July 24, 2024

The Mediterranean Grand Tour

St. Mark’s Square in Venice is the epicenter of tourist visits for its beautiful Byzantine architecture.

When Mark Twain boarded a steamship in New York to embark on a Mediterranean cruise, he described hiscruise as “a picnic on a gigantic scale.” The year was 1867 and those were the days of the fashionable Grand Tour of Europe – a lengthy trip that was affordable only to the very wealthy.

Today, a Mediterranean cruise can fit into a two-week vacation, and there’s never been a better time to cash in your air miles and take advantage of the bargain-basement prices being offered on Med cruises. The major cruise lines send ships to the Med each summer where they remain through autumn, when the crowds have thinned out but the weather remains pleasantly warm.

No other cruising region offers the diversity of the Mediterranean, a sea bordered by three continents and over a dozen countries. In Italy alone the ports of call range from Riviera resorts to magnificent cities filled with ancient ruins and Renaissance art. Rome and Florence feature prominently on Med itineraries, as does Naples with its proximity to Pompeii, the Amalfi coast and the isle of Capri. But the Italian port that seems custom-made for cruise visitors is Venice.

Map of Venice from Mediterranean By Cruise Ship, 6th edition.

Arriving in Venice by ship is one of life’s most memorable travel experiences as your ship enters the Lagoon of Venice and slowly approaches what appears to be a floating Renaissance city of domed churches and richly coloured buildings topped with red tile roofs. Built on over a hundred islets, enchanting Venice has no roads and is criss-crossed with dozens of narrow canals. Winding through the centre of Venice is the Grand Canal – a watery thoroughfare lined with ornate palaces, some dating back to the 12th century. Motorized riverboats (part of the city’s waterbus service) run the length of the Grand Canal, making frequent stops along the way so that passengers can hop on and off.

The Grand Canal opens into the boat basin fronting St. Mark’s Square, which is filled with outdoor cafés and considered one of the most beautiful squares in Italy. This is where visitors compete with pigeons for the best vantage to gaze at the golden splendour of St. Mark’s Cathedral and the Italian Gothic façade of the Doges’ Palace.

If you enjoy walking, Venice is a delight to explore. Narrow lanes and stone footbridges lead to hidden squares and quiet side canals. At night, when lights shimmer on the water, these side canals are where you will hear the echoing voices of gondoliers serenading their passengers.

Venice is a busy base port for cruise ships, which fan out in all directions – across the Adriatic to Dubrovnik and the Dalmatian coast, across the Aegean to such Greek isles asSantorini and Mykonos, and around the toe of Italy’s boot to visit Naples and famous seaside resorts of the Italian and French Riverias.

The sensual allure and cultural enrichment of the Mediterranean has not diminished with time. What has changed is the affordability of cruise travel, allowing many of us to embark on our own Grand Tour.

Avatar photo About Anne Vipond

Anne Vipond is the author of several guidebooks to cruising destinations around the world. She draws on an extensive sailing background to impart her enthusiasm for cruise travel. From her home port of Vancouver, she travels by cruise ship to a wide range of destinations to keep her books current and useful for her cruise readers. Her cruising articles have been published in magazines and newspapers throughout North America and over seas.