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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.
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.
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.
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