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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.
A journey through culture and art. With an MSC Cruise you will immerse yourself in one of the most fascinating and historical regions in Italy. Welcome to Sicily: in the heart of the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded by crystal clear waters, this magical and welcoming land preserves traces of ancient civilizations.
With a hike in the Val di Noto, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, you will be able to fully enjoy the sicilian baroque, on the trail of “Commissioner Montalbano”, the famous character created by the author Andrea Camilleri. Passing through Ragusa Ibla, the ancient historical center of Ragusa, with its numerous churches and many buildings of times gone by, continuing to Scicli, where you will be able to admire the Byzantine settlements in the area of Chiafura, to finally arrive in Modica, famous not only for the delicious chocolate of Aztec origin but also for the artistic value of its buildings.
Moving on to Syracuse, you will reach the island of Ortygia, the old town, connected to the mainland by the Umbertino bridge. Here, great civilizations have come and gone: from the Greeks and Phoenicians to the Romans, from the Arabs to the Byzantines, to the Normans and the Aragonese. To experience life in this city to the full you shouldn’t miss a visit to the market: lose yourself among the stalls, where the sellers of fish, meat, fruits and vegetables are all proposing their goods with the typical vanniate, screams/rhymes in the local dialect.
Or take an excursion to the archeological Park of Syracuse. In this site you will be able to admire, among other things, relics of Greco-Roman eras, like the Greek Theatre of the V century BC, where the playwright Aeschylus staged The Women of Aetna in 476 BC; The ear of Dionysus, 23 meter high artificial cave; the Roman Amphitheatre, carved into the rock and among the largest in Sicily; and the Ara of Ierone, the altar that was originally about 198 meters long and over 20 wide.
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.
Rhodes, a Greek Dodecanese island and MSC Mediterranean Cruises destination, is celebrated for its beautiful beaches, archaeological ruins, and magnificent museums. Its historical Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the largest medieval city in the European continent!
Port Safaga (Bur Safaga in Arabic), where your MSC cruise ship awaits your return, is a village on the Red Sea coast.
The town, whose economy is driven by the nearby phosphate mines, consists of a single windswept avenue running straight on, past concrete boxes with bold signs proclaiming their function.
Silos and cranes identify the port, which runs alongside (but remains out of bounds) for most of this distance. However, inland from Port Safaga, a shore excursion on your MSC Grand Voyages cruise can be the opportunity to discover Luxor and the overwhelming concentration of relics in the area.
A tourist mecca ever since Nile steamers began calling in the nineteenth century, visitors come to view the remains of Thebes, Ancient Egypt’s New Kingdom capital, and its associated sites. The town itself boasts Luxor Temple, a graceful ornament to its waterfront and “downtown”, while a mile or so north is Karnak Temple, a stupendous complex built over 1,300 years. Across the river are the amazing tombs and mortuary temples of the Theban Necropolis, an attraction not to be missed on your holiday in Egypt.
Sharm el-Sheikh is an Egyptian resort town between the desert of the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea. It’s known for its sheltered sandy beaches, clear waters and coral reefs. Naama Bay, with a palm tree-lined promenade, is filled with bars and restaurants. Ras Muhammad National Park is a major diving destination, with marine life around the Shark and Yolanda reefs and the Thistlegorm wreck.
When you disembark from your MSC cruise in Aqaba, you can enjoy its idyllic, sunny setting on the shores of the Red Sea, at the country’s southernmost tip.
From something of a dowdy backwater, in the last decade or so Aqaba has transformed itself into a pleasant, if still under-resourced, leisure destination. Hotels at all grades are springing up in the town as well as at luxury waterfront developments up and down the coast; investment is coming in to improve the city’s infrastructure and facilities. Some of the best diving and snorkellingin theworld is centred on the unspoiled coral reefs that hug the coast just south of the town – an engaging contrast with the nearby desert attractions of Petra and Wadi Rum.
The city centre forms a dense network of streets and alleys clustered just behind the beach road (called the “Corniche”). A shore excursion on your MSC Grand Voyages cruise can also be the opportunity to discover Petra. Tucked away in a remote valley basin in the heart of southern Jordan’s Shara mountains and shielded from the outside world behind an impenetrable barrier of rock, Petra remains wreathed in mystery.
Since a Western adventurer stumbled on the site in 1812, it has fired imaginations, its grandeur and dramatic setting pushing it – like the Pyramids or the Taj Mahal – into the realms of legend. Today, it’s almost as if time has literally drawn a veil over the once-great city, which grew wealthy enough on the caravan trade to challenge the might of Rome: two millennia of wind and rain have blurred the sharp edges of its ornate classical facades and rubbed away at its soft sandstone to expose vivid bands of colour beneath, putting the whole scene into soft focus.
Jeddah, a Saudi Arabian port city on the Red Sea, is a modern commercial hub and gateway for pilgrimages to the Islamic holy cities Mecca and Medina. Resort hotels, beaches and outdoor sculptures line the Corniche, a seafront promenade anchored by the iconic King Fahd’s Fountain. The city’s Al-Balad historic district dates to the 7th century and retains traditional homes built from coral.
Stepping ashore in Oman’s capital Muscat, when your MSC cruise takes you to Dubai, Abu Dhabi & Qatar, means stepping into one of the oldest cities of the Middle East. This is where incense was shipped to Greece and Rome as far back as the 2nd century.
Today it is still possible to find traces of its glorious past in the old centre where, until the latter part of the past century, the gates that separated the various quarters would be closed three hours after dawn. Muttrah, the historic centre of trade and activity of the capital that you will see during the cruise, is one of the most intriguing and well preserved parts of the town centre.
Its commercial vocation is due to its proximity to the large port, where your MSC ship, which is named after its sovereign Qabus, will be waiting for you. Dedicate part of your vacation to Muscat to visit the sites, like the fish market, the Portuguese fort and, above all Muttrah’s Souq, one of cruisers’ favourite destinations.
You can continue along the sea road to the old town of Muscat where, about 200 years ago, the predecessor of the
current head of state, built the Al Alam (the Flag), the palace which was restored in the Seventies and has become the Sultan’s official residence. It is a beautiful example of contemporary Arab architecture situated at the centre of the part of Muscat which is still surrounded by its 17th century walls.
Nearby, in the quarter of Bawshar, you find the Great Mosque of Sultan Qabus. About 6500 devotees gather to pray in the main prayer hall which has a single, huge carpet of about 4200 sq.m., made of one billion and 700 million knots and weighs 21 tons. All the halls, which may be visited also by non-Muslims, are decorated with motifs that celebrate Arab culture.
The United Arab Emirates’ capital, Abu Dhabi, where your MSC cruise ship awaits your return, offers an intriguing contrast to its freewheeling neighbour Dubai, a little over an hour’s drive down the coast.
Leading attractions on your Dubai, Abu Dhabi & Qatar cruises to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates include the extravagant Emirates Palace hotel and the even more spectacular Sheikh Zayed Mosque, while the various attractions of Yas Island, home to the vast Ferrari World theme park, lie just down the road.
The blockbuster attraction at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island is a dream excursion for any F1 fans. The “world’s biggest indoor theme park”, it offers a wide range of Ferrari-themed rides and displays which will appeal both to kids and grown-ups, including the chance to drive an F1 simulator or to ride the Formula Rossa roller coaster (the world’s fastest) or to experience race-day acceleration in the G Force “tower of speed” – as well as numerous gentler family-oriented rides.
Dedicated motorsports enthusiasts will also enjoy the big display of classic and contemporary Ferraris
, and the virtual tour of the firm’s famous Maranello factory. Some 15km from central Abu Dhabi, the mighty Sheikh Zayed Mosque dominates all landward approaches to the city, its snowy-white mass of domes and minarets visible for miles around and providing a spectacular symbol of Islamic pride at the entrance to the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
Completed in 2007, the mosque was commissioned by and named after Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan, who lies buried in a modest white marble mausoleum close to the entrance. The mosque is one of the world’s biggest and certainly the most expensive, having taken twelve years to build at a cost of around US$500 million. It’s also unusual in being one of only two mosques in the UAE open to non-Muslims.