I recently enjoy a Mediterranean cruise on Costa Cruises newest and largest ship: Costa Smeralda. You can read all about my experience on board the ship here! While this is the 5th largest ship in the world with endless amounts of activities and restaurants to enjoy, I had just as much fun off the ship with Costa. Thanks to their incredible variety of on-shore excursions, I was able to explore a new place every day when we weren’t at sea. Costa really wants you to get into the soul of each place you visit, and with local guides that makes it very easy. Also, they offer very inclusive adventures with excursions for anyone whether you’re young, old, an expert trekker or prefer a slower pace – there is something for everyone!
Volcanic Vineyard Wine Tasting in Sicily
While we were in Sicily and docked in Messina, I decided to choose their ‘Wine Tasting in a Volcanic Vineyard’ excursion. I absolutely love tasting wine around the world, but this was my first time visiting a vineyard that’s situated 500 meters up the eastern slope of a volcano – Mount Etna to be specific! In fact, Etna is the largest of Italy’s three active volcanoes.
Murgo Tenuta San Michele is a historic winery in an idyllic location, with its vineyard extending up to 1,200 meters high. It is such a peaceful atmosphere up in this winery with wonderful greenery, hospitality, and wine of course. This wine estate, which also includes a restaurant and hotel, is owned by Baron Emanuele Scammacca del Murgo along with his sons who help keep this place running. We had the pleasure of meeting one of his sons who toured us around the vineyard.
Thanks to their special location, the volcanic soil has an intense minterality which gives their wines an elegant and complex taste. The grapes are supple, earthy, and electric due to the rich soils. I enjoyed every wine I tasted here, but especially Murgo’s brut sparkling wine. We sat outside for our tasting underneath beautiful green vines and flowers, on a perfectly sunny day. They also offered us a wonderful selection of cold cuts, cheeses, bread, paté and olive oil, all locally sourced of course. We were the only ones touring the winery on this day, and our group was small and intimate which I loved. The slower pace was very nice and the perfect way to spend an afternoon in Sicily.
Island City Tour in Palma, Spain
While docked at Palma, I wanted to see the highlights of the city before exploring it on my own so I decided to choose the ‘Palma in a Click’ excursion which lasted about 3 hours. It is a fast paced tour, but easy to walk, and it gives you an overview of the city and the main attractions but only external visits. This was ideal for me as I like to learn the history of the place, see the popular sights, and then decide where I want to spend the rest of my time. This short excursion is also ideal for those who just want a quick afternoon off the ship, but then want to get back on board to enjoy the spa, pool, or kids zones if they’re with family. But if you want a longer city tour, that is offered as well!
We started off at Bellver Castle, a 14th century Gothic castle on top of a hill which perfectly overlooks Palma. This was a great starting spot to learn history but also take in the views Palma’s port and city skyline. We learned that Bellver is the only circular fortress in Spain. The tour continued along Paseo Maritimo, where we took in all the historic buildings and luxury yachts. Once we reached the Parque del Mar, I was in awe of the Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma which is beautifully reflected in the saltwater lake at the park.
Palma’s magnificent cathedral dates back to the 1200s, but wasn’t finished until 1601, and then renovated by the famous Spanish architect Gaudí in the early 1900s. I was really impressed by the great Oio del Gótico rose window, which is one of the biggest ever created in Gothic-style architecture. We also spent plenty of time roaming Old Palma, stopping by the Town Hall, and admiring all the charming shops and cafes. I found Palma to be very vibrant with an abundance of greenery, historic architecture, cobbled streets, and plenty to see and do. But if you simply want to sit outside at a cafe and soak in the atmosphere, that is just as enjoyable in this Spanish island city.
While we chose to explore on our own while in Barcelona and Rome, I do love that we had options for excursions in both cities with Costa Cruises. You can really make any cruise with Costa your own, and even if you choose to do some independent exploration, I recommend picking at *least* two excursions with Costa (and booking in advance) because they are well organized, convenient, and most of all… memorable! And if you’re interested in reading more about the newest Costa Smeralda ship, click here to read my review.