The Mediterranean is a catalyst for beauty. Like pressure upon coal, diamonds are formed in the region’s land and people. This beauty is on display from Italian orchards of citrus, almond and olive trees; or the rustic aesthetic of villages in the South of France. Even among locals one can find this, from women adorned in apparel complemented by the sun and beach, to men dressed in the effortless fashion of sprezzatura — it’s difficult to stay bland near the Mediterranean. Though the range of this is vast, this allure can be found in Europe’s natural wonders, architecture and art. Here are several cities and towns that demonstrate these virtues, which you’ll enjoy during Crystal Cruises 12-Night Mediterranean Cruise. Though many of these destinations could fit in all three categories, it’s best to not complicate an enchanting moment.
Porto Venere: Located at the Gulf of Poets, this UNESCO-recognized harbor town encompasses five villages connected by a walking trail (the famous Cinque Terre) and the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto. Nearby, you’ll find a collapsed cove, Grotta Byron, full of aquatic life such as squid, conger eels and large mullet. The gulf cliffs overlooking the ocean are breathtaking. Be sure to check out Porto Venere Regional Nature Park, a protected area with flora, trails and dive sites.
Cannes: If the sun had a favorite Mediterranean location, it would be Cannes. With brilliant blue skies and turquoise waters along 60 miles westward from Monaco, this resort town is famous for its gorgeous beaches, seafood restaurants and one of the chicest places to take a walk — the Promenade des Anglais. Put on your shades, take a stroll and soak in the local culture. Or if you’d prefer, take a swim at Palm Beach, one of the charming local beaches open to the public.
Ajaccio: This port town, on the island of Corsica, isn’t only the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte, it’s also near 37,065 acres of protected wilderness composed of scrubland, meadows and beaches. Corsica also boasts majestic canyons, where tourists engage in the pastime of “canyoning,” an outdoor pursuit involving swimming, rock climbing and hiking through waterways and winding trails. You should also visit Corsica’s Regional National Park, composed of 901,924 acres of abundant biodiversity, such as the Corsican mouflon (a ram-like creature straight out of Greek mythology), the bearded vulture and the golden eagle.
Civitavecchia (by way of Rome): Highly regarded for its monuments and archaeological sites, Civitavecchia is 56 miles northwest of Rome. While visiting, learn about Forte Michelangelo, constructed in the 16th century to defend the Port of Rome; or the Terme Taurine, the well-preserved Roman thermal baths. For a more modern interpretation of this experience, visit the nearby Terme Ficoncella baths where you can actually swim or soak in the heated waters at your leisure. Then travel back to Rome, where the Eternal City features a bounty of architectural attractions: the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Square, the Trevi Fountain or the Pantheon.
Palma de Mallorca: There’s a lot to appreciate about this town founded by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago. Sites like La Seu Cathedral, at 144 feet tall and covering 75,000 square feet, demonstrate the lengths some monarchs, and people, are willing to go for religious devotion. Behold the massive flying buttresses, opulent spires and the huge, color-spangled Rose Window. Other sites worthy of a visit are the circular 14th century Bellver Castle; 10th century ruins of Banys Arabs, or Moorish baths; and the Plaza de Toros, Palma’s bullfighting ring, now used to host concerts.
Valencia: This Mediterranean port city has architectural wonders both old and new. Besides the Cathedral of Valencia (previously a Roman temple, then a mosque) and the formidable 14th century fortress Torres de Serranos, Valencia is also renowned for its futuristic architecture. The City of Arts and Sciences is composed of five buildings, featuring iMAX cinema and digital projections, interactive exhibits, the largest aquarium in Europe with more than 500 marine species and a terrace restaurant with a spectacular view. The entire structure resembles enormous alien spacecrafts emerging from a blocks-long reflection pool.
Barcelona: With an overnight in Barcelona, you’ll be afforded time to enjoy the culture and architecture of this dynamic city. Although there are diverse architectural wonders to appreciate, any architectural pilgrimage in this town begins and ends with the structures of Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). This would include La Sagrada Familia, with its multiple towers, facades and near-organic fluidity of form; the Casa Batlló, with its use of natural light and almost skeletal-exterior design; and the Park Güell, originally intended as a modern housing estate, only to instead be considered an astonishing green space and location of Gaudí’s final home.
Toulon: The city of Toulon reminds us that architecture isn’t always about specific structures, but also about “habitable art,” about an aesthetic that shapes communities. Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann (1809-1891), the man who oversaw the design for Paris — incorporating parks and wide boulevards — created a similar theme for the Upper Town of Toulon. Walk along its streets, particularly the Cours Lafayette, to get that Parisian vibe without visiting Paris. With its long pedestrian street, Lafayette is ideal for the morning market that runs its entire length. Stroll past stalls of seasonal fruits, local lavender, cheese and olives. On a side note, be sure to check out the harbor and museums of this French naval port town.
Monte Carlo, Monaco: Just as the architecture of Toulon promotes Parisian influences, the architecture of Monte Carlo promotes the splendor and joie de vivre of the Mediterranean. The city-state of Monaco, located on the Mediterranean bordering France’s southernmost coast, has been an independent country since the 12th century. It’s a principality with its own royal family, the House of Grimaldi, and national flag. Monte Carlo is one of the four traditional quarters in Monaco, and arguable one of its most famous, with a reputation for sun-soaked luxury, and a healthy dab of French culture. Check out the Monte Carlo Casino, crowned in palm trees and bejeweled by expensive sports cars; people-watch at the Hôtel Hermitage Monte-Carlo and the Hôtel de Paris, or learn about the full definition of opulence at the Cercle-d’Or district, or Golden Square, to see its gorgeous high-end stores.
Florence/Pisa: Any number of the previous destinations would have been worthy of note for their artistic traditions, but within the context of Renaissance art, the Florence/Pisa area rises above the rest. One museum that best conveys this is the Uffizi Palace and Gallery in Florence. Founded in 1581, the Uffizi houses a number of world-renowned masterpieces, such as the alluring beauty of the Birth of Venus, by Sandro Botticelli; the spiritual majesty of Coronation of the Virgin, by Fra Angelico; and an appreciation of musculature and human engagement as demonstrated by the Doni Tondo (also known as the Holy Family) by Michelangelo.
Another location for Renaissance art is the Galleria dell’Accademia (Gallery of the Academy of Florence). During your visit, marvel at the original Michelangelo’s David sculpture, historical art from the 14th and 15th centuries or a museum devoted to musical instruments.
Pisa also offers a number of remarkable museums worthy of a visit. One place of note is the Museo Nazionale, on the banks of the Arno River, presents impressive works from historic ecclesiastical buildings, such as the Pisa Baptistery and from the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta. Exhibits present works from the early Medieval period to the 16th century. For every crucifix, biblical scene or image of the Madonna at this museum, a solemn beauty radiates across millennia.
Are you inspired by the natural, architectural and artistic beauty of the Mediterranean? Contact one of our travel agents. Their years of experience with industry-leading cruise lines, such as Crystal, provide you with exclusive perks and amenities for your next vacation sailing the Mediterranean.