Explore Europe’s hidden treasures with longer stays in iconic ports. Have extra time to view Gaudí’s iconic buildings with a Barcelona overnight. Glide the Strait of Messina, pass the Stromboli Volcano, visit coastal villages across Italy and Greece.
Arrive at the cruise port and board your ship, the Oosterdam. This is where this exciting journey begins!
July 15: Livorno (Florence/Pisa), Italy
The Renaissance-era port city of Livorno, Italy, gateway to Pisa, Florence and the rest of the attractions of Tuscany, is characterized by its solid 16th-century Fortezza and the charming canal network known as Venezia Nuova. It’s also famous for cacciucco, a spicy fish stew.
To the north of Livorno, not far from the mouth of the river Arno, lies Pisa, an attractive university city best known for its Leaning Tower. Some 60 miles to the east, and also set on the Arno, is Florence, Tuscany's capital. The concentration of artistic treasures and cultural things to do in Tuscany, from museums and cloisters to bridges and chapels, is second to none—but there is lots more besides sightseeing in Florence. The food and drink culture in Florence takes in tripe stands and hole-in-the-wall wine bars as well as embracing gourmet restaurants and plenty of down-to-earth family-run trattorias. The shopping scene offers the designer stores of Via Tornabuoni and Via Roma, but there are plenty of quirky, independent boutiques too. And then there is Florence’s traditions of leather work, marbled paper, book-binding and furniture restoration. Explore the sights of the arty Oltrarno neighborhood for artisan workshops, great cafés, bars and restaurants and an authentically Florentine atmosphere.
July 16: Marseille (Provence), France
Marseille, in the south of France, has more spice, grit and edge than the Provençal towns that surround it. A trade city since the time of ancient Greece, the port always seems to be on the brink of change, generating a certain energy that’s hard to find in the timeless and traditional countryside. In fact, sometimes it doesn't seem very French at all.
Thanks to a multicultural population, the culinary scene (with seafood dishes and Michelin-starred restaurants galore) goes beyond the classic steak frites at bistros and brasseries. A 19th-century cathedral presides over the city and the working-class Le Panier district has winding streets flanked by fading facades, while Baroque edifices grace the commercial thoroughfare La Canebière, once compared to the Champs-Élysées.
Marseille’s 2013 turn as the European Capital of Culture sprouted a crop of cultural venues, from striking museums to cutting-edge gallery spaces and thought-provoking concept shops that showcase local talent. The waterfront has been refurbished—and on sunny days, it’s the place for people- and boat-watching from restaurants famous for bouillabaisse or outdoor cafés serving glasses of rosé and pastis.
July 17 - 18: Barcelona, Spain
On the northeast coast of Spain, overlooking the Mediterranean, Barcelona is a vibrant port city, packed with centuries of iconic art and architecture—Gaudí and Picasso both called it home—and lined with sunny white-sand beaches. Explore the Catalan capital's tourist attractions and historic neighborhoods, Modernisme and world-renowned art museums, galleries and local crafts shops—some of which are centuries old and stock traditional Catalan wares. After you see the sights, there are lively tapas bars around every corner where you can stop for a drink, a café amb llet (Catalan for espresso with steamed milk) or a snack, no matter the hour. Green spaces for picnics, long walks and respite from the hustle and bustle are scattered throughout Barcelona's attractions: There's Gaudí's mosaic-decorated park, a neoclassical maze at the Laberint d'Horta, as well as plenty of high places (mountains, monuments and edifices) where sightseeing visitors can take in the view. A short trip from Barcelona by car or train, luxury outlets, cava wineries, a mountaintop abbey and the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean coast await.
July 19: Day at Sea
July 20: Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy
'And suddenly there is Cagliari: a naked town rising steep, steep, golden-looking, piled naked to the sky,' wrote D.H. Lawrence in 1921 when he traveled to Sardinia. Nearly 100 years later, the city that made the writer 'think of Jerusalem' is just as impressive, sitting between a blue sea and an azure sky. According to Greek mythology, 'Caralis' was founded by Aristeus, son of Apollo, though historians date it to the 8th century B.C.E., when the Phoenicians established a trading port here. Sardinia's capital was later fought over by Carthaginians, Romans, Pisans, Spanish and Piedmontese—all of whom shaped its development.
Most sights are in Castello, the old town that climbs the hill behind Saint Remy's rampart. It's a rough grid of narrow streets and small squares with breathtaking views of sea, city and mountains. And while the old stones of Castello reflect millennia of history, Cagliari also has natural riches, with white beaches and flamingo-dotted blue lagoons nearby.
Sardinia has one UNESCO-listed site: a megalithic nuraghe complex 60 kilometers north of Cagliari (though some would argue that the town’s Roman amphitheater and Tuvixeddu necropolis could also be candidates for UNESCO recognition). Whether you are a history buff or drawn more to culinary or natural wonders, you’ll find much to delight in this lively, fascinating city.
July 21: La Goulette (Tunis), Tunisia
Tunis, the nearby capital, offers a bustling medina as well as the Bardo Museum, famed for its collection of mosaics and major finds from nearby Carthage, once the glorious rival of Rome.
July 22: Valletta, Malta
The ancient city of Valletta is teeming with historic monuments, churches and gardens. At just one-third of a square mile in area, Europe's southernmost capital is one of the easiest to explore on foot. Given Malta's strategic location and succession of rulers including the Romans, Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French and British, it’s somewhat surprising to see Valletta so well preserved. The city dates back to the 16th century and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980. Extensive restorations of historic buildings are underway, including the rebuilding of the city entrance to mark Valletta's recognition as the European Capital of Culture in 2018. Decades of British rule mean that English remains an official language, along with the local Maltese language, plus a curious mix of Italian vocabulary and Semitic roots. As Malta lies just 50 miles south of Sicily, Italian influences dominate the cuisine and culture. Even so, the Maltese do value their own traditions, such as the folk music known as Għana, which features strong yet poetic male vocals over slow guitar music.
July 23: Day at Sea
July 24: Piraeus (Athens), Greece
No modern metropolis is more steeped in myth than Athens, Greece. From the gritty port of Piraeus—gateway to Greece’s fabled isles—to the Parthenon—eternal symbol of Western civilization—Athens has attracted adventurers and classicists for centuries. This heritage is still very much alive for modern visitors sightseeing in Athens: ancient stadiums and temples dwell alongside apartment blocks, modern performances are staged in the marble amphitheaters where Greek drama was born and millennia-old monuments are scattered in the archaeological park that circles the Acropolis.
One of the world’s oldest maritime powers, Athens is blessed with a balmy climate and stunning coastline. The seaside suburbs of Athens are scalloped with sandy beaches, fancy yacht clubs and glamorous beach bars. While the Athenian lifestyle is known for late-night dinners and dancing until dawn, the city shines brightly by day in the bustling markets, lively cafés and fascinating museums that illuminate Greece's past and present. Contemplate the magnitude of all that culture and ancient tourist attractions while marveling at the sun setting into the Aegean or rising over the Acropolis.
July 25: Katakolon (Olympia), Greece
The port of Katakolon is the gateway to the Peloponnese, one of Greece’s most intriguing and least well-known areas. Beyond the region’s famous site of ancient Olympia—one of the most treasured remnants of the classical world—the Peloponnese gets little of the glory given the Greek islands and Athens. And it deserves much more, as you’re about to discover.
A distinctly Greek welcome can be experienced here like nowhere else. The region reveals what it means to be Greek: traditions that go back thousands of years, simple but delicious and healthy cuisine, towering mountains, crystal blue seas and, above all, the true hospitality of the people. In Greek, xenos means 'stranger,' but the word also means 'guest,' and a respectful traveler will be treated like a favored friend.
In addition to Olympia, which is unmissable, the Peloponnese offers lesser-known but majestic and ancient sites, natural wonders and an insight into the traditional rural life that still endures in this country. Take the time to explore and see as much as possible—your efforts will be more than rewarded.
July 26: Taormina, Italy > Cruising Strait of Messina > Evening cruising Stromboli Volcano
Located on Sicily's east coast, just north of the active volcano Mt. Etna, Taormina has long drawn visitors with its stunning coastal scenery, thanks to its vantage point 204 meters (669 feet) above the Ionian Sea. Literary giants like Goethe and D.H. Lawrence spent time here, and more recently the town has become a popular spot for fans of the Godfather films, with some scenes shot in the area. Founded in the 4th century B.C.E., the town has a compact historic center that’s best explored on foot. Start with a visit to the ancient Greek Theater before shopping and people-watching along the Corso Umberto. A cable car makes it easy to reach the beach at Lido Mazzaró—one of the most picturesque and popular on the island, where you can frolic in the crystal clear water or sip a cold drink at one of the beach bars. Taormina is also an ideal jumping-off point for wine-tasting tours on Mt. Etna's slopes, or a visit to the nearby city of Catania.
The Strait of Messina is the narrow waterway between Sicily and Calabria, the southernmost region on the Italian peninsula. Despite its relatively short length, the Strait of Messina is endowed with many unique qualities, making it one of the more dramatic passages in the Mediterranean. Its narrowest point—less than three kilometers (two miles)—creates a natural bottleneck and a distinct sheltered marine ecosystem; it is also a significant migration point for numerous species of birds. Noted for its large numbers of raptors and storks, the strait is one of the most popular and important bird-watching locations in Europe. Whales also swim along the length of the strait, adding to the area’s remarkable biodiversity.
The Strait of Messina figures prominently in Greek mythology, most notably as the site of Scylla and Charybdis, mythical monsters of the sea that were embodied in rocky shoals on the Calabrian side and a whirlpool on the Sicilian side. These natural hazards would later lead to the phrase “between a rock and a hard place,” in English. For travelers today, however, sailing the strait is an easy decision, with its opportunities to spot wildlife in the shadow of Mount Etna.
One of eight Lipari Islands off the north coast of Sicily, tiny Stromboli is the most active—in that it is home to the second-most-active volcano on Earth, one that's been erupting continuously for more than 2,000 years. Most visitors who cruise around the island have a singular focus: the volcano. It perfectly matches one’s image of the legendary geographical feature—cone-shaped, topped by a fiery crater that spews fountains of glowing red lava, and best seen at night.
One side of Stromboli remains forever burned and blackened by perpetual eruptions. Occasionally—every two to 10 years—major flow events occur, sending a river of molten rock down the mountainside to the sea through a gorge called the Sciara del Fuoco (or Stream of Fire). Smaller eruptions happen more frequently, however, usually every 30 minutes to an hour, with blasts of lava shooting from the mouth of the caldera.
Despite being an active-volcanic island, Stromboli has two settlements: Stromboli Town in the island’s northeastern corner and smaller Ginostra on its west coast. The former features black-sand beaches, several hotels and most of the tourist services.
July 27: Naples (Pompeii/Amalfi), Italy
Rising behind the wide curve of its bay with brooding Mount Vesuvius and the deep blue sea as a backdrop, Naples, Italy enjoys a magnificent natural setting. It is the third-largest city in Italy after Rome and Milan, and arguably the most colorful and seductive of them all: Splendor and squalor live side by side in 21st-century Naples, and the mix is intoxicating.
Cruise to Naples, home to world-class museums and attractions. Naples has something for everyone - superb restaurants, eclectic shopping, a thriving contemporary art scene and an edgy and vibrant street life. But once you’ve had enough of the pounding traffic and jostling crowds while sightseeing in Naples, there are endless opportunities for exploration further afield. The celebrated Roman ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum, both victims of Vesuvius’ devastating 79 C.E. eruption, lie just south of the city. Explore Naples' history or take a short ride over to the island of Capri on a Naples shore excursion. The delightful town of Sorrento and the magnificent scenery of the Amalfi Coast are also within easy reach, and the dolce vita glamour of Capri—not to mention the healing thermal waters of Ischia—are a short hydrofoil hop from the mainland. Naples cruises offer a perfect mix of cultural and natural attractions.
July 28: Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy - Disembark
The time has come to disembark and make our way back home with all the wonderful memories made on our trip.
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