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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.
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.
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.
Cádiz is among the oldest settlements in Spain and one of the country’s principal ports.
On an MSC Mediterranean cruise excursion, you can visit its old town, built on a peninsula-island, and remaining much as it must have looked in those days, with grand, open squares, sailors’ alleyways and high, turreted houses.
Literally crumbling from the effect of the sea air on its soft limestone, it has a tremendous atmosphere – while slightly seedy, definitely in decline, it is nevertheless full of mystique.
The Museo de Cádiz, the province’s most important, overlooks the leafy Plaza de Mina and incorporates the archaeological museum on the ground floor with many important finds and artefacts from the city’s lengthy history. Almost irresistible, even if you don’t normally go for High Baroque, is the attraction of the huge and seriously crumbling eighteenth-century Catedral Nueva.
Cádiz is one of Spain’s top holiday cruise destinations for its cathedral, too, decorated entirely in stone, with no gold in sight, and in absolutely perfect proportions. On the edge of the Barrio del Populo, the city’s oldest quarter dating from the Middle Ages, lies the “old” or original cathedral, Santa Cruz.
This was one of the buildings severely knocked during the English assault on Cádiz in 1596, causing the thirteenth-century church to be substantially rebuilt. A fine Gothic entry portal survived, and inside there’s a magnificent seventeenth-century retablo with sculptures by Martínez Montañés. A first-century-BC Roman theatre has been excavated behind.
Much closer to us in time, instead, is the eighteenth-century mansion, Torre Tavira, with the tallest tower in the city, from where there are great views over the rooftops to the sea beyond. In addition, one of the most impressive Baroque buildings in the city, the chapel of the Hospital de las Mujeres, houses a brilliant El Greco painting.
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” .
Las Palmas de Gran Canaria Las Palmas is a city (and municipality) on the island, Gran Canaria, which is one of the Canary Islands (Spain) located 210 kilometers off the northwestern coast of the African continent within the Atlantic Ocean. It is also the capital city of the province of Las Palmas and the co-capital of the autonomous community of the Canary Islands, sharing this status with Santa Cruz de Tenerife. The city was founded on June 24, 1478, with the name “Real de Las Palmas” by Juan Rejón, head of the invading Castilian army, before engaging in war with the local Guanches (aboriginal people of the Canary Islands). In 1492, Christopher Columbus anchored in the Port of Las Palmas (and spent some time on the island) on his first trip to the Americas. He also stopped on the way back to Spain. Today, a museum is named after him -Casa Colón – in the Vegueta area of the city. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria is today a cosmopolitan city. It has five beaches (Las Canteras, Las Alcaravaneras, San Cristobal, El Confital and La Laja) and a big seaport (Puerto de la Luz harbor) that was very important during the 70s and early 90s (and benefited greatly from the closure of the Suez Canal during the Arab-Israeli conflict).
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.
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.
As you sail on an MSC cruise to South America, Montevideo is the port for you. Founded in 1726 as a fortress against Portuguese encroachment on the northern shore of the Río de la Plata, it had an excellent trading position and, following a turbulent and often violent early history, its growth was rapid.
A shore excursion on your MSC South America cruise can be the opportunity to discover Montevideo. It may appear humble at first, but this is a seriously cool, confident city. If you’ve ever seen a fictionalized version of Havana on TV or film, it’s quite possible it was actually shot in Montevideo’s Ciudad Vieja, so reminiscent are its streets of those in the Cuban capital.
Dotted among the crumbling houses and cobbled streets are endearingly bizarre (and mostly free) museums and galleries, while the highlight is the glorious Mercado del Puerto. A good place to start a walking tour of the Ciudad Vieja is the Puerta de la Ciudadela, dating to 1746, marking the original site of the Citadel of Montevideo on the Plaza Independencia.
This square commemorates the emergence of Uruguay as a sovereign nation, and a 17m-high statue and mausoleum of José Artigas, the man credited with kick-starting Uruguay’s independence campaign against Spain and Portugal, stands aptly in the centre.
The area around the plaza contains eclectic architectural styles from different periods, from the Torre Ejecutiva where the president performs his duties, to the bulbous tower of the Palacio Salvo, built on the reported site of the first ever performance of tango. Tucked behind the plaza’s south-western corner is the celebrated Teatro Solís, the most prestigious theatre in the country, completed in 1856 and remodelled a few times thereafter.
Buenos Aires is a must-see on your MSC South America cruise to Argentina. Its heart is the spacious, palm-dotted Plaza de Mayo, the ideal place to begin a tour of the area and explore its historical and political connections; its mismatched medley of buildings includes the famous Casa Rosada, or government house.
An amble westwards from the plaza will take you along Avenida de Mayo, the city’s major boulevard, offering an impressive display of Art Nouveau and Art Decoarchitecture. At its western end, Avenida de Mayo opens onto the Plaza del Congreso, presided over by the Congreso Nacional building, the seat of the federal parliament.
Casa Rosada, a typically Argentine blend of French and Italian Renaissance styles, stands on the site of the city’s Spanish fort, begun in 1594 and converted in 1776 to the viceroy’s palace. In 1862, President Bartolomé Mitre moved the government ministries to the building, remodelling it once again.
The final touch was added in 1885, when the central arch was added, unifying the facade. Behind the Casa Rosada, the Plaza Colón features a gigantic Argentine flag and a Carrara marble statue of Christopher Columbus, looking out to the river and towards the Old World.
MSC South America cruises also offer excursions to the north of Buenos Aires, where the four residential barrios of most interest to visitors – Retiro, Recoleta, Palermo and Belgrano – each retain a distinctive character. Nearest to the centre, Retiro and Recoleta – known jointly as Barrio Norte – have chic streets lined with boutiques, art galleries and smart cafés. Recoleta is associated primarily with its magnificent cemetery where, among other national celebrities, Evita is buried.
Both barrios also share an extraordinary concentration of French-style palaces, tangible proof of the obsession of the city’s elite at the beginning of the twentieth century with established European cities
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