Mediterranean cruise with MSC review: visiting six great destinations and three countries in a week

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Mirror Travel Editor Nigel Thompson joins MSC Fantasia on a week-long Med itinerary... Cruises always have a sea day, don't they?

That chill-out time where you enjoy the splendid facilities as the ship slips through the water? Not always, it seems. On our week-long voyage on MSC Cruises' fabulous Fantasia from Genoa, Italy, we had a stop on each of the six days.

So, instead of a five ports of call and one sea day, we had six 'things-to-see' days. Here's how my wife Debbie and I did it...

Mediterranean cruise with MSC review: visiting six great destinations and three countries in a weekMSC Fantasia sailed to six Med ports from Genoa
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Cannes, France

The only port requiring a tender, we let the main rush get off the ship (not that there was much of one with a well-organised disembarkation) and headed into the home of the film festival[1] . It's certainly a glamorous place - the first cars I dodged crossing the road from the port were a Ferrari and a Lamborghini.

We headed up to the castle ruins at the top of the old town hill to take in fine views and then ambled back down to find lunch in the pleasant streets a block back from the fabled Croisette seafront. France isn't cheap - a club sandwich and a beer cost EUR17, though the food was freshly made and very tasty. On to the Croisette and we found the beach had been largely taken over by vast corporate venues for visitors in town for a tech convention.

The public area left was pretty small; a shame, we thought.

Mediterranean cruise with MSC review: visiting six great destinations and three countries in a weekThe Croisette in Cannes on the French Riviera
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Palma, Majorca, Spain

A new day and our third country. In fairness we had half a sea day with a 2pm arrival in the Balearic Island's lovely capital and no sooner alongside we grabbed a cab up to 14th century Bellver Castle, perched on a 370ft hill. It's one of the few circular fortresses in Europe and is quite striking.

There's a museum on the history of Palma, which is well worth a look, and the views across the city from the top of the ramparts are ideal for your Instagram portfolio. Mercifully, on what was a very hot afternoon, there's a nice little cafe selling cold beers at EUR3, a third of what we'd paid in Cannes the day before. We could see the ship from the castle and decided to walk back down.

Bad idea. What Google Maps claimed was a 30-minute walk was considerably more and involved a spectacularly slippery rocky track.

Mediterranean cruise with MSC review: visiting six great destinations and three countries in a weekPalma, the capital of Majorca Mediterranean cruise with MSC review: visiting six great destinations and three countries in a weekBellver Castle in Palma, Majorca
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Barcelona, Spain

We'd been several times but never got to Park Guell, architect Antoni Gaudi's hillside creation in the Gracia district. If you've never been it's a must.

In a city of so many highlights, this is a stand-out. There's a central core of buildings which has an admission charge and timed tickets, but the rest of the large site is free and a delight to stroll around. The views are spectacular, not least at the Hill of Three Crosses monument.

There are signs warning not to climb it, so of course everyone does. Lunch beckoned at the fabulous Boqueria produce market on the Rambla, followed by the cable car up to the 18th century Montjuic Castle overlooking the port. Like Bellver Castle, fine views but sadly no nice little cafe for a cold one on another baking day.

Mediterranean cruise with MSC review: visiting six great destinations and three countries in a weekParc Guell in Barcelona
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Ajaccio, Corsica, France

A new destination for us and it's a perfectly pleasant one for a meander.

The markets were over for the day by the time we docked, so we wandered round the marina and the cathedral and hoofed the mile up the slope to the impressive monument celebrating Ajaccio's most famous son, Napoleon Bonaparte[2] . We ambled back into town to find water and a loo, mooched around some souvenir shops and the marina and - avoiding ruinously priced French drinks - returned to the ship to enjoy the mountainous scenery surrounding the town from the deck 15 Gaudi bar.

Mediterranean cruise with MSC review: visiting six great destinations and three countries in a weekNapoleon monument in Ajaccio, Corsica
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Rome, Italy

Italy's compelling capital[3] is a EUR5 one-hour train ride from the vast port at Civitavecchia and on a whirlwind trip we took in the Colosseum, Forum, Altare della Patria (the bonkers giant white 'typewriter' monument), the glorious Pantheon and a typically overpriced lunch in the heart of tourist-land. We could have got a later train back and slotted in, say, the Trevi Fountain but the ship won't wait if you're late.

Mediterranean cruise with MSC review: visiting six great destinations and three countries in a weekNigel Thompson at the Colosseum in Rome
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Cinque Terre, Italy

They saved the best till last.

If you've not been to this gorgeous stretch of the Ligurian coast I urge you to head there as soon as you can. And, if possible, see it by boat. There really can't be a better way to appreciate the beauty of the little towns (Cinque Terre mean five lands), with their colourful buildings seemingly tumbling down steep ravines leading to the sea.

We joined an excursion from La Spezia naval base, heading first by coach to Porto Venere, a delightful small town with an eye-catching 13th century church on a promontory and a scenic cove where Lord Byron[4] supposedly liked to swim. If the poet was doing so today he'd have hundreds of tourists gawping at him and generally getting in each other's way. Here we joined a tour-boat-cum-ferry which calls at the five towns, picking up and depositing hundreds of people at a time.

The sight of the steeply plunging coast with its terraced vineyards and gravity defying houses is stellar, and from the sea you get the best views of Riomaggiore and Manarola as the boat approaches the harbour.

Mediterranean cruise with MSC review: visiting six great destinations and three countries in a weekRiomaggiore, one of the Cinque Terre

The towns are only reached by sea or the coastal railway, which runs through tunnels cut in the cliffs. By road, you'd need to park at the top of the hills
and walk down or get a lift in a golf buggy. One old monastery is only linked to the outside world by a flight of 1,600 steps.

Quite an undertaking if you need to nip out for a pint of milk. We jumped ship in Monterosso al Mare which has a couple of beaches, loads of shops and restaurants and is very pleasant. And thoroughly packed on a broiling Saturday; it's a day out by train from Genoa and it felt like half the population was here.

However, we got lucky by finding a great little pizzeria with a free table. Returning to Fantasia by train and coach, we metaphorically high fived the five lands. Bella Italia was never more Bella than here.

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Get on board

  • MSC Fantasia will sail 7nt round-trip Mediterranean cruises from Genoa between May-October 2019.

    Cruise-only fares start at GBP749pp; fly-cruise from UK airports from GBP1,079pp.

    Ports of call are Marseille, Palma, Ibiza, Naples and Livorno. msccruises.co.uk[5]

  • Tourist info: italia.it ee.france.fr spain.info[6][7][8]

References

  1. ^ home of the film festival (www.mirror.co.uk)
  2. ^ Napoleon Bonaparte (www.mirror.co.uk)
  3. ^ Italy's compelling capital (www.mirror.co.uk)
  4. ^ Lord Byron (www.mirror.co.uk)
  5. ^ msccruises.co.uk (www.msccruises.co.uk)
  6. ^ italia.it (www.italia.it)
  7. ^ ee.france.fr (ee.france.fr)
  8. ^ spain.info (www.spain.info)

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