by Telegraph Travel, The Daily Telegraph, December 22, 2016
1. Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast is widely regarded as the most spectacular in the Mediterranean, yet many cruise ships do not schedule port stops. Not Oceania ( oceaniacruises.com ), which has visits to both Amalfi and Positano on its May 16, 2017 itinerary.
Amalfi has a distinctive 11th-century cathedral, while Positano’s attractive, flower-covered buildings tumble down the mountainside to the sea. A visit to hilltop Ravello, with its incredible coastal views, is a must.
Venice and Barcelona are the start and finish ports of an 11-night voyage that calls at Split, Kotor, Taormina, Civitacchia (for Rome), Monte Carlo and Marseilles. Note that Oceania’s Riveria has several gourmet restaurants at no surcharge, plus a cookery school. From £2,289 per person.
2. Cinque Terre
Barcelona makes a great city break, especially in spring when the weather is mild and the crowds less dense. Why not add a week’s cruise to your Catalan trip? Costa Cruises ( costacruises.co.uk ) has a variety of options from Barcelona, including a seven-night voyage that visits Rome (from Civitavecchia) and Marseilles but also adds intriguing La Spezia and Savona. The former allows access to Italy’s marvellous Cinque Terre villages, the latter boasts the 16th-century fortress of Priamar.
The ship, Diadema, is new and has a 500-metre promenade designed to resemble the Italian Riviera. Diadema’s public areas are also furnished is with interesting artworks.
From £440 per person departing April 3, 2017. Excludes flights. Other seven-night spring cruises are available.
Sea Cloud II makes a strong case to be the most beautiful passenger ship in the world. On a circumnavigation of Sicily in October the captain will set the 27 sails of this three-masted barque as often as possible.
Noble Caledonia ( noble-caledonia.co.uk ) has chartered this magnificent vessel for a journey that takes in many of the island’s treasures, such as the Unesco-listed baroque towns of Noto and Ragusa, the Greek Theatre at Taormina and the string of Doric temples at Agrigento. Scenic Lipari in the Aeolian Islands is also included on this round-trip from Malta.
The nine-night voyage is preceded by two nights in a top hotel. From £6,495 per person, dearting on October 17, 2017, including excursions.
4. Ancient amphitheatres
There are at least five ancient amphitheatres on Voyages to Antiquity’s ( voyagestoantiquity.com ) Historic Spain, Sicily and Italy cruise – and their stories will be illuminated by two historians travelling on board. The 18-night holiday is aimed at those with a passion for archaeology and architecture and is bookended by two-night stays in Seville and Rome.
The amphitheatres can be found at Málaga, Pompeii and, in Sicily, at Segesta, Taormina and Syracuse – and of course, Rome’s Colosseum arena.
Other enticing stops are made at Cadiz, Malta and Palermo and guests will enjoy trips to the Alhambra at Granada and the sherry town of Jerez. The exquisite mosaics of Monreale in Sicily are another bonus. From £3,295 per person, departing May 11, 2017.
5. Verona, Ferrara and Venice
An opera-themed cruise with barge specialist European Waterways begins with an evening at the spectacular Arena di Verona for a performance of Puccini's Madame Butterfly. Guests board La Bella Vita, a 20-passenger barge, in Venice, for six days on the water, with stops in charming Ferrarra, with its Gothic cathedral, cobbled streets and castle, and lakeside Mantua, as well as the detour to the River Po delta, a haven for birdwatchers.
European Waterways ( gobarging.com ; 01753 598555), six nights from £3,050, including excursions and opera tickets. Departs August 19, 2017.
6. Aeolian Islands and Sardinia
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 from Civitavecchia to Barcelona that also includes stops in two Sardinian ports - Cagliari and Alghero, from where passengers take join wine tasting tours and trips to medieval towns.
Silversea ( silversea.com ; 0844 251 0837), seven days, departs June 24, 2017. From £3,285 per person.
7. Genoa, Portofino and Pompeii
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 this 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, third stop on the trip, take a ferry to Capri, visit Pompei or join a walking tour to the crater of the volcano that destroyed the city in 79AD.
MSC Cruises ( msccruises.co.uk ; 0203 426 3010), seven nights, departs June 9, 2017. From £859 per person.
Relatively unknown ports such as Rapallo on the Riviera (check out the tiny castle sticking out of the sea) and Ravenna (with wonderful mosaics) can be visited by ship, but perhaps the most interesting is Portoferraio on the island of Elba, where Fred Olsen calls, among others. This mountainous island is where Napoleon took refuge and the little capital is a delightful place to wander, especially along the walls connecting the forts above the town.
9. Umbria and Capri
This Regent Seven Seas cruise begins and ends at two of Italy's biggest hitters – Venice and Rome – but also includes 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, Ancona, from where passengers can visit the walled Umbrian city of Urbino, and Taormina. Dubrovnik, Kotor and Corfu are also included. Seven nights, from £3,629. Departs April 19, 2017.
Countless cruises call at Rome, with sightseeing crammed into a few hours. Better to start or finish your trip there, to allow time to visit the Vatican, Colosseum, Spanish Steps, Pantheon, Forum and Trevi Fountain at your leisure. NCL has seven-night trips from £729pp, beginning and concluding in Rome and including stops in Livorno (for Florence/Pisa), Cannes, Majorca, Barcelona and Naples.
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