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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You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Messina and an excursion to Taormina – Day 5 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise – video

On the fifth day of our Mediterranean cruise with MSC Cruises we arrived at Messina in Sicily and took the excursion to the pretty town of Taormina which is known for its Greek theatre. Taormina is around 45 minutes drive from the cruise port and has a good view of Mount Etna, which is the most active volcano in Europe and can often be seen glowing or producing a natural firework display at night time. Just last year Taormina received a shower of ash from Mount Etna and our guide pointed out the peninsula of black rock below the town that was the result of a lava flow in ancient times.

View of Mt Etna from Taormina Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View of Mt Etna from Taormina

Taormina has long been a strategically important point in Sicily, since it overlooks the shipping heading towards the Straits of Messina. The town was founded by the Greeks in 350BC and at the height of its wealth and importance had five temples as well as the theatre. Later the Romans dominated the area and over the centuries Taormina has been invaded by the Arabs, Normans, French and Spanish, creating a melting pot of cultural influences.

I hope you enjoy the video our our cruise excursion to Taormina below

If you can’t see the video above from our cruise excursion to Taormina with MSC Cruises, view it on my blog here or on YouTube here.

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Subscribe to all my videos in I-tunes
If you enjoyed this video, check out the others in my Video archive

In Roman times, Sicily was known for its fine wines and the olive and almond trees that thrived here, while the Arabs brought aromatic plants, coffee, lemons and sugar. All these are used to create Sicilian specialties, such as lemon granita using the ice from the peak of Mount Etna, a sweet almond liqueur and the coloured marzipan fruits you can see in the shops of Taormina. The locals love to start the day in summer with a coffee granita for breakfast and you’ll spot the local pastries called cannoli on sale, which are a cone of pastry filled with sweetened ricotta cheese.

Marzipan fruit at Taormina Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Marzipan fruit at Taormina

The town of Taormina is in two parts, the area on the hilltop that we visited and Taormina Mare, which we could see below us by the sea. This is where the train from Messina stops if you plan to visit independently and a funicular connects the two towns.

We passed through the first gate of the old town, named Porta Catania, since it is the one that faces the city of Catania, the gate at the other end of town being Porta Messina, facing the city of Messina. We stopped in the first small square with a church and a central fountain that is topped by the symbol of Taormina, a centaur, half woman and half horse. Our guide pointed out the beautiful old town hall, flying the European, Italian and Sicilian flags, since Sicily has its own constitution and parliament. The symbol of Sicily that we could see on the flag and all around town has three legs representing the three points of Sicily, with the Medusa head at the centre.

Fountain square in Taormina Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Fountain square in Taormina

We walked on down the narrow street Corso Umberto lined with many shops selling fashionable clothing, hand painted ceramics, pastries and marzipan sweets. Many of the old houses had Spanish style wrought iron balconies and our guide explained that this end of the town dated back to the Middle Ages. The second square is known as Panorama square, since from here you can get a wonderful view over the sea and lower town towards Mount Etna. This is the start of the original Greek area of town, leading towards Piazza Victor Emanuale that was the site of the Greek agora and later the Roman Forum or main public square. Since the whole street is pedestrianised, it made a very pleasant walk down a slight hill to the square where the Palazzo Corvaja was located. This building was built up over the centuries by the Romans, Normans and Arabs, being used both as a private residence and a parliament building, but now houses the tourist office and a museum.

Panorama square in Taormina Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Panorama square in Taormina

From here, our group turned right up the hill to the Greek Theatre which is one of the main attractions of Taormina. The theatre was built by the Greeks in the 3rd century, but later rebuilt and enlarged by the Romans who added an upper story to increase the capacity from 5000 to 7000 people. The audience have the best view in town, looking over the sea towards Mount Etna, which is framed between the arches at the back of the stage. This is where Greek plays were performed and later the Romans staged gladiatorial contests and fights with wild animals. The theatre is still used throughout the summer season for opera, ballet and other musical productions, with well-known Italian and international artists coming to perform. The acoustics are so perfect that it is said that those in the cheap seats at the top can hear just as well as those in the more desirable front rows.

The Greek amphitheatre at Taormina Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

The Greek theatre at Taormina

As our tour ended at the Greek Theatre, we had 45 minutes to wander back through the town, enjoying looking in the shops and stopping for a gelato, although I would have loved to have another hour for a better look.

On my return to the ship I was booked in for a relaxing facial treatment in the Aura Spa. I lay down on the treatment bed and was covered in a towel, while soft lights changed colour and soothing music and birdsong wafted around me. I must admit that it was very easy to drift off with only the occasional cool cream or hot cloth bringing me back and I left with my skin feeling beautifully soft and smooth.

Spa swan towel display Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Spa swan towel display in the Aura Spa

Tomorrow we leave Europe and arrive in Tunis where we plan to explore the ancient site of Carthage and the pretty coastal village of Sidi Bou Said.

Tips for visiting Taormina on a cruise excursion

- The town of Taormina is around a 45 minute drive from the port of Messina
- The streets of the town are shady but the Greek theatre is quite open, so you may wish to bring a sunhat and put on your sunscreen
- Although I always carry a bottle of water, there are plenty of snack bars, restaurants and small shops along the route of your tour to buy food and drinks.
- If you need the rest rooms on arrival, there are some in the garage where your coach will drop you. There are also some in the panorama square half way along your tour and some in the Greek theatre where your tour will end.
- At the end of the tour we had about 45 minutes of free time, but this went very quickly as it takes 20-30 minutes to walk back to the coach.

Cruise Excursion Options for Messina

The Messina City Tour (3.5 hrs, £35 Adult) includes stops at many of the city’s ancient sites, with a chance to admire the famous jewel-studded Golden Mantle that covers the picture of the Madonna and Child. Popular alternatives are a visit to Tindari & the Sanctuary of the Black Madonna (4 hrs, £42 Adult) or Taormina (4 hrs, £45 Adult) for unique insights into early Grecian life. If you’re looking for natural beauty, visit Mount Etna (4 hrs, £42 Adult) and the otherworldly lava landscape of the Silvestri craters. Finally, the adventurous can choose the Jeep Adventure (4 hrs, £79 Adult) tour through 19th-century forts and old military roads and lovely coastal views.

Other articles in my MSC 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
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

MSCCruiseslogoThanks 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.

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

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You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

Naples and an excursion to Pompeii – Day 4 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise – video

The next stop on our Mediterranean cruise with MSC Cruises was Naples and as the ship was not arriving until lunchtime we had an opportunity to explore more of the ship. The Aqua Park pool area was a sea of orange towels with every sun lounger occupied by bikini bodies, pulsating music and entertainment in full swing at one end. Not really our scene but it was good to see groups and families having fun and enjoying the sunshine.

Aqua Park pool area on MSC Splendida in Naples Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Aqua Park Pool area on MSC Splendida in Naples

The one thing I really wanted to visit while in Naples was Pompeii and as the boat was only in Naples for the afternoon we booked the MSC cruise excursion. There were around fifty in our English-speaking group and the coach took half an hour to reach Pompeii, with our guide giving us some information about the city of Naples on the way.

I hope you enjoy the video about our day in Pompeii below

If you can’t see the video above about our MSC Cruise excursion to Pompeii view it on my blog here or on YouTube here

Download the Naples and Pompeii Video
Subscribe to all my videos in I-tunes
If you enjoyed this video, check out the others in my Video archive

The town of Pompeii was buried by ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD and although the excavated site is now one of the major tourist attractions in this area, a third of it still lies underground. The volcano remains active and it seems only a matter of time before it erupts again, since the guide pointed out the lava flow on the slopes from the eruption in the 1940s. Excavations started in 1748 when the contemporary account of the eruption by the ancient historian Pliny helped to locate the site under 22 feet of ash.

Heather at Pompeii Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Heather on our cruise excursion to Pompeii

Despite the large size of our group, the guide managed us very well although I could have done without the shopping opportunity at the ‘coral factory’, the main benefit of which seemed to be the use of the bathrooms. We entered the site through the Marine Gate, which was originally very close to the sea, since the coastline was altered by the eruption and is now further away. This is where the villas of the wealthy were built on the city walls, their walls painted with expensive red and yellow that can still be seen.

From here, visitors from the port could walk up the stone paved street to the market to buy wine and olive oil, which would then be carried back to their ships by slaves. The guide pointed out the white marble stones embedded in the road, which acted like cats-eyes to reflect the moonlight and illuminate the way, as well as the niches where burning torches would be placed on dark nights.

We reached the Forum, where the most important public buildings were located, such as the Senate, the Palace of Justice and the major temples. Surrounding the open area were columns and pedestals that would have originally been bases for the many statues of local politicians.

View of Pompeii Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

View of Pompeii

Nearby was the wool factory and laundry, where in the days before soap, urine was used to clean the woolen robes, with conveniently placed terracotta pots placed nearby where men could relieve themselves. Apparently the streets of Pompeii were pretty smelly as the sewage system could not cope with the size of the population. After the eruption survivors could just see the tops of the marble columns sticking out of the top of the ash and they dug tunnels down to ground level and took the marble to build the new town.

Further on we saw a building that had some faded frescos where a couple of plaster casts of the victims of the eruption were on display. One of the figures was wearing a belt and the guide explained that slaves would often wear a belt or collar with the name of their owner.

Frescos at Pompeii Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Frescos at Pompeii

We visited the Roman baths with separate areas for men and women and large marble containers bearing the names of the politicians who had donated them. There seemed to be a recurring theme that politicians would donate items for public use that served as advertising for their re-election. One of the largest houses was the House of the Faun, owned by a wealthy merchant who had not one but two gardens behind the main living quarters.

Next was the Lupanare or brothel – named after the she-wolf, since the prostitutes would make a howling sound to attract their customers. On the walls were erotic scenes that formed a kind of ‘menu’ for customers that are now in the museum in Naples.

At the end of the visit we exited past the Marine gate again and were guided toward the Limoncello shop, which once again provided a useful bathroom stop as well as an opportunity for a free sip of the local Lemon liqueur and to shop for other souvenirs.

We really enjoyed the tour of Pompeii although it really did need a guide (or the use of the audio-guide if visiting independently) to explain the stories behind the stone and brick walls and streets. I was slightly disappointed that we did not see more frescos, mosaics or artifacts from the site as these are on show in the Museum at Naples.

Plaster cast of victim of Pompeii Photo: Heatheronhertravels.com

Plaster cast of victim of Pompeii

The coach took us back once again to MSC Splendida where we had had dinner tonight in the Santa Fe Tex-Mex restaurant. Additional charges apply in this specialty restaurant and we really enjoyed our Marguerita and perfectly cooked rib-eye steak, which brought back happy memories of our Texas holiday a couple of years ago. The restaurant was surprisingly quiet, although it suited us, as the rest of the ship is very busy. Tomorrow, we arrive at Messina in Sicily and take another excursion to Taormina.

Tips for visiting Pompeii on a cruise excursion

  • Take water and a snack as there is only one café inside the site and little time to stop, so you may be hungry before you return to the ship.
  • Take a hat and wear sun screen, especially in the summer months as the site is hot and dry with not much shade.
  • The coral shop and limoncello shop provide useful bathroom stops as the only other toilets within the site appeared to be at the café, although there are other public toilets immediately outside.

Excursions Options in Naples

We chose the archaeological walking tour of Pompeii (4 hrs, £45 Adult), but an alternative is an excursion to the crater of Vesuvius (4 hrs, £42 Adult) with a view of the beautiful Gulf of Naples. You can also explore Naples’ famous “Posillipo” district, (4 hrs, £35 Adult) with time for shopping, or take coach transfer inland to the Royal Palace of Caserta, a UNESCO World Heritage site (4 hrs, £39 Adult). Also popular is the ferry or hydrofoil transport to Capri Island (4-4.5 hrs, £65 Adult), where you’ll ride a cable car to explore Capri’s historical centre. Watch the MSC Video about the Pompeii excursion.

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
Bonjour Marseille – Day 2 of my MSC Mediterranean Cruise
Palazzo and Gelato in Genoa – Day 3 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

MSCCruiseslogoThanks 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.

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

Click to subscribe to our monthly newsletter, news and reader offers

HOHT newsletter

You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey

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