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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.
The UNESCO-protected port of Valletta, the capital of the island of Malta, is one of the must-see stops for every Mediterranean cruise of merit.
You can admire this port, constructed in the second half of the 16th century by the Frenchman Jean de la Valette and moulded by the religious and military Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, from your MSC ship even before disembarking. The over 300 monuments rising in little more than half a square kilometre make this a place with one of the greatest density of historical attractions to visit during a cruise, not mentioning other attractions such as its beaches, seaside locales and restaurants.
An excursion to the island can start right from its capital, Valletta, which enchants the cruise-goer with its famous Maltese balconies, which decorate the facades of houses in its old quarter. Surrounded by a multitude of churches, which the islanders assure are as many as the days of the year, the St. John’s Co-Cathedral is one of Malta’s biggest tourist attractions.
The National Museum of Archaeology, on the other hand, hosts prehistoric artefacts found on the island. By the Grand Harbour, one can visit the underground passages of Auberge de Castille and the beautiful Baracca Gardens, which overlook the harbour; at night, when the city gates would close, its porticoes served as shelter for travellers. To get a taste of the life of Malta’s ancient nobility, visit Casa Rocca Piccola.
A 16th century Palazzo now the residence of the 9th Marquis De Piro, it has period furnishings and has a bomb shelter built for protection against bombings during the Second World War. The set of the film Popeye can still be seen from Malta’s largest beach, as well as the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Mellieha with a fresco of the Blessed Virgin Mary with Christ; according to tradition, Saint Luke, who was shipwrecked on the island with Saint Paul, is the author of this Byzantine-style fresco.
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.
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.
Genoa is marvellously eclectic, vibrant and full of rough-edged style; it’s a great cruise excursion.
Indeed “La Superba” (The Superb), as it was known at the height of its authority as a Mediterranean superpower, boasts more zest and intrigue than all the surrounding coastal resorts put together.
During a holiday to Genoa you can explore its old town: a dense and fascinating warren of medieval alleyways home to large palazzi built in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by Genoa’s wealthy mercantile families and now transformed into museums and art galleries. You should seek out the Cattedrale di San Lorenzo, the Palazzo Ducale, and the Renaissance palaces of Via Garibaldi which contain the cream of Genoa’s art collections, as well as furniture and decor from the grandest days of the city’s past, when its ships sailed to all corners of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Acquario di Genova is the city’s pride and joy, parked like a giant ocean liner on the waterfront, with seventy tanks housing sea creatures from all the world’s major habitats, including the world’s biggest reconstruction of a Caribbean coral reef. It’s a great aquarium by any standards, the second largest in Europe by capacity, and boasts a fashionably ecology-conscious slant and excellent background information in Italian and English.
Just 35 km south of Genoa, there’s no denying the appeal of Portofino, tucked into a protected inlet surrounded by lush cypress- and olive-clad slopes. It’s an A-list resort that has been attracting high-flying bankers, celebs and their hangers-on for years, as evidenced by the flotillas of giant yachts usually anchored just outside. It’s a tiny place that is attractive yet somehow off-putting at the same time, with a quota of fancy shops, bars and restaurants for a place twice its size.
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