Our love affair with France and Spain began long ago and it refuses to fade. Whether you are chasing the sun or consumed by the culture, the continent and its coveted coastline has it all. Here are two ways to see for yourself in 2018.
CELEBRITY CRUISES – ITALY, FRANCE & SPAIN (AUG 18) – CELEBRITY CONSTELLATION
Cruising was made for the Mediterranean. A different sun-bleached beach each day, fresh seafood in waterfront bistros and late nights in ports that sizzle when the sun sets; it’s what holiday dreams are made of. France and Spain provide all of the above for sunseekers, plus ice-cold cocktails in abundance and just a hint of Old Town charm. A guest appearance from beautiful Italy is the icing on the cake.
WHEN IN ROME
When in Rome, you walk in the footsteps of gladiators at the Colosseum and marvel at Michelangelo’s masterpiece in the Sistine Chapel. You eat pizza and pasta in neighbourhood trattorias, and you drink local wine and people-watch in piazzas. Toss a coin into the Trevi Fountain (legend has it this is the way to guarantee your return to the city), spy St Peter’s Basilica on the skyline and dip in and out of chic designer boutiques. And don’t forget to finish the day with an Italian gelato, eaten quickly before it melts in the late afternoon heat.
THE ITALIAN RIVIERA
The five fishing villages of Cinque Terre are scattered in the Italian Riviera, clinging to rugged cliffs above blue seas below. Once upon a time, Cinque Terre could only be accessed by boat. Now it makes a gorgeous day-long excursion from Livorno. Laze on the beach of lemon-scented Monterosso, sampling the village’s famous anchovies served fresh from the boat that morning. Vernazza is the most photogenic village of the famous five, all sea-facing pastel houses hugging the harbour front. There’s a view at every turn as you negotiate the maze of narrow lanes that climb vertically from the seafront, a new point of perspective on perfection appearing around every corner.
Monte Carlo puts the glam in glamorous, with its casinos, world-famous Grand Prix and the multi-million pound mega-yachts jostling in its harbour. This is the most exclusive address in Europe, but head a little further along the coast to the capital of the Côte d’Azur and you’ll find life beside the sea slows to a slightly more leisurely pace in nearby Nice. It may not have the champagne sprays of St Tropez or Monte Carlo, but there’s something uniquely atmospheric about the narrow streets of La Vieux Nice, the city’s Old Town. Entire afternoons can be lost to the brand-new Promenade du Paillon too, a 30-acre park running from the city centre to the sea. And what a sea it is, sapphire blue and edged by more than 30 different stretches of sand along the coast.
Beaches and the Balearics go hand-in-hand, with 56 found on the island of Ibiza alone, not to mention the unspoilt sands of neighbouring Formentera. Pack your swimwear and set out for Playa d’en Bossa on the southern tip of Ibiza. It’s the longest sandy stretch on the island, lined with beach bars and with clear waters perfect for watersports. Make the most of those views on a walk from the watchtower at one end, to Ibiza’s Old Town, Dalt Vila, at the other. There are two ways to spend an overnight stay in Ibiza; either join the party or hit the shops. The island’s Hippie Market is world-famous for good reason and in Dalt Vila, street vendors selling handmade espadrilles and straw baskets display their wares along a softly-lit Patio de Armas.
Vibrant Barcelona is one of only a few places worldwide where city and coast merge so seamlessly. One minute you can be soaking up the electric energy of Las Ramblas or lost in the maze of narrow alleys that make up Barri Gotic, the next you are sipping from a tumbler of ice-cold sangria on a beachfront glittering with the yachts of oligarchs. Port Vell is a hub of activity, complete with al fresco dining and bars, plus the largest aquarium in Europe. Hidden in the suburbs of the city, Camp Nou holds obvious appeal for football fans, many of whom consider it something of a sporting mecca. Hardcore sunseekers can head to Sitges, just 22 miles along the coast from Barcelona. The highlight is a gorgeous whitewashed Old Town, plus 17 beaches that tend to be far quieter than those in Barcelona.
CULTURE CRUISING IN FRANCE AND SPAIN
AMAWATERWAYS – COLOURS OF PROVENCE 2018 (VARIOUS DATES)
River cruising was made for the artists, historians, oenophiles and gastronomes, and nowhere are they made to feel more at home than in France and Spain. As the birthplace of Beaujolais, the land of lavender fields and the one-time home and inspiration of Vincent Van Gogh, there are culinary, cultural and historical treasures lining the banks of the Rhône.
LA BELLE ÉPOQUE
Your culture cruise starts in the City of Light. Paris is for lovers, of architecture and otherwise, and nowhere else has ever held such appeal for artists and architects. Inspiration has pulsed through the city for centuries, serving its artists well and creating a jigsaw of architectural styles. Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Art Nouveau, Art Deco; the list is endless and all you need to do is look up. The Arc de Triomphe, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Palace of Versailles are some of the most famous architectural highlights, but the truth is that the city is full to the brim with them, classic and contemporary, indoors and out. See some of the best on a river cruise along the Seine.
Time in Lyon inevitably takes on a gourmet slant, thanks to the city’s reputation as the gastronomic capital of the world, a title gifted by the French themselves no less. Of the 1,500 or so restaurants in the city, dozens are sprinkled with Michelin stars. However, the best rustic French food is found at Lyon’s signature bouchons. These restaurants, typified by their red and white checked tablecloths, are found nowhere else in the world and dish up meat-rich recipes like Maman used to make. Also on the agenda are visits to Fourvière Hill and its white Notre Dame Basilica, the extravagant Bartholdi’s Fountain in Place des Terreaux and Place Bellecour, with its equestrian Louis XIV statue.
BURGUNDY AND BEAUJOLAIS
River cruises to Provence and Spain travel through the Rhône Valley, a legendary wine-growing region home to famous appellations such as Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Oenophiles will be right at home as you tour the Beaujolais wine region, whose champagne limestone hilltop estates have earned it the nickname Pays d’or, or ‘land of the golden stones’. Partake in wine tastings and vineyard tours with local vintners, delving deep into the region’s history of wine production whilst sampling its wares. Enjoy more of the same in Tournon, where a visit to Cornas will turn your attentions and taste buds towards the Northern Rhône valley wines.
Selected ‘Colours of Provence’ 2018 sailings are dedicated themed wine cruises, hosted by wine experts and incorporating exclusive experiences and excursions designed to appeal to those with a seasoned appreciation of the good stuff.
LAVENDER IN PROVENCE
Purple is the postcard hue of Provence and the lavender fields bloom from late June to late August in Avignon. Follow the ‘Lavender Road’ to the hilltop village of Grignan, where the Renaissance castle presides over hills heavy in deep purple lavender and sunflowers with heads as big as dinner plates.
Grignan is also one of the Europe’s leading producers of the black truffle or ‘black diamond’. Harvest season runs December to March, but you can visit a truffle farm and learn more about truffling at any time of year.
ART IN ARLES
Provence boasts 300 days of sun each year and one of those who headed here for a warmer, quieter way of life was Vincent Van Gogh. Despite spending just a year in Arles, it became the most creative period of the artist’s life, producing over 300 paintings and drawings. Easels are set up around the city, each offering a depiction of Arles seen through Van Gogh’s eyes. Starry Night Over The Rhône, The Yellow House, Café Terrace At Night and The Irises are a handful of the countless works inspired by his time here. A visit to both the Carrières de Lumières and the lavender-strewn Saint Paul de Mausole Asylum is a must for art enthusiasts.
Antoni Gaudí’s whimsical ways characterise a whole city in Barcelona and there is no better way to spend a day in the Catalan capital than by getting lost amidst the works of his childlike imagination. Take a tour of his most famous architectural works, including Casa Milà, Casa Batlló, Parc Güell and work in progress, La Sagrada Familia, which has been under construction for over a century.
With three days to spend in the city as part of the Colours of Provence cruise and stay package, you’ll have time to appreciate the work of other artists once inspired by Barcelona. Joan Miró was born in the city and you’ll find several of his most famous artworks here, including the Pavement Mosaic on Las Ramblas. Elsewhere, in the atmospheric Gothic Quarter, the Museu Picasso is a must-see.