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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.
On a peninsula north of Cabo Frio, Armação dos Búzios, or just Búzios, is an immensely scenic resort full of high-spending beautiful people, and a very popular port of call on holidays to Brazil with MSC Cruises.
Armação, the main settlement, is built in a vaguely colonial style, its streets lined with restaurants, bars and chic boutiques, and has been nicknamed “Brazil’s St Tropez”. It comes then as little surprise to find that it was “discovered” by none other than Brigitte Bardot, who stumbled upon it while touring the area in 1964.
Búzios consists of three main settlements, Manguinos, Armação and Ossos, each with its own distinct character. Manguinos, on the isthmus, is the main service centre, with a tourist office, a medical centre and banks. Midway along the peninsula, linked to Manguinos by a road lined with brash hotels, is Armação, an attractive village where cars are banned from some of the cobbled roads.
Most of Búzio’s best restaurants and boutiques are concentrated here, along with some of the resort’s nicest pousadas, or inns, and there’s also a helpful tourist office on the main square, Praça Santos Dumont. When you step ashore from your MSC cruise, a fifteen-minute walk along the Orla Bardot – which follows the coast from Armação, passing the lovely seventeenth-century Igreja de NossaSenhora de Sant’Ana on the way –, brings you to Ossos, the oldest settlement, comprising a pretty harbour, a quiet beach and a few bars, restaurants and pousadas.
Within walking distance of all Búzios’ settlements are beautiful white-sand beaches – 27 in total – cradled between rocky cliffs and promontories, and lapped by crystal-clear waters. The beaches are varied, with the north-facing ones having the calmest and warmest seas, while those facing the south and east have the most surf.
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.
On your South America cruise to Brazil, you’ll come across the big and burgeoning beach resort of Maceió, its striking beaches and clear, turquoise waters attracting cruisers from all over the world.
It’s also smack in the middle of a far longer strip of some of the best beaches in the country, all easily accessible on day trips. When you arrive with your MSC cruise in Maceió, you’ll start off in the affluent and lively resort area that starts at Pajuçara, a few kilometres to the east of downtown, built along a spectacular beach.
While the city centre itself, the commercial and administrative heart of the city just inland from a more polluted (and generally deserted) stretch of sand and the grubby port district, is somewhat down-at-heel it does have a smattering of belle époque buildings and enticing museums. However, what you’ll want to discover on your MSC South America cruise excursion is the amazing beaches.
Sixteen kilometres south of Maceió, the coast road loops around Praia do Francês, which even by Alagoan standards is something special. An enormous expanse of white sand, surf and thick palm forest, it even boasts several pousadas or inns, and a burgeoning restaurant scene.
Most folks end up at the northern end, a protected lagoon formed by a large reef offshore; surfers take in the pounding waves at the less busy and unsheltered end. Beach bars line the northern section, while Avenida Dos Corais and Rua da Algas run parallel to the sand and are lined with shops and restaurants. Given its proximity to Maceió, it’s no surprise Francês has effectively become a city beach – so expect a lively atmosphere.
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.
Casablanca, an impressive port city on Morocco’s magical coast, is an MSC Mediterranean Cruises destination. Discover Mauresque architecture, attractive beaches, and the colourful Old Medina.
Place Mohammed V, a square of symbolic significance, is resplendent with palm trees and a majestic fountain. Beyond the port, two extraordinary cities await your discovery — vibrant Marrakech and beautiful Rabat.
The elegant central zone of Málaga – a stop-off on your MSC cruise of the Mediterranean – is largely pedestrianized with the focal point, marble-paved Calle Marqués de Larios, lined with fashionable stores, its most elegant thoroughfare.
Plaza de la Constitución, Málaga’s main square, hosts a monumental fountain flanked by slender palms and the terraces of numerous cafés and restaurants. Málaga centre has a number of interesting churches and museums, not to mention the birthplace of Picasso and the Museo Picasso Málaga, housing an important collection of works by Málaga’s most famous son.
Perched on the hill above the town are the formidable citadels of the Alcazaba and Gibralfaro, magnificent vestiges of the seven centuries that the Moors held sway here.
Málaga is also renowned for its fish and seafood, which can be sampled at tapas bars and restaurants throughout the city, as well as at the old fishing villages of El Palo and Pedregalejo, now absorbed into the suburbs, where there’s a seafront paseo lined with some of the best marisquerías and chiringuitos (beachside fish restaurants) in the province.
The impressive Alcazaba is the place to make for if you’re joining a shore excursion. Clearly visible from your cruise ship, to the left of its entrance on c/Acazabilla stands the Roman Theatre accidentally discovered in 1951, and – following excavation and restoration – now a venue for various outdoor entertainments.
The citadel, too, is Roman in origin, with blocks and columns of marble interspersed among the Moorish brick of the double- and triple-arched gateways. Above the Alcazaba, and connected to it by a long double wall (the coracha), is the Gibralfaro castle. Like the Alcazaba, it has been wonderfully restored and now houses an interesting museum devoted to its history.
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.
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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