Sail from Barcelona to Menorca, then stay late in Marseille and savor St. Tropez, Ajaccio and glittering Monte Carlo. Portovenere for the Cinque Terre villages leads up to Rome.
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Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is said to have been founded by the Phoenicians, and was once the rival of the powerful states of Venice and Genoa for control of the Mediterranean trade. Today, it is Spain’s second largest city and has long rivaled, even surpassed Madrid in industry and commerce. The medieval atmosphere of the Gothic Quarter and the elegant boulevards combine to make the city one of Europe’s most beautiful. Barcelona’s active cultural life and heritage brought forth such greats as the architect Antonio Gaudi, the painter Joan Miro, and Pablo Picasso, who spent his formative years here. Other famous native Catalan artists include cellist Pau Casals, surrealist Salvador Dali, and opera singers Montserrat Caballe and Josep Carreras. Barcelona accomplished a long-cherished goal with the opportunity to host the Olympics in 1992. This big event prompted a massive building program and created a focal point of the world’s attention.
Menorca’s original capital is on the opposite side of the island from Mahon, which the British chose as a capital in the 18th century. The city, situated at the head of a long channel from the sea, has had its share of disputes over sovereignty. Its character reflects the influence of Moorish, Turkish and Spanish rule. Stroll the narrow cobbled streets and find a café in which to sit and pass the time slowly, Menorcan-style. Or take a sortie to look at prehistoric megalithic tombs or the fishing village of Fornells.
There is a reason this town is called the ville tranquille in French. Bandol is tucked into a sheltered bay around the corner from busy Marseille, and possesses a quiet charm that is a blessing on the Cote d’Azur. Its beachy side, along the Anse de Renecros, is the ticket for a swim or relaxation. Shoppers can browse the designer shops along the quai de Charles De Gaulle. Take in the morning market in Place de la Liberte. Or, for a special treat, take the seven-minute boat ride to the Ile de Bendor just offshore, a car-free enclave purchased in the 1950s by the Ricard family of pastis fame. Ogle the huge bottle collection at the Exposition des Vins et Spiritueux. Then sample some of the famous red and rose wines of the Bandol appellation, perhaps those grown on nearby Embiez.
On the southern shore of one of the most beautiful bays of the Riviera, the little port of St. Tropez has become one of the best known resorts in Europe, a crossroads where journalists, photographers, writers, artists and celebrities meet. Guy de Maupassant discovered the town, but it was the painters who made it more widely known – Signac, Matisse, Bonnard, Marquet, Camoin – who all stayed for varying amounts of time. The harbor teems with life. Fishing boats, excursion craft and hundreds of yachts share the harbor. On the waterfront are old pink and yellow houses, which have been converted into cafes, cabarets and restaurants, luxury boutiques, galleries and antique shops. A picturesque and cosmopolitan crowd strolls the streets in season.
The Principality of Monaco is the epitome of Riviera chic. This tiny enclave of 370 acres surrounds a sheltered harbor that draws yachts from around the world to enjoy the beautiful scenery, mild weather and elegant casino. Glamorous Monte Carlo is one of Monaco’s four quarters, which also include La Condamine, the business district; Monaco-ville, the capital; and Fontvieille, an area built on reclaimed land. Ruled by Prince Albert II, Monaco has a population of over 32,000, of which about 16 percent are citizens, or Monégasques.
Corsica’s most important port is nestled at the base of the northward-pointing finger of Cap Corse, between a looming mountain and the sea. The oldest part of town is dominated by the honey-colored Genoese citadel, which today holds the museum of history. The busy, 19th Century Place St-Nicolas is bordered in plane trees and pleasant cafes. There are a number of interesting churches, including the twin-steepled St. Jean-Batiste and the church of St.-Croix, which has a gilded ceiling and a curious black oak cross recovered from the sea in 1428. Climb the winding stairway from the waterfront to the Jardin Romieu for wonderful views over the town and the Vieux Port.
The Gulf of La Spezia has been so frequent a subject for poets over the years – from Dante and Petrarch to Byron and Shelley – that it is often referred to as the Golfo dei Poeti. The elongated yellow and orange houses, which line the harbor stretch up the steep slope toward ancient battlements beyond. Mentioned as a landing place in Claudius Ptolemy’s “General Geography” (150 AD), today Portovenere is a resort with a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
Originally built by Emperor Trajan who had a villa here, Civitavecchia has flourished as a major port for Rome since the 13th century. Today it is an important ferry terminal and for many travelers the gateway to the Eternal City, Rome. The Renaissance fortifications that surround the harbor area were begun by Bramante and completed by Michelangelo in 1535.