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Messina may well be your first sight of Sicily, and – from your MSC holiday cruise ship – it’s a fine one, the glittering town spread up the hillside beyond its sickle-shaped Mediterranean harbour.
On a shore excursion you can discover Messina’s most important monument, the Duomo, which epitomizes the city’s phoenix-like ability to re-create itself from the ashes of its last disaster. It’s the reconstruction of a twelfth-century cathedral erected by Roger II, one of a series of great Norman churches of Sicily that include the sumptuous cathedrals of Palermo and Cefalù. The Duomo’s detached campanile, or bell tower, claims to be the largest astronomical clock in the world, and puts on its best show at noon every day, when a bronze lion (Messina’s ancient emblem) unleashes a mighty roar over the city that can be quite alarming if you’re not expecting it!
Just back from the Duomo, the truncated section of the twelfth-century Chiesa Annunziata dei Catalani squats below pavement level, and is Messina’s only surviving example of Arab/Norman church-building.
When you are cruising the Mediterranean Sea with MSC Cruises, the most obvious excursion from Messina is to the almost too charming hill town of Taormina, spectacularly located on a rocky bluff between the Ionian Sea and the soaring peak of Mount Etna, whose summit with its bleak lava wilderness is one of the most memorable landscapes Italy has to offer.
Once the beloved retreat of poets and writers, Taormina is now the most illustrious resort on the entire island, captivating its visitors with its famous ancient theatre, grand hotels and engaging small-town charm.
Naples is a large, sprawling Mediterranean port, with a centre that has many different focuses just waiting to be discovered on an MSC Mediterranean cruise excursion.
No trip to Naples is complete without visiting the area between Piazza Garibaldi and Via Toledo, roughly corresponding to the old Roman Neapolis (much of which is still unexcavated like in many other Italian cities).
The old part of Naples – the centro storico – is formed by the main streets of Via dei Tribunali and Via San Biagio dei Librai (the latter also known as “Spaccanapoli” as it literally splits Naples in two), which still follow the path of the ancient Roman roads. This is much the liveliest and most teeming part of Naples, an open-air kasbah of hawking, yelling humanity that makes up in energy what it lacks in grace. But it’s the city’s most intriguing quarter, and a must-see on any cruise to Naples. The Duomo is a Gothic building from the early thirteenth century (though with a late nineteenth-century neo-Gothic facade) dedicated to the patron saint of the city, San Gennaro.
MSC Mediterranean cruises also offer excursions to Pompeii. One of Campania’s most important Roman commercial centres – a moneyed resort for wealthy patricians and a trading town that exported wine and fish – the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 in effect froze the town’s way of life as it stood at the time.
Trips can also be taken to the island of Capri, place of legend, home to the mythical Sirens and a much-eulogized playground of the super-rich in the years since – though now it has settled down to a lucrative existence as a target for day-trippers from the mainland.
Definitely worth a visit, but these days the origins of much of the purple prose may be hard to find.
Discover the culture and colour of Civitavecchia, an MSC Mediterranean Cruises destination. This Italian gem is an enjoyable flight from many European and non-European cities. Celebrated for its 16th-century Michelangelo Fort, ancient Taurine Baths, and marble Vanvitelli fountain, the port is a convenient starting point for visiting Rome, Italy’s regal and romantic capital.
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.
One of the busiest cruise ports in the Mediterranean, the seaside city of Barcelona is known for its iconic architecture, colourful culture, and world-class drinking and dining.
Explore Antoni Gaudí’s surreal Sagrada Família, the famous boulevard of the Ramblas, the medieval Barri Gótic, and the Museu Picasso. But there’s even more to discover in this sprawling Spanish city, an MSC Mediterranean Cruises destination: from hidden tapas bars and fabulous food markets to Europe’s biggest football stadium.
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” .
High above the enormous bay of Todos os Santos (All Saints), where your MSC cruise ship awaits your return, Salvador de Bahia has an electric feel from the moment you arrive.
This is the great cultural and historical centre of Brazil, where Afro-Brazilian heritage is strongest and where capoeira, candomblé and samba de roda were created.
MSC South America cruises offer excursions to the centro histórico of this magical place, a melange of narrow cobbled streets, peeling purple walls, grand Baroque churches, kids kicking footballs, rastas, locals sipping bottled beer on plastic chairs, the wafting aroma of herbs and the almost constant beating of drums, especially as the sun sets. Beyond the old town Salvador is a vast, sprawling city, with a vibrant beach life, modern skyscrapers and plenty of favelas.
The centro histórico is the traditional heart of Salvador; it’s built around the craggy, 70m-high bluff that dominates the eastern side of the bay, and is split into upper and lower sections. Cidade Alta (or simply “Centro”) is strung along its top, linked to the less interesting Cidade Baixa (the old commercial centre, aka “Comércio”) by precipitous streets and the towering Art Deco lift-shaft of the Elevador Lacerda. Cidade Alta is the cultural centre of the city, and the section known as the Pelourinho is the groovy old district with colourful and hilly winding streets, its most vibrant and beguiling neighbourhood.
The best spot to begin a walking tour of the city is at the Praça Municipal, the square dominated by the impressive Palácio do Rio Branco, the old governor’s palace which was in use until 1979. The fine interior is a blend of Rococo plasterwork, polished wooden floors and painted walls and ceilings.
In literary terms Ilhéus, 70km south of Itacaré at the mouth of the Rio Cachoeira, is the best-known town in Brazil, as the setting for Jorge Amado’s most famous novel, Gabriela, Cravo e Canela, and it’s just waiting to be discovered on an MSC South America cruise excursion.
If you haven’t heard of the book before visiting Ilhéus, you soon will; it seems like every other bar, hotel and restaurant is either named after the novel or one of its characters. Traditionally Ilhéus has also been popular for its lively city beaches, though given the options now available to the south and north, these need not detain you long. When you step ashore from your MSC cruise you can’t miss the city’s landmark: the Catedral de São Sebastião on Praça Don Eduardo. It looks like a Romanesque wedding cake, with a 48m-high dome, but was actually started in 1931 and only dedicated in 1967. It replaced an older chapel deemed too small for the city and demolished.
Dating back to a structure completed in the 1570s, the Igreja Matriz de São Jorge is the oldest church in the city (though most of what you see today is seventeenth century), containing an old and venerated image of Saint George (São Jorge). The sacristy serves as a small Museu de Arte Sacra, with the usual church silverware, various religious sculptures and antique furniture on display.
Housed in an ornate mansion commissioned by Amado’s father in 1926, the Museu Casa de Cultura Jorge Amado was once the home of the city’s most famous son and now contains exhibits on the region’s chocolate industry and Amado himself. Apart from the centre, you’ll find the main concentration of bars in Ilhéus along the fine beach promenade of the Avenida Soares Lopes to the east.
As you’ll be able to appreciate when you cruise the Atlantic Ocean with MSC Cruises, in its position on the southern shore of the magnificent Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro has, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the most stunning settings in the world.
Extending for 20km along an alluvial strip, between an azure sea and forest-clad mountains, the city’s streets and buildings have been moulded around the foothills of the mountain range that provides its backdrop, while out in the bay there are many rocky islands fringed with white sand.
The aerial views over Rio are breathtaking, and even the concrete skyscrapers that dominate the city’s skyline add to the attraction. As the former capital of Brazil and now its second-largest city, Rio has a remarkable architectural heritage, some of the country’s best museums and galleries, superb restaurants and a vibrant nightlife – in addition to its legendary beaches. A shore excursion on your MSC South America cruise can be the opportunity to visit the Pão de Açúcar.
The Sugar Loaf Mountain rises where Guanabara Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean. Its name may simply reflect a resemblance to the moulded loaves in which sugar was once commonly sold. Alternatively, it may be a corruption of the indigenous Tamoya word Pau-nh-Açuquá, meaning “high, pointed or isolated hill”. On the top of Corcoavado Mountain instead the Art Deco statue of Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer), arms outstretched in welcome, stands 30m high and weighs over 1000 tonnes. It was supposed to be completed for Brazil’s centenary independence celebrations in 1922, but wasn’t actually finished until 1931.
In clear weather, fear no anticlimax: climbing to the statue is a stunning experience, with the whole of Rio and Guanabara Bay laid out before you.
Santos, one of Portugal’s first New World settlements, was founded in 1535.
Today your MSC ship will be docking in Latin America’s largest port, through which passes a large proportion of the world’s coffee, sugar and oranges.
The city stands partly on São Vicente island, its docking facilities and old town facing landwards, with ships approaching by a narrow, but deep, channel. Its compact centre retains a certain charm that’s massively popular with local tourists, and there is a good deal of historical and maritime interest around the city. On an MSC South America cruise excursion to the city centre you’ll find the ruins of some of Santos’s most distinguished buildings along Rua do Comércio.
Although sometimes only the facades remain, some of the nineteenth-century former merchants’ houses that line the street are gradually being restored, the elaborate tiling and wrought-iron balconies offering a hint of the old town’s lost grandeur. MSC South America cruises also offer excursions to the local Santos Futebol Clube. It’s best known as the club for which the great Pelé
played for most of his professional life (from 1956 to 1974); their stadium, the Vila Belmiro, is open to the public when there’s no game on.
In addition to honouring Pelé at the club’s small museum, you can take an hour-long guided tour including the players’ bar and dressing rooms. Santos’s beaches are across town from Centro on the south side of the island. The beaches are huge, stretching around the Atlantic-facing Baía de Santos, and popular in summer.
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