The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel

How to plan the perfect Mediterran­ean cruise holiday

With so many options, it’s hard to know where to start – but help is at hand. Sara Macefield answers the key questions on where, when and how long to sail


Aperennial favourite of British cruisers, thanks to its location virtually on our doorstep, the Mediterran­ean stretches 2,500 miles from west to east, is encircled by three continents and has a superlativ­e blend of history, rich cultures and diverse landscapes.

It may come second to the Caribbean in the global cruising popularity stakes, but it has long been the top sailing spot for Britons and stands apart for the vast collection of countries and ports scattered along its shores, providing an assortment of vibrant cities, clifftop hamlets, ancient sites and sleepy island escapes.

Cruise itinerarie­s can follow any number of routes, from the Mediterran­ean’s western edge where Europe almost touches North Africa, eastwards towards Turkey and the Middle East, reaching out to the western extremitie­s of Asia, ensuring an almost infinite choice of destinatio­ns.

From the castaway charm of the Greek islands and the Venetian allure of the Adriatic to the chichi cachet of the Côte d’Azur and the steamy hustle of North African souks, such a variety guarantees that no two voyages need ever be the same.

The fiery pyrotechni­cs of volcanic Stromboli can often be witnessed on ships calling at Naples


Cruises are invariably divided between the Western Mediterran­ean itinerarie­s, which generally follow the coasts of Spain, France and Italy, and the Eastern Mediterran­ean, covering the Adriatic, the Greek islands and Turkey.

Some voyages take a more southerly course, scooping up North African stops in Morocco and Tunisia, potentiall­y including Israel and Egypt, with longer voyages venturing through the Suez Canal to the Red Sea and beyond.

A typical Western Med cruise would feature the Italian ports of Civitavecc­hia, for Rome; Livorno or La Spezia, for Florence and Pisa; and Naples, for access to the ruined Roman cities of Pompeii and Herculaneu­m, along with the Neapolitan Riviera and the isle of Capri.

Further stops may also include Marseilles (for Provence) and the French Riviera resorts of Villefranc­he and Cannes; and Barcelona and Monte Carlo for a dash of jet-set glamour.

Eastern Mediterran­ean itinerarie­s typically cover the Greek islands, the Adriatic Riviera of Croatia and Montenegro, plus the Holy Land and the Black Sea (though this is largely off-limits due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine), with departures from Athens, Venice (Trieste, Ravenna or Marghera) and Civitavecc­hia.


As far as the UK is concerned, the question is whether to cruise from a British port – usually Southampto­n, though there are departures from other points, such as Dover, Portsmouth and Tilbury.

It is worth noting that it normally takes two days (including crossing the notoriousl­y choppy Bay of Biscay) to reach the Mediterran­ean, with usually one or two stops en route at the likes of La Coruña, Lisbon, Cadiz, Madeira or Gibraltar, which sits at the entrance to the Med.

Sailing from the UK also limits how far south the ship can travel within the timeframe, with two-week voyages generally not getting beyond Naples.

Fly-cruises offer the chance to join departures from various ports in the Mediterran­ean, notably Barcelona, Civitavecc­hia, Athens (Piraeus), Dubrovnik, Palma and Monte Carlo.


Sailings can range from mini-cruises of just a few nights to longer stints of more than a month, though the most common durations are one or two weeks for fly-cruises.

For sailings from British ports, the additional time needed to sail to and from the Mediterran­ean means the minimum duration is generally 12 or 13 nights, but most are a fortnight or more.


The size and style of cruise ships determines which destinatio­ns will be on itinerarie­s, proving the Mediterran­ean’s versatilit­y. The smaller the ship, the more off the beaten track it can go, immersing itself in the islands of Croatia or among the more remote outposts of Greece’s archipelag­os.

While certain Italian marquee ports are key stops on Western Mediterran­ean itinerarie­s, their diminutive neighbours, such as Sorrento and Capri, encapsulat­e the heady romance of the Italian Riviera for smaller ships.

Offshore are the Aeolian Islands, where the fiery pyrotechni­cs of the volcanic Stromboli can often be witnessed on ships calling at Naples in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius.

These outposts, including the aforementi­oned Stromboli, plus Lipari, Vulcano and Salina, and the Pontine Islands, off the Italian coast, attract smaller vessels that can slip into their harbours or moor offshore. It is a similar story in Menorca – one of the sleepier Balearic islands – and Malta’s quiet sister, Gozo.

Other sailings feature Sardinia and Corsica, with some cruise ships virtually circumnavi­gating the islands, while there are a growing number of voyages along the Adriatic coast. Dubrovnik and Split are magnets for mainstream cruise lines, with smaller coastal vessels and megayachts adding stops at the likes of Hvar, Zadar and Korcula.

The medieval walled city of Kotor, in Montenegro, stunningly situated beneath the vertiginou­s cliffs that surround southern Europe’s largest fjord, is another prize and can accommodat­e ships of all sizes.

The Greek isles are another example, where the main islands of Mykonos, Santorini et al are popular stops on most cruises to the region, with petite sleepier gems such as Patmos, Milos and Skiathos making a refreshing contrast for the boutique craft and gulet boats that cruise these waters and explore virtually untouched stretches of the nearby Turkish coast.


As a main summer cruising destinatio­n, the Mediterran­ean draws virtually all the major cruise lines, with US companies sending ships across the Atlantic to Europe in spring, and calling them back during autumn.

This is a key traditiona­l cruising ground for British lines such as Cunard and P&O Cruises, which sail from Southampto­n and base their ships in Valletta or Civitavecc­hia, among others, for fly-cruises.

Fred Olsen Cruise Lines offers imaginativ­e itinerarie­s concentrat­ing on areas such as Italy’s Amalfi Coast, the Adriatic or exploring the region’s ancient archaeolog­ical sites on voyages of up to 32 nights, while Saga Cruises has a range of Eastern and Western Med departures of up to 26 nights.

Ambassador Cruise Line visits the Mediterran­ean on a handful of longer voyages of 17 to more than 30 nights, with regional departures including Bristol and Falmouth in addition to Tilbury, while Marella Cruises bases ships at various Med ports, including Palma, Dubrovnik and Corfu.

Among US brands, Celebrity Cruises, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean Internatio­nal are among those to base ships in the UK and at European ports during summer, giving passengers a choice of UK departures or fly-cruises.

It’s a similar story for Italian-style brand MSC Cruises, which regards the Mediterran­ean as its home turf, and

The Mediterran­ean is a key traditiona­l cruising ground for British lines such as Cunard and P&O Cruises offers the most embarkatio­n ports of any cruise line, in addition to basing a ship in the UK during the winter months, too.

There is a full line-up of luxury lines plying Mediterran­ean waters, with the likes of Azamara and Windstar Cruises spending later evenings and staying

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 ?? ICruise around rugged Corsica ?? gi See the windmills of Rhodes on a midweek break with
Celestyal Cruises
ICruise around rugged Corsica gi See the windmills of Rhodes on a midweek break with Celestyal Cruises
 ?? ?? i Take the plunge: for an offbeat option, head to the island of Milos, in the Cyclades
i Take the plunge: for an offbeat option, head to the island of Milos, in the Cyclades
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