The first in our monthly destination-focused feature, Ports of Call is Italy. From exquisite cuisine to ancient history – not to mention many miles of coast –the country has style in abundance and offers something for pretty much everybody
For British tourists, there is little wonder that the Mediterranean is officially the most popular cruise destination in the world. It is generally safe, hot and could rival any region in the world for its history and culture. Italy, the birthplace of the Renaissance, is the jewel in the Mediterranean’s crown.
That being said, Italy – or rather Italians – still have a curious relationship with the cruise industry. There is no doubt that the country benefits massively from its popularity, with ports such as Civitavecchia, Genoa and Venice attracting thousands upon thousands of cruise guests every year, eager to see the beauty of Florence or the treasures of Rome. In total the
cruise industry generated about €4.6 billion in 2014. For a country with such a turbulent economy, it’s clear that foreign visitors have been something of a saving grace.
However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing for the cruise lines. Few will have failed to see the demonstrations by locals in Venice earlier this year, protesting at the large vessels they say are ruining the city. The Italian Transport Ministry banned large ships weighing more than 96,000 gross tons from sailing along the Guidecca Canal in November 2014. However, that ban was then overturned in January 2015 by Venice’s regional court of appeal. The back and forth has continued for years.
It is hardly surprising that Venice has become so popular with tourists, including those who arrive in the city by ship. It is a magical place. The crumbling, renaissance buildings line the mile upon mile of canals that thread their way through the city’s islands. Cars don’t exist here; you either get about by water or by navigating the notoriously complex streets on foot. They say that in Venice you can walk from your house to the exact same destination a different route every single day of the year.
It’s not just a destination for ocean cruise guests, though. Uniworld, the luxury river operator, offers a cruise on the Po river out of Venice. The ten-day tour includes hotel stays in Milan, visits to Verona as well as a chance to cruise to less visited towns such as Chioggia, Polesella and Taglio di Po.
The cuisine is another reason why Brits are flocking to Italy in record numbers. From eating Neapolitan pizza with tomatoes harvested south of Mount Vesuvius to sipping a cool glass of pinot grigio in Tuscany’s famous vineyards. Italian food has become a staple part of the British diet at home, but there is nothing quite like the real thing.
MSC Cruises, which is headquartered in Switzerland, prides itself on Mediterranean-style cruising, with a pronounced Italian twist. The company calls at more than ten ports across the country, from its northern hub in Genoa to Valletta, Malta. It is the former that the famous author Gustav Flaubert described as “a beauty that tears the soul”. Its charm is bound up in the old town, which is all winding streets and cobbled piazzas. Some say that focaccia bread was invented by the Genoese – a claim that is disputed by others – however it’s still worth sampling some from one of the city’s many fine bakeries.
When writing about Italy, it would be remiss to not include something on the country’s fantastic capital. Rome is a city that offers something for everyone. From couples who want to throw a coin into the Trevi Fountain, to history buffs who want to see the Colosseum or Circus Maximus or art lovers who have always wanted to see Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, tucked away within the Vatican.
One of the most romantic destinations in Italy must be the areas within the Bay of Naples. Stunning towns such as Capri and Sorrento are synonymous with the glamour of Italian holidays, harking back to a more sophisticated time. With sweeping vistas across sapphire waters, it is like paradise with Mount Vesuvius puffing ominously in the background.
Italy is a cruise destination that can constantly surprise and delight. From rugged and arid Sicily to the lush lands of the Alpine north. It has ancient sites such as Pompeii and Pisa as well as modern, thriving cities such as Milan and Rome. There are fashion weeks and ancient universities. Italy really does have something for everyone. It’s not a country one can do in one attempt. However, part of the country’s charm is returning year after year and threading the pieces of its rich tapestry together.