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As you sail on your MSC cruise to France, you’ll come to Le Havre, the country’s second-largest port, which takes up half the Seine estuary. However, the town itself, home to almost 200,000 people, is a place of pilgrimage for fans of contemporary architecture.
Le Havre – “The Harbour” – is the principal trading post of northern France and a port of call of our MSC Northern Europe cruises. Following its near-destruction during World War II, Le Havre was rebuilt by a single architect, Auguste Perret, between 1946 and 1964.
The sheer sense of space can be exhilarating: the showpiece monuments have a winning self-confidence, and the few surviving relics of the old city have been sensitively integrated into the whole. While the endless mundane residential blocks can be dispiriting, even those visitors who fail to agree with Perret’s famous dictum that “concrete is beautiful” may enjoy a stroll around his city. A shore excursion on your MSC Northern Europe cruise can also be the opportunity to discover Rouen, the capital of Upper Normandy, one of France’s most ancient cities.
Standing on the site of Rotomagus, built by the Romans at the lowest point where they could bridge the Seine, it was laid out by Rollo, the first duke of Normandy, in 911. Captured by the English in 1419, it became the stage in 1431 for the trial and execution of Joan of Arc, before returning to French control in 1449.
Rouen today can be very seductive, its lively and bustling centre well equipped with impressive churches and museums. North of the Seine at any rate, it’s a real pleasure to explore. As well as some great sights – Cathédrale de Notre-Dame, all the delightful twisting streets of timbered houses – there’s history aplenty too, most notably the links with Joan of Arc.
Despite its pummelling by the Luftwaffe and some disastrous postwar urban sprawl, the thousand-year-old city of Southampton has retained some of its medieval charm in parts and reinvented itself as a twenty-first century shopping centre in others, with the giant glass-and-steel West Quay as its focus.
Core of the modern town is the Civic Centre, a short walk east of the train station and home to the excellent Southampton City Art Gallery that’s particularly strong on contemporary British artists. The Western Esplanade runs alongside the best remaining bits of the old city walls.
Rebuilt after a French attack in 1338, they incorporate God’s House Tower, at the southern end of the old town in Winkle Street, which currently houses the Museum of Archaeology. Best preserved of the city’s seven gates is Bargate, at the opposite end of the old town, at the head of the High Street; it’s an elaborate structure, cluttered with lions, classical figures and defensive apertures. A shore excursion on your MSC Northern Europe cruise from Southampton can be the opportunity to discover the capital of England, London.
For the visitor, London is a thrilling place. Monuments from the capital’s glorious past are everywhere, from medieval banqueting halls and the great churches of Christopher Wren to the eclectic Victorian architecture of the triumphalist British Empire. You can relax in the city’s quiet Georgian squares, explore the narrow alleyways of the City of London, wander along the riverside walks, and uncover the quirks of what is still identifiably a collection of villages.
The capital’s great historical landmarks – Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and so on – draw in millions of tourists every year.
Few cities enjoy such a magnificent natural setting as Vigo. Arrayed along the sloping southern shoreline of its namesake estuary, it enjoys superb views not only of the bay itself, surrounded by green forest ridges, but also out towards the ocean. It’s undeniably magnificent when seen from your MSC cruise ship as it enters the harbour during its tour of the Northern Europe.
These days, cruise passengers mingle with tourists arriving at the Estación Marítima de Ría off the Cangas ferry, and set off to explore the steep, cobbled streets that climb up into Vigo’s old city, known as O Berbés and crammed with shops, bars and restaurants. Along the seafront early in the morning, kiosks revive fishermen with strong coffee, while there and in the lively daily market hall nearby, the Mercado da Pedra, their catch is sold. Immediately below, on the aptly named Rúa da Pescadería, women set out plates of fresh oysters on permanent granite tables to tempt passers-by.
A stiff but enjoyable excursion up from the old town, mostly along stone staircases, brings you to the top of the Castro hill. So named for the circular ancient ruins still visible on one side, and also the site of a seventeenth-century castle, the hill enjoys comprehensive views.
The Museo Quiñones de León is the focal point of the large Parque de Castrelos, the extensive formal gardens and woodlands which begin 2km southwest of Castro hill. A nice excursion from Vigo is Pontevedra: a lovely old city, set slightly back from the sea at the point where the Río Lérez begins to widen out into the bay. A maze of pedestrianized flagstoned alleyways, interspersed with colonnaded squares, granite crosses and squat stone houses with floral balconies, the old quarter is always lively, making it perfect for a night out enjoying the local food and drink.
Strung out over a series of hills facing the glistening waters of the broad estuary of the Tejo, Lisbon is one of Europe’s most handsome cities. Although its modern suburbs are ungainly, the historic centre is relatively compact and easy to explore in just a day when your MSC cruise takes you to the Lisbon.
The oldest part of the city, the warren of streets that make up the Alfama, sits below the spectacularly sited Moorish Castelo de São Jorge, its ruined walls facing another hill, the Bairro Alto or upper town, famed for its bars, restaurants and vibrant nightlife. The valley between these hills makes up the Baixa., or lower town.
The tall, imposing buildings that make up the Baixa (Lower Town) house some of Lisbon’s most interesting shops and cafés. A shore excursion on your MSC Mediterranean cruise can be the opportunity to reach via a narrow walkway the impressive Torre de Belém (Tower of Belém), an iconic symbol of Lisbon. It typifies M anueline style that was prominent during the reign of King Manuel, its windows and stairways embellished with arches and decorative symbols representing Portugal’s explorations into the New World.
Built as a fortress to defend the mouth of the River Tejo, it took years to complete, though when it opened in 1520 it would have been near the centre of the river – the earthquake of 1755 shifted the river’s course. Today, visitors are free to explore the tower’s various levels, which include a terrace facing the river from where artillery would hav ed been fired.
You can then climb a very steep spiral staircase up four lev el – framed view of the river – to a top terrace where you get a blowy panorama of Belém.
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” .
Santa Cruz de Tenerife is the port capital of Tenerife, the largest of Spain’s seven Canary Islands. The city showcases incredible sights such as the Plaza de Espana, the church of St. Francis of Assisi, and the soaring white wave auditorium, the Auditorio de Tenerife. This quintessential Canary Island’s town is a colourful MSC Mediterranean Cruises destination where you can soak up the sun, dine in style, or take a dip in glittering waters.
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.
Ilhéus is a city on the banks of the Cachoeira and Almada Rivers, in the eastern Brazilian state of Bahia. It’s known for its colonial architecture and beaches, including Millionaires Beach in the south, lined with palm trees and food stalls. A Christ statue watches over central Christ Beach. Praia da Avenida beach skirts the center, offering views toward the striking spires of 20th-century St. Sebastian Cathedral.
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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