greek fashion spies tell me that in Athens everyone is wearing wooden framed sunglasses, so next summer you’ll probably see them on every Greek beach.
6. Understand the importance of a sexy bikini
In the magazines you may admire those elegant one piece or tankini swimming costumes and think that they are just the thing to cover up any embarassing bulges. But in Greece everyone from the largest to the slimmest, from your daughter to your granny wears a bikini, so leave your one-piece to wear in the pool back home. In the blistering Greek summer a one-piece would just be too hot and inconvenient. And while we’re on the topic of bikini etiquette, the Greeks always wear their bikini to the beach, never change when they get there. Slip on your micro-shorts and a transparent, floaty top to show off your figure and you’ll be considered sexy but not slutty. On the sun bed or in the beach bar you can pose in your tiny bikini, go for a swim, dry off and then cover up again to go home where you’ll shower and change before dressing up for an evening meeting your friends in the bars and clubs.
Now you have all the Greek secrets for a stylish day on the beach where you can blend in with the locals and not stand out like a beetroot. Thanks to Sophia, Nicki, Fruzsi, Ezster, Tolya, Sophie-Anne and Georgie – my beach babes and Greek style advisors.
More things to see in Zakynthos
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