Roadtrip adventures – see the Mediterranean by car!

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:

Port of Cassis in France Photo: Vincent Brassine on Flickr

Port of Cassis in France

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!

Cap Canaille in France Photo: Anse de L'Arene on Flickr

Cap Canaille in France

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 in Puglia, Italy Photo: Paolo Margari on Flickr

Otranto in Puglia, Italy

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.

Grotta Zinzulusa in Puglia, Italy Photo: Giordano Merenda

Grotta Zinzulusa in Puglia, Italy

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.

Sant'Andrea cliffs in Salento, Italy Photo: Vittorio Ferrari

Sant’Andrea cliffs in Salento, Italy

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.

This article is brought to you by Economy Car Hire – the largest independent car hire broker in the UK.

Photo Credits: Port of Cassis by Vincent Brassine, Cap Canaille by Anse de l’Arene, Otranto harbour by Paolo Margari , Grotta Zinzulusa by Giordano Merenda, Sant’Andrea by Vittori Ferrari

Other Mediterranean Delights

Bonjour Marseille – Day 2 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Palazzo and Gelato in Genoa – Day 3 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Dreaming about the Italian Islands of Sardinia and Sicily

This article is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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Bonjour Marseille – Day 2 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise – video

We are getting into the swing of our Mediterranean Cruise with MSC Cruises with our first port stop today at Marseille. I had envisaged strolling off the ship and walking into town, until I realised that we were docked around 20 minutes drive away from the centre of Marseille. There was a shuttle bus provided by MSC ($16 per person return) but we decided to try the public bus outside the port and after a transfer to the tram found ourselves walking down the main boulevard of La Canebiere towards the Vieux Port.

Vieux Port of Marseille Photo: Heatheronhertravels

Yachts in the Vieux Port of Marseille

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I spotted an old fashioned looking shop selling traditional sweets and biscuits, called La Cure Gourmand and bought some marzipan lozenge shaped sweets and chocolate olives to take home, although they may not last that long. Once the hub of commercial shipping in Marseille, the Vieux Port is now a marina full of yachts and sailing boats, surrounded on all sides by restaurants and cafes. There was a Saturday fruit and flower market in full swing and an event run by the local Marine Fire Service who had numerous vehicles and equipment on show for the public.

La Cure Gourmande in Marseille Photo: Heatheronhertravels

Traditional sweets at La Cure Gourmande in Marseille

We could see the Notre Dame de la Garde Basilica up on the hill and we decided to take the No 60 bus that stopped right by the Vieux Port (Cost €1.80) to save ourselves a hot 30 minute walk. I didn’t envy the bus driver as he expertly negotiated oncoming traffic and parked cars in the narrow streets and bends on the hill. The Basilica is the city’s major landmark and was built by Napoleon III in the 1850s, topped with a golden statue of Mary and baby Jesus. Inside the Basilica a mass was in progress and there was some beautiful decoration and gilding, but the main attraction was the view over the whole city and out to sea. The walk back down the hill was not at all arduous and we reached the port again around lunchtime.

Notre Dame de la Garde Marseille Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Notre Dame de la Garde in Marseille

View of Marseille from Notre Dame de la Garde Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View of Marseille from Notre Dame de la Garde

Around the three sides of the port were wide boulevards for pedestrians and cyclists, which made it a very pleasant stroll, in warm sunshine with the boats swaying on the rippling, turquoise water. As we reached the Quai des Belges where we had earlier taken the bus, my eye was caught by a stall selling artisan soaps, one of the famous products of Marseille. We stopped to chat to the young man in traditional fisherman’s dress and smell all the different fragrances, selecting a few to take home as souvenirs.

Traditional soaps on sale in Marseille Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Traditional soaps on sale in Marseille

The far side of the Vieux Port was lined with cafes and restaurants fronting the old town Panier district, although the waterfront was destroyed in WW2 bombing. Guy was keen to try an authentic Marseille Bouillabaisse, a hearty fish stew, until he read one of the menus and realised it would set him back €60. We walked up the quay, where there were many tourist buses parked, trying in vain to find the correct place to take the free bus back to the ship, but gave up in the end and had a drink in a café at the far end with a view of the old fortress.

Fish stalls on the quay at Marseille Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Fish stalls on the quay at Marseille

We wandered along to the St Jean Fort, an imposing fortress, one of the two that guard the entrance to the port, with its matching partner in St Nicholas Fort on the other side. There appeared to be a museum inside, but we walked around the pathway that circled the fortress where a man was sunbathing after a swim of the rocks. It was a lovely viewpoint to watch the sailing boats leaving the harbor and look out to sea. By early afternoon it was time to return to the ship and this time we decided to take a taxi back to the ship.

Yachts leaving the port of Marseille Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Yachts leaving the port of Marseille by St Jean Fortress

MSC Splendida in Marseille Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

MSC Splendida in Marseille

Back on board we watched the evening show, Paris Fou, with a French theme in honour of our stop in Marseille. The entertainment featured an Edith Piaf style singer, showgirls with skimpy costumes and feathers and some can can dancers, as well as an amazing juggler and artist who created shadow pictures with his hands.

Tomorrow, we reach Genoa in Italy, home port of MSC Cruises, where we plan to spend another day exploring the sights.

Options for getting into Marseille from the cruise port

  • Take the transfer bus provided by MSC at a cost of around €16.90 per person for the return ticket. This leaves from immediately outside the cruise terminal and takes you to the Vieux Port.
  • Walk 10 minutes down the road still within the port area to where a free shuttle bus takes you into the Vieux Port. This seemed to run every 30 minutes, however we couldn’t find where to catch it on the return journey, so I’m not sure if it is a one-way service.
  • Walk 20-30 minutes to just outside the port gates where there is a bus stop by the road. The number 35 bus runs 3 times an hour and will take you to Joliette. Here you transfer to the tramway T2 and get off at Sardi Carnot with a further 10 minute walk to the Vieux Port. The cost is €1.80 per person one way and the ticket is valid for 1 hour and covers both the bus and the tramway. It will probably take you around an hour for the whole journey.
  • You can take a taxi from outside the cruise terminal for a cost of around €20 one way, which I believe is probably the best option especially if there are not too many people waiting and you can share the cost with other passengers. The taxi ride takes around 20 minutes.

Excursion options for Marseille

The Marseille City tour (4 hrs, £42 Adult) begins at Cathedral of Notre Dame de la Garde on the hill overlooking the town and includes sightseeing in the centre of Marseille and time wandering in the Vieux Port. A popular alternative tour is Aix en Provence (4 hr, £42) for a 40 minute drive to this attractive old town with a visit to St Saviours Cathedral and a walk through the historic centre. There is also an excursion to Cassis (4.5 hrs, £32), a charming fishing town with high cliffs and brightly coloured houses which is a 1 hour drive from Marseille.

Other articles in my Mediterranean Cruise series

Join me on a week’s Mediterranean Cruise with MSC Cruise
All aboard at Barcelona – Day 1 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

MSCCruiseslogo Thanks to MSC cruises who are hosting Guy and Heather’s Mediterranean cruise. Heather and Guy will be travelling 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.

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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Join me on a week’s Mediterranean cruise with MSC cruises

Cruising can be dangerously addictive and the sunshine of the Mediterranean is calling me. This weekend Guy and I will be off for a week cruising around the Med with MSC Cruises, calling at some rather exciting places that are quite new to me.

Sailing the Med on MSC Splendida

Sailing the Med on MSC Splendida

We fly to join MSC Splendida at Barcelona, with perhaps just enough time to try some tapas in the old quarter. After that I’m thinking Bouillabaisse in Marseille, Gelato in Genoa or an authentic Margharita pizza in Naples. Or how about Lemon granita in Sicily or Tagine in Tunis? Or just as likely I’ll be feasting on some culture and street-life, ancient churches, crumbling palazzos, and Roman ruins in Pompeii and Taormina.

We'll be visiting Genoa on our MSC Cruise

We’ll be visiting Genoa on our MSC Cruise

I gather the MSC Splendida lives up to her name too. She’s modern and stylish with European flair to blow away those myths that cruises are just for the retired – why should they have all the fun? We’re looking forward to a cosmopolitan, European crowd and I’m expecting a few family groups on board, as it’s half term and kids sail free in their parents’ cabin with MSC.

A little fun or relaxation around the pool on MSC Splendida

A little fun or relaxation around the pool on MSC Splendida?

Still, on a ship big enough to accommodate over 3200 guests, there should be something for everyone, and when the splashing around the four pools gets to much, we’ll find a quiet corner in one of the lounges or retreat to our balcony cabin.

Stylish decor in the balcony cabin on MSC Splendida

Stylish decor in the balcony cabin on MSC Splendida

We’re counting on being well looked after by the crew, eating some delicious Mediterannean food and reliving our holiday in Texas with some Tex Mex in the Santa Fe speciality restaurant – hoping they serve those delicious fish tacos I enjoyed in Austin. I already have a Balinese massage planned on the sea day to sooth away the aches from all the sightseeing.

Planning relaxation time in the spa with a Balinese massage

Planning relaxation time in the spa with a Balinese massage

What should we not miss Marseille and Genoa? Any tips for Pompei, Taormina and Carthage where I’ll be brushing up on my Roman history? What souvenirs should I look out for in the souk in Tunis? And if you’ve sailed on MSC Splendida or with MSC cruises, do pass on any tips to help us make the most of our week’s cruise.

Mediterranean cuisine on board MSC Splendida

Mediterranean cuisine on board MSC Splendida

I do hope you’ll join me in a virtual voyage on MSC Splendida over the week from Friday 23 May to Friday 28 May when I’ll be posting photos on all my social media channels as well as some diary updates here on the blog. Follow along with the hashtag #MSCBlogTrip and be sure to let me know any tips for the places I’ll be visiting.

In the meantime, more articles to get you in the mood for my MSC cruise

Review of MSC Splendida from Ladies What
Review of MSC Splendida on Travel with a Mate
Review of MSC Splendida from Selena the Places
Visiting Genoa from Selena the Places
MSC cruises insider tips and advice – interview with Executive Director Giles Hawke

Articles from our MSC Mediterranean Cruise

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

MSCCruiseslogo Thanks to MSC cruises who will be hosting my Mediterranean cruise. Heather and Guy will be travelling 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.

This article by Heather Cowper is originally published at Heatheronhertravels.com – Read the original article here

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