Cruise ports of call: The Mediterranean for couples
Princess Cruises ship in Dubrovnik, Croatia. (courtesy of Princess Cruises)
The Mediterranean offers almost everything a traveller could want: some of the world’s best cuisine, important art, intriguing history and more than its share of romantic adventure.
Whether its sipping wine on a terrace overlooking the deep blue Mediterranean sea, or taking a gondola ride through Venice’s canals, the medieval architecture, winding alleys, dimly lit restaurants and sparking beaches offer unmatched opportunities for romantic sojourns.
The region’s high season begins in late spring, peaks in the summer and ends in late September. The best deals are found the rest of the year. The largest ships, from lines like Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Line and Holland America, often come from Barcelona, Athens and Venice and visit the cities like Barcelona, Rome, Dubrovnik and Nice. Smaller vessels on lines like Seabourn, Silversea and Oceania, dock in the harbours of picturesque of Mediterranean towns.
Mediterranean ports are generally easy to explore on your own, while guided tours are best for far flung, full-day excursions, especially when time is a concern.
Barcelona for chocoholics
The Catalan capital is one of the world’s great chocolate cities, with Spain being the first European country introduced to cacao beans from the New World in the 1400s. The sweet treat with Valentine’s Day traditions and aphrodisiac aspirations has been an important part of Barcelona culture ever since. The city’s chocolate museum details the history of cacao and houses a chocolate model of the city. Local specialists include Fargas, which has been making chocolate confections since the 1800s; Xocoa, famous for its chocolate beer; and Cacao Sampaka, known for a hot chocolate so thick you eat it with a spoon.
Cruises dock within walking distance of the city’s Las Ramblas, the popular, tree-lined avenue. Barcelona is a walkable city with an extensive metro system that is fairly easy to navigate.
Rome in winter
For most cruise passengers, the Eternal City can seem eternally crowded. During peak cruise season, when summer temperatures and crowds at popular sites swell, it can be difficult to appreciate the magic this city offers. A romantic way to experience Rome is in the winter, when a handful of cruises on Italian lines like Costa and MSC include stops in Civitavecchia, the closest port to Rome.
Temperatures hover around 10 degrees centigrade during winter days, although if you are lucky, experiencing the Coliseum with a dusting of snow is magical. Cities seem more romantic when you share them with locals, and during the Roman winter, the intimate enotecas, or wine bars, are not teeming with tourists. A perfect winter afternoon with your loved one in Rome might include walking arm in arm to the Spanish steps where you can make a wish together at the Trevi fountain, before tucking into the nearby Antica Enoteca for a bottle of Chianti and a plate of prosciutto, sans the summertime crowds .
Civitavecchia’s train station, four blocks from the cruise port, has several trains each hour going to Rome’s central station; the fast train takes less than an hour. Once in Rome, use its extensive bus and metro system, Metripolitana. Winter cruises to Civitavecchia depart from Savona and Genoa, Italy and Barcelona.
Dubrovnik summer festival
The Old Town of this Dalmatian coast city in Croatia exudes romance year round, but walking the high city walls with views of the Adriatic and red-roofed, stone buildings is at its romantic peak in July and August during the city’s annual Summer Festival. For 47 days, the Old Town serves as the stage for open-air performances by artists from around Europe. Allow you and your sweetheart to be serenaded by opera singers in front of the baroque St Blaise church, or walk hand-in–hand on the 13th-century walls as an orchestra fills them with the sounds of classical music.
Smaller cruise ships can dock within walking distance to Old Town, but most dock in Gruz Harbor, a 15-minute shuttle ride away, often provided by the cruise lines, gratis. A taxi costs about 60 Kune and queue at the pier. Cruises to Dubrovnik often start in Venice or Bari, Italy, and can come from as far as Athens and Barcelona.