The Eastern Mediterranean continues to increase in popularity and with a superb range of destinations to choose from, its certainly not hard to see why. The region encompasses a wide range of areas including the stunningly beautiful location of Italy and Croatia along the Adriatic coastline and of course the ever beautiful Greek Islands. When you think of Eastern Mediterranean these are often the places that spring to mind but there is so much more to see. Turkey boasts a fascinating collection of destinations such as Istanbul and Kusadasi. Theres also the opportunity to head a little further afield and sample the treasurable ports of call amongst the Ukraine and Russia within the Black Sea. These exciting itineraries are sure to provide an unforgettable cruise but narrowing down your ideal destinations can be a tricky scenario. With this in mind, we decided to consider our top five favourite Eastern Mediterranean destinations.
The thrilling blend of attractions is a key reason for the rise in popularity of this region. The Eastern Mediterranean offers the opportunity to explore a captivating feast of ancient antiquities, cultures and histories along with plenty of areas to relax and unwind with beautiful beaches and charismatic villages. The array of holiday options here really is exceptional.
Narrowing down our top five Eastern Mediterranean cruise destinations was not easy but after much deliberation and debate, we feel weve finally arrived at a suitable decision.
The destination just about on everyones bucket list is a no brainer. This gorgeous port of call had to make the list and finds itself right at the top of our collection. Venice is enchantingly beautiful and this World Heritage city is pretty much the perfect cruise call. One factor on our criteria was the accessibility of the attractions and Venice ticks this box with ease. The city is extremely accessible on foot from your docking point and the fluency of the Vaporetto, Venices waterbus service makes getting around very simple.
Venice is a considered by many as a cornerstone port of call for the Eastern Mediterranean. It is a destination regularly used as a turnaround port for cruise lines for its easy access to the airport as well as giving passengers the opportunity to spend more time in the city with a hotel stay pre or post cruise.
The entrance to this port of call alone would be enough to make you want to return time and time again. Sailing parallel to the Grand Canal provides a truly magical view of the city and once in port the attractions just keep on coming. For couple, a stereotypical yet wonderful thing to do is to simply hop into a gondola and head for a romantic ride along the canal.
As for sightseeing, well Venice never fails to impress. From the majestic charm of St Marks Square to the ancient Basilica, the city provides something for everyone. Be sure to take in the lavish Doges Palace along with the immensely impressive bell tower. Venice is also known around the world for its bridges, none more famous than the Rialto Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs.
Of course sightseeing is great but the city is also brilliant for its sensational selection of restaurants and cafes. This is Italy after all and the food is undeniable excellent whether its a tasty café or a gourmet dining venue. For a fabulous meal visit the Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal for a meal you will never forget. The setting is magnificent and the restaurant describes the cuisine as dishes typical of the Venetian tradition, the ultimate expression of flavours in perfect harmony, a statement we could not agree with more.
Shopping in Venice is also a great experience. From world renowned designer clothing to local crafts, this city has it all. The masquerade ball is a key theme here with some incredible creations.
No matter how you wish to spend your time, you are guaranteed to enjoy this mesmerizingly unique city.
Continuing with another post that is considered a cornerstone of the Eastern Mediterranean, Istanbul is also a port used regularly used for embarkation and disembarkation. You could visit Istanbul countless times and still find something new and exciting to see. This magical city boasts a history spanning 3,000 years and is best known for its crucible of cultures, a term used by P&O Cruises to describe the iconic point where east meets west. The city spans two continents, brought together through a triumphant suspension bridge that each evening lights up the night sky with an array of colour. Istanbul is Turkish homeport for many cruise ships for a reason similar to that of the aforementioned Venice. There is so much to see and do here that a day is just not enough. This way passengers can choose to extend their stay in the city if they wish and even cruise vessels that do just visit here will often do so overnight so that passengers can enjoy the city bursting into life as the sun goes down.
You may have been here many times before but if its your first visit then there are a collection of sightseeing attractions that must be on your list. Top of the list of city treasures has to the incredible Blue Mosque, a world famous attractions that never ceases to amaze. Traditionally known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, the mosque was built during the 1600s under the ruling of Ahmed I. The construction then took the title of the Blue Mosque thanks to the wonderfully preserved blue tiles that adorn its interior walls. Another thrilling exploration opportunity is the thrilling Topkapi Palace, known around the world for its spectacular gardens, wondrous entrance and of course its jewels. The Hippodrome is a fascinating open air museum and certainly worth seeing, as are the minarets and grand palaces of Istanbuls sky line, which can be viewed by taking a relaxing boat ride across the Bosphorus.
Another must see for this destination is the Grand Bazaar. This eccentric attraction boasts over 4,000 different shops each with their own unique charms as well as restaurants, cafes and highly impressive artisans workshops. The Grand Bazaar is a great place to visit to take in the vibrant atmosphere of the city. Not only can you sample the local cuisine here, you will also find an amazing range of choice for the perfect holiday souvenir. Be sure to put your bargaining hat on and be ready to haggle to get the best price.
A port of call that often forces its way into many cruise itineraries such is the beauty and intrigue of this captivating destination. There are some of you that may think, why not delve deeper into some of hidden gems of the Eastern Mediterranean but when you have something so special as Dubrovnik, it is hard to leave out let alone see why it features so prominently on itineraries in this region. The arrival into this port of call is an experience in its own right before youve even stepped foot ashore. The 12th Century Croatian walled city can be seen for miles and is definitely worth getting up early for. The architectural attractions here are spectacular with such wonders as Onofrios Fountain and the Franciscan Monastery. Both of these creations can be seen at the beautiful Old Town renowned for its pretty harbour setting and red rooftop buildings. The Franciscan Monastery in particular is a tremendous sight to behold as it houses the statue of the Piéta carved in 1498.
Sightseeing opportunities are endless here and the Gothic Spanza Palace must be on your list of places to visit along with the 18th Century Baroque Church of St Blaise. Not only is the church an impressive sight but it is also a great experience to witness the homage to Dubrovniks patron saint.
If it is even possible to have your complete fill of sightseeing in Dubrovnik then you may wish to sample other aspects of the local culture. If so we highly recommend some of the intimate cafes and restaurants that nestle away in the slender side streets. There are many hidden treasures here to be found from stunning cuisine to off the beaten track shops and art galleries. There is a great choice of items to be purchased here, best of all including the wide range of lacework and ceramics the city is known for but one thing that is certainly worth remembering is the need to have cash with you at all times just in case you see something special. Many of the local boutique stores and stalls do not accept cards and wed hate for you to have to miss out on a treasurable souvenir having not known this beforehand.
Having seen the three ports above, you may think that Santorini is a strange choice after such prominent destinations as Venice, Istanbul and Dubrovnik. We however would disagree and believe that Santorini being in our top five makes perfect sense. This port of call is absolutely stunning in every way and there really is no confusing this destination when you arrive. Greeted by the striking white washed buildings perched perfectly and clinging to the edge of a dramatic vertical cliff, this incredible port of call welcomes you to crystal clear azure blue waters and makes a fantastic first impression. The process of arrival here takes place via tender as the sheer cliff face leading to the water below prevents clear access for cruise ships. Once you arrive ashore you have the choice of taking the steep walk up the cliff or opting for the much easier and relaxing choice of the cable car. This again is superb experience offering the perfect shot of your ship in the distance and the awe-inspiring landscapes below.
The beauty of Santorini is that you have the choice of simply meandering its vibrant streets with plenty to see and do or heading further afield and exploring a variety of surrounding attractions. To stroll around you will find a wide range of sublime restaurants presenting spectacular local cuisine and culinary delights. As if the food wasnt eye-catching enough, the views from these restaurants are without doubt some of best you will experience. Shopping opportunities here are also excellent, especially for finding items completely unique to Santorini. Alternatively you can explore intriguing sites such as Akrotiri, considered by many to be the site of the Lost City of Atlantis.
The vivid landscape achieved its creation through a powerful volcanic eruption in 1650 BC, which rocked Santorini and formed the dramatic caldera and two small islands. A visit to Akrotiri will provide you with an insight into the history of this unearthed city along with a wide a detailed background of this world renowned prehistoric settlement. A visit here can also be combined with a trip to The Mountain of Prophet Elijah, the highest point in Santorini standing at 2,000 feet above sea level. From here, as you can imagine, the views are breath taking to say the least.
The largest town and one of the most popular places to visit is Fira. This location is famous for its pure whitewashed homes combining with bright, bold blue roof tops of an array of chapels leading up the hills. The collection of al fresco cafes here is excellent, each with their own unique characteristics but also the many boutique stores here are definitely worth exploring.
Whilst Venice, Istanbul and Dubrovnik all possess phenomenal scenery and sightseeing attractions, we chose Santorini purely for its differing characteristics. This magical destination provides passengers with some of the greatest views imaginable and its volcanic landscapes offer something completely different to aforementioned city destinations.
Whether you wish to soak up the traditional Greek village lifestyle, sample local delicacies and wines or even take a hike up a volcano, this splendid port of call is a must when cruising the Eastern Mediterranean.
It wouldnt be right not to include a Black Sea destination in our top five ports of call but then came the decision of which one? After going back and forth we decided to opt for Yalta. This is a truly legendary resort of the Crimean Coast and flaunts an eclectic collaboration of medieval and modern history that makes Yalta one of the most scintillating destinations on any Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea itinerary. You may have noticed a theme with our chosen ports of call in that we have identified them all as having a gripping entrance for arriving cruise ships, all making a lasting impression. Yalta is no different as passengers are greeted by its medieval past with the turreted Swallows Nest castle towering above. This imposing feature is a signature attraction of Yalta and is a must when visiting here.
Architectural beauty is something that Yalta has in abundance. The city flits from past to present around every corner with medieval creations meeting contemporary design in an almost effortless manner. It is for this reason that we identified this port as a definite selection for our top five. The history this port of call possesses is tremendous but the feeling of awe when you walk its streets is a feeling that cannot be explained until you have done it for yourself.
Speaking of the incredible history Yalta possesses, lets take a closer look. A visit to the White Palace of Livadia provides the gateway and insight into one of the most important events in modern history. The palace was constructed in 1911 and built in the style of Italian Renaissance for Tsar Nicholas II. It was at this location that Prime Minister Churchill, President Roosevelt and Russian leader Stalin met to create what would be their controversial map of post war Europe. The event took place in 1945 as World War II and would prove to be a powerful point in history.
The history of Yalta spans a lengthy spell with the city itself having been a feature of many differing cultures. Once a colony of Genoa, Yalta went onto fall under the Ottoman Empire as well as being an integral feature of the Russian Empire. Along with many sightseeing attractions created from this substantial history, Yaltas has formed a port of call that is today a Black Sea gem. Whether you are looking to explore its rich heritage, soak up the culture and lifestyle, sample local cuisine or relax amongst the lavish, glamorous settings of the many luxurious hotels, this is a great destination to visit.
Michael Wilson is the Managing Director at Bolsover Cruise Club.
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