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Thanks in large part to its French and West Indian influences, Martinique, a lush mountainous island in the Lesser Antilles with its dormant Mount Pelée volcano in the backdrop, exudes a cosmopolitan flair with a sophisticated culinary and cultural scene that draws travellers not only to its natural wonders, beautiful bays and beaches, but also to its heart at Fort-de-France, the capital. While French is the official language, most islanders also speak Antillean Creole. As part of the European Union, the island uses the euro as its currency.
When you arrive on an MSC Caribbean and Antilles cruise in Fort-de-France, you immediately notice the island’s steep hills, colourful colonial architecture, ornate balconies and tropical flowers. Book an MSC excursion to the Balata Cathedral, a miniature replica of the Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre, Paris, which offers a spectacular view of Fort-de-France and the bay.
Before Martinique came to be known by its current name, it was once called Madinina, the island of flowers. At Balata Botanical Gardens, discover 300 types of palm trees, take in views from the garden’s suspension bridge and enjoy the tropical flowers in bloom across 16 acres of lush landscape.
Or try the island’s best rum distilleries. MSC excursions will take you to the Depaz Distillery, in business since 1651, or the St. James Rum Distillery & Museum, where you will learn about the process of making rum and taste the traditional Rhum Agricole, made by using freshly squeezed sugarcane juice rather than the conventional molasses.
Afterwards, visit the ruins of the theatre in St. Pierre, the former cultural capital of Martinique that was tragically destroyed by the 1902 eruption of Mount Pelée. The modern-day town of St. Pierre is France’s 101st “City of Art and History.”
When you arrive on an MSC Caribbean and Antilles cruise in Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, you will discover a French gem in the Southern Caribbean, or as native islanders called it, “Karukera,” the “island of beautiful waters.” Guadeloupe’s Creole culture and cuisine are a melange of many influences, including French, African, Indian and East Asian.
Take a scenic MSC excursion to the Guadeloupe National Park, designated a World Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. Located in the south of Basse-Terre, the park has one of the most beautiful forests in the Caribbean and the highest peak on the island, the Soufrière volcano. Make your way to the three gorgeous waterfalls of Carbet on the lower slopes of La Soufrière. The second waterfall, about 360 feet in height, can be admired from a suspended bridge. Beautiful as they are, the waterfalls are among the most visited sites on Guadeloupe.
The Valombreuse botanical garden is a must-see for those who love gardens, and with 500 species in its collection, not many other gardens in the world can claim to be its equal. Tucked in between the mountains and the sea, it is a riot of tropical plants and flowers and home to many birds, including flower-loving hummingbirds and peacocks.
Head along the southern coast of Grande Terre on a sightseeing MSC excursion to St. Anne, a lovely fishing village with seafront promenade, then continue to visit the much-photographed Pointe des Châteaux, an incredible rock formation sculpted by the wind, followed by a stop in Morne-à-L’Eau, a town noted for its artistic cemetery with black-and-white checkerboard tombs.
You can also slip away on a catamaran on another excursion from Pointe-à-Pitre to the uninhabited islet of Gosier, a tiny gem calling out to you with its lush foliage, white sandy shores, a charming diminutive lighthouse and the intense blue of the sea.
When you arrive in Barbados on an MSC Caribbean and Antilles cruise, begin your exploration with the capital, Bridgetown. There are many attractions in this small Caribbean city, but by all means pause to admire its many colonial buildings, the Parliament Building and the statue of Lord Nelson standing in what is currently called the National Heroes Square.
Barbados has retained somewhat of a British feel, with its place names, cricket, horse-racing and polo, Anglican parish churches and even a hilly district known as Scotland. But the Britishness can be exaggerated, for this is a distinctly West Indian country, covered by a patch-work of sugarcane fields and dotted with tiny rum shops.
The Garrison Historic Area, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with magnificent 18th- and 19th-century buildings, is a must-see stop, featuring one of the world’s finest collection of cannons. It also includes the George Washington House, where the American patriot spent six weeks of his life.
The current St. John’s Church, in the eastern parish of the same name, is the fifth reconstruction of the oldest local church, in Barbadian Gothic style. Perched on a cliff 800 feet above the sea, it dates back to 1836. Its interior hosts a sculpture by 18th-century British artist Richard Westmacott, while its churchyard contains the tomb of Ferdinando Paleologus, a direct descendant of the brother of Constantine XI, the last Byzantine emperor.
Book an MSC excursion to discover the island’s history at the Barbados Museum and Historical Society in the St. Michael neighbourhood. And tour Sunbury Plantation House, located in the tranquil St. Philip countryside. Dating back to 1650, it’s a living monument to plantation life and a bygone era.
Harrison’s Cave, in St. Thomas district, is a wonder of nature with its stalactites, stalagmites, streams, lakes and waterfalls. In one of the caverns, the play of light on the rocks is so in-tense that it has been nicknamed “The Crystal Room”.
For some fun at the beach, head to Pirates Cove, one of the best beaches on Barbados. Featuring palm trees and chickee huts, white sand and crystal-clear water, it’s the perfect place to relax, just a stone’s throw from Bridgetown.
If you’re brave enough to dive into the deep, set out on an MSC excursion inside a real submarine, the Atlantis, to explore the coral reef and discover the beauty that the depths reveal.
“One beach a day,” Antigua’s motto, refers to the island’s 365 beautiful beaches that are famous, secret or even set in volcanic craters. There’s a beach for every lifestyle, for those who are social and ones who seek solitude.
When you arrive on an MSC Caribbean and Antilles cruise in the port of St. John’s, the capital and commercial centre of Antigua and Barbuda, embrace the city’s colourfully vi-brant houses dating to its British colonial period, along with the evocative white baroque towers of St. John’s Cathedral, and the Fort James and Barrington fortresses. The laid-back cosmopolitan city, with its distinctly British flair, is renowned for its shopping at luxury boutiques and high-end shopping malls.
Beyond the city, book an MSC excursion to the historic Nelson’s Dockyard in English Harbour, dedicated to Admiral Horatio Nelson, who was stationed in the West Indies be-tween 1784 and 1787. The shipyard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest of Antigua’s National Parks and still remains a working dockyard for numerous yachts and ships. Beautifully restored, its Georgian buildings in wood and stone date to the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Between April and the beginning of May, the Dockyard is the venue for some of the most important sailing regattas in the world, such as Antigua Sailing Week. The excursion continues on to visit the landmark ruins at Shirley Heights of-fering breath-taking vistas of English Harbour.
If an excursion in nature appeals to you, head to Stingray City to swim with friendly southern stingrays in crystal-clear water. Or discover Antigua’s lush rainforest from a bird’s-eye perspective as you navigate through the treetops on a guided canopy tour that will have you walking over a suspension bridge and traversing zip lines over a spectacular gorge.
Offering some of the best vistas in all the Caribbean, St. Maarten is the smallest inhabited island in the world shared by two nations – France in the north and the Netherlands in the south. Dubbed the true melting pot of the Caribbean, the 37-square-mile island is home to people of 47 different nationalities and more than 400 restaurants, featuring a hugely diverse variety of cuisine.
The island also has two capitals: Philipsburg on the Dutch side, and Marigot in the French part. Once you arrive on an MSC Caribbean and Antilles cruise in St. Maarten, explore how the two cultures have blended their very distinct characters on one of our MSC excursions.
Your St. Maarten cruise will dock in Philipsburg, founded in 1763 by John Philips, a Scottish captain in the Dutch Navy. Philipsburg, with its pastel-coloured West Indian houses, is known for its duty-free shopping along Front Street, the Great Salt Pond, which once made the island literally “worth its salt,” and attracted the attention of the French, and Fort Willem, built in 1801, with mag-nificent views of the bay and the surrounding islands.
From there, several MSC excursions take you on a hilly drive to the French side of the island to experience Marigot. Originally a fishing village on a swamp for which it was named, Marigot became the capital during the reign of Louis XVI. Fort Louis, which overlooks Marigot Bay and Anguilla, was built in the late 18th century to protect the town’s warehouses of salt, coffee, sugar cane and especially rum from the English. Today, Marigot showcases quaint colourful gingerbread-like houses, tasty sidewalk bistros and a waterfront market selling fruit and vegetables, spices, local meats and fresh fish from Creole huts worth exploring.
For something special, spend the day on the Dutch side of the island at the restored sugar planta-tion at Rockland Estate. Take in a history lesson at the Emilio Wilson Museum or a nature hike and 360-degree views from Sentry Hill. Participate in a hands-on cooking demonstration of authentic local cuisines with lunch at Emilio’s restaurant, in an exclusive Martha Stewart excursion curated for MSC Cruises.
Also at Rockland Estate, thrill seekers can book other MSC excursions on the Flying Dutchman, a fast and furious zip line ride that will have you whizzing down the line at speeds of up to 56 mph (90 km) per hour. Then take the Pirate Sky Ride cable car back up the top to the Crow’s Nest where several platforms encircling the mountain afford panoramic views of the neighbouring islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius, Saint Barthélemy and Anguilla. Then plunge down the mountain on a Schooner Ride inner tube along a specially designed track.
To experience one of the island’s hottest spots and most popular attractions, visit the famous Maho Beach, also called Airplane Beach. Don’t get too comfortable, though. This is because you watch as planes pass only a short distance above your head as they land and take off from Princess Juli-ana Airport’s short runway next door.
As you arrive in Funchal on an MSC cruise, your ship will cast anchor in a bay protected by mountains rising straight up behind the port. The name, Funchal, derives from that of the fennel plant, the funcho still used today in the traditional sweets known as rebuçados de funcho, that one can find anywhere on the island of Madeira.
An excursion will take you around the town centre, to visit historic churches, from the A Sé Cathedral, with its inlaid ceiling, to the majestic Church of the Incarnation, to the church of Carmo without a vault.
Another MSC excursion will take you up to the village of Monte, from where one can admire a spectacular view of the Funchal bay. You can visit its 18th century church and the tomb of the last Austrian emperor, Charles I, and stroll around the magnificent botanic gardens. But if you like heights, there’s nothing more impressive than the Cabo Girão and its 589 metre tall cliffs, amongst the highest in the world, at the foot of which lie the cultivated lands known as Fajãs do Cabo Girão.
If you’re looking for an equipped beach during your MSC cruise, another excursion will take you to Machico. Founded in the 15th century, it hosts the oldest religious building on the island, the Capela dos Milagres, and the fortresses of São João Baptista and Nossa Senhora do Amparo built in the beginning of the 16th century.
The more lively tourist attraction is instead in Calheta, on the south-west coast. Splendid yachts cruising across the Atlantic are moored in the port and if you want to go for a swim there are two beautiful beaches of golden sand; in spite of the modern structures Calheta dates back to the mid-15th century. This is where they make the “Aguardente”, the best white rhum, and fundamental ingredient of Madeira’s typical drink, the “Poncha” .
The elegant central zone of Málaga – a stop-off on your MSC cruise of the Mediterranean – is largely pedestrianized with the focal point, marble-paved Calle Marqués de Larios, lined with fashionable stores, its most elegant thoroughfare.
Plaza de la Constitución, Málaga’s main square, hosts a monumental fountain flanked by slender palms and the terraces of numerous cafés and restaurants. Málaga centre has a number of interesting churches and museums, not to mention the birthplace of Picasso and the Museo Picasso Málaga, housing an important collection of works by Málaga’s most famous son.
Perched on the hill above the town are the formidable citadels of the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro, magnificent vestiges of the seven centuries that the Moors held sway here.
Málaga is also renowned for its fish and seafood, which can be sampled at tapas bars and restaurants throughout the city, as well as at the old fishing villages of El Palo and Pedregalejo, now absorbed into the suburbs, where there’s a seafront paseo lined with some of the best marisquerías and chiringuitos (beachside fish restaurants) in the province.
The impressive Alcazaba is the place to make for if you’re joining a shore excursion. Clearly visible from your cruise ship, to the left of its entrance on c/Acazabilla stands the Roman Theatre accidentally discovered in 1951, and – following excavation and restoration – now a venue for various outdoor entertainments.
The citadel, too, is Roman in origin, with blocks and columns of marble interspersed among the Moorish brick of the double- and triple-arched gateways. Above the Alcazaba, and connected to it by a long double wall (the coracha), is the Gibralfaro castle. Like the Alcazaba, it has been wonderfully restored and now houses an interesting museum devoted to its history.
Formerly a Roman settlement, Valencia is a charismatic port city on the coast of Spain, and an MSC Mediterranean Cruises destination. Its marriage of modern and ancient architecture is a sight to behold – from the futuristic stylings of the City of Arts and Sciences to the 13th-centry Valencia Cathedral. Walk around its avenues and squares and soak up the city’s spellbinding energy. For restful pursuits, take in the beauty of its protected natural wonders including Albufera National Park.
On the spectacular coastline of the French Riviera lies Marseille, an MSC Mediterranean Cruises destination. This atmospheric port city is known for its unique mix of grit and glamour, seen in its labyrinth of streets and historical architecture. Only a few miles from Marseille’s charismatic cafes and bustling Vieux Port, stunning cities are to be found. Visit Aix-en-Provence, birthplace of Cézanne, or take in the ancient beauty of Avignon.
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