Jane Archer, The Daily Telegraph, December 17, 2015
1. Regent Seven Seas cruise to Florence
Italy’s coastline needs little introduction: Venice, the Italian Riviera and Amalfi are among the world’s most sought-after cruising destinations. The benefit of cruising around Italy on a smaller ship however, is that you can visit smaller ports. And so it is with this Regent Seven Seas cruise. Not that it misses the big hitters – visits to Rome, Florence and Pisa are featured, with the added attraction of included excursions. But it also swaps the chaos of Naples for a peaceful anchorage off Sorrento, from where it’s possible to take a ferry to Capri or, for those keen to see the Roman remains, a train to Pompei. A day at anchor off Portofino is the icing on the cake. From here it is also possible to join a tour to Recco to gain an insight into Ligurian cooking.
Regent Seven Seas Cruises ( rssc.com ; 02380 682280), seven nights (plus one pre-cruise in a Barcelona hotel), departs October 14, 2015. From £2,949 per person including flights and excursions.
2. P&O cruise from Genoa to Venice
Genoa languishes in the shadow of Rome and Venice, which is a shame, as despite being a little scruffy around the edges the city has some grand architecture. It is also the gateway to Portofino and Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. P&O Cruises brings its very British style of cruising to the port next summer – a series of voyages departing from the city will facilitate adding a day here to explore. The cruise finished in Venice and en route calls at Livorno, gateway to Florence and Pisa, and Naples, from where you can visit the popular cliff-top town of Sorrento, the ruins of Pompei or the island of Capri.
P&O Cruises ( pocruises.com ; 0843 374 0111), seven nights, departures from April to October, 2015. From £879 per person including flights.
3. European Waterways to Venice
A Gothic cathedral, cobbled streets and a story-book castle with towers, a moat and a drawbridge – what’s not to like about Ferrara? The medieval town is one of the highlights of a cruise along the Canal Bianco with barge specialist European Waterways. The cruise takes in a night in Venice and dinner at a stately riverside home where Lord Byron, no less, penned verses. The voyage is on La Bella Vita, a 20-passenger barge that sails along Venice’s Giudecca Canal and across the lagoon to Chioggia and into the Po River delta before joining the canal at Taglio di Po. Excursions, which are included in the price, include a visit to the Bagnoli Estate for a private wine tasting and a trip to see the frescos and paintings housed in the grand14th-century Ducal Palace, in Mantua.
European Waterways ( gobarging.com ; 01753 598 5550), six nights, departures from March to October, 2015. From £2,290 per person including excursions.
4. Holland America Line to Lucca
Livorno port is known as the gateway to Florence and Pisa but in just over an hour by train (change at Pisa) you can be in lovely Lucca, far from the madding crowds. If you don’t fancy going it alone Holland America Line has an excursion to the town on its Mediterranean Tapestry cruise between Barcelona and Venice that also fits in a lunch at a Tuscan farmhouse and a tour of Villa Torrigiani’s house and grounds. The cruise also visits Civitavecchia (for Rome), Naples and Messina in Sicily, for tours to Taormina, perched over the Bay of Naxos. There are spectacular views to be had from the Greco-Roman theatre but don’t be surprised to find the town packed with other tourists.
Holland America Line ( hollandamerica.com ; 0843 374 2300), 12 nights, departures April to September, 2015. From £1,198 per person.
5. Silversea cruise to the Aeolian Islands
The Aeolian Islands, a volcanic archipelago located off Sicily, are largely ignored by tourists – which is good news for cruisers. Top of the excursion list from Lipari is a visit to the island of Vulcano, where you can climb the still-active Gran Cratere (it last erupted in 1890) or take a vitamin-packed mud bath. Silversea calls at Lipari on a cruise around Italy, from Civitavecchia to Venice that takes you through the busy straights of Messina and includes an overnight visit to Sorrento so there’s time to visit Capri and Pompeii, or maybe learn to cook Neapolitan style (and taste local wine). There’s more wine tasting from Syracuse, Sicily, and the opportunity to visit the remains of the prosperous Greco-Roman city that once stood here. From Amalfi, tour the stunning coast or stay put and explore the charming streets and café-filled squares.
Silversea ( silversea.com ; 0844 251 0837), 10 days, departs August 22, 2015. From £3,250 per person.
6. Oceana Cruises to Cinque Terre
The five picture-postcard villages of Cinque Terre cling precariously to the coast of the Italian Riviera. Guides will narrate their history but the best way to experience Cinque Terre is to strike out alone (and preferably in low season). Oceania Cruises has tours to the villages from La Spezia, an otherwise unremarkable port town, on its Italian Impressions cruise which also visits Porto Cervo on the island of Sardinia . If high-end shopping appeals, seek out the likes of Cartier, Prada and Versace in the old town of nearby Olbia, or opt for the more relaxing option of a day trip to the beach.
Oceania Cruises ( oceaniacruises.com ; 0845 505 1920), 10 days, departs September 14, 2015. From £3,629 per person including flights.
7. Hapag-Lloyd Cruises to Capri
Once a favourite escape of Roman Emperor Tiberius, the island of Capri is now favoured by celebrities, artists and writers – none of whom can really escape the ferry loads of tourists arriving by the hour from Naples. But it’s still possible to enjoy the island’s mountainous beauty. On this sailing, Hapag-Lloyd Cruises anchors off Capri so passengers can have a day ashore. Aside from the beaches, fine gastronomy and people-watching it’s possible to take an around-island trip on one of the numerous boats departing from Marina Grande. These all call at the Blue Grotto.
The cruise also circumnavigates the island before setting a course for Lipari, the largest of the Aeolian Islands (stay up for a late evening’s sail past Stromboli in case it is erupting). From Naxos, visit the hill-top town of Taormina or take a 4WD tour around Mount Etna.
Hapag-Lloyd Cruises ( hl-cruises.co.uk ; 0800 542 0858), seven nights, departs August 22, 2015. From £3,145 per person.
8. Norwegian Cruise Line to Rome
If you’ve never been to Rome there are plenty of opportunities to visit on a cruise. But take your walking shoes because it is the best way to see as much of Rome as possible in a few hours (there’s also a hop-on hop-off bus), which is all the time you’ll get on this Norwegian Cruise Line voyage. Cruise ships dock at Civitavecchia (between 60-90 minutes away by train or bus). If it’s your first visit the Vatican, Coliseum, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Roman Forum and Trevi Fountain should all figure in a DIY tour, not forgetting lunch, of course. From the next port of call, Naples, there are tours to Pompei and Capri and from Livorno you can head to Florence and/or Pisa for Renaissance architecture, world-class art galleries and the (rather underwhelming, it has to be said), leaning tower.
Norwegian Cruise Line ( ncl.co.uk ; 0845 201 8900), seven nights, departures from May to November, 2015. From £1,120 per person including flights.
9. Royal Clipper around the Almalfi Coast
If you fancy swapping cities for a relaxing sailing holiday this voyage around Italy’s Amalfi coast is just the ticket. It’s on Star Clippers’ five-masted sailing ship Royal Clipper, which is perfectly at home among the yachts and floating gin palaces that grace the small harbours and hidden coves that dot this coastline. Visit the mountainous island of Ponza, a popular spot for Romans looking to escape the city’s summer heat. Explore Sorrento and Taormina on Sicily’s west coast. As an alternative to Amalfi consider a day trip to Positano, whose pretty harbour is lined with pastel-hued houses.
Star Clippers ( starclippers.co.uk ; 0845 200 6145), seven days, departures May and Jun, 2015. From £1,505 per person.
10. MSC Cruises to Portofino
MSC Cruises is an Italian line, so you’ll get a taste of Italy in more ways than one on board one of its ships. You can embark at most of the ports listed on the itinerary but Barcelona is a good choice as it gives you a full day to enjoy the charms of next port of call Genoa (be sure to try some Genovese focaccia bread) or visit the chic Riviera resort of Portofino. From Naples, take a ferry to Capri, visit Pompei or join a walking tour to the crater of the volcano that destroyed the city in 79AD. Messina, on Sicily, was founded by the Greeks and is popular port because it is within easy driving distance of Taormina. For something different, join a tour to the Greek-Roman archeological site of Tindari. As well as the site itself you’ll be treated to fabulous views of the Tyrrhenian Sea and Aeolian Islands.
MSC Cruises ( msccruises.co.uk ; 0203 426 3010), seven nights, departures from April to November, 2015. From £699 per person.
For our other expert holiday selections in Italy see our top 10 beach holidays in Italy, activity holidays in Italy, culture holidays in Italy and food and drink holidays in Italy .
This article was written by Jane Archer from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.