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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.
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.
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.
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.