If you read my recent post about my experience cruising with Holland America on their incredible MS Koningsdam ship, you will know that I walked away with travel memories that will last a lifetime. However, it wasn’t just the impressively modern ship that made my experience amazing. Holland America carefully crafts itineraries that take you to the world’s best landmarks and local hideaways in over 450 ports of call.
On my 13-day Mediterranean Legends Cruise, you truly experience the best of the Mediterranean. From starting off in the eternally vibrant Rome, to walking Dubrovnik’s charming Old Town, and sipping ouzo in a Corfu tavern, every day brought new wonders for us to savor. We covered a lot in 13 days, 5 countries to be exact, but I’ve managed to compile my highlights for you to enjoy!
There is so much to see and do in beautiful Italy, and luckily, our Holland America cruise took us to so many Italian cities. Before this trip, I hadn’t seen much of Sicily so I was very excited to explore Catania, the second largest city on the island. Catania is intimately connected to the active volcano that towers above it: Mt. Etna. This iconic landmark notably erupted in the 1600s, sending lava flowing to the seas, but significant damage occurred about 25 years later when an earthquake completely destroyed the city. Luckily, Catania was reconstructed in the Baroque style using lava rock, and now the historical center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The wineries on Mt. Etna are impressive, and I especially loved visiting Murgo Winery. It is located 500 meters above sea level, on the eastern slopes of Mt. Etna, giving you amazing panoramic views of the area. We learned how the volcanic soil actually helps create vintages with intense flavors. It was all so fascinating and delicious! I had never experienced such a fun-filled day involving both volcanoes and wineries – very unique.
In my opinion, a trip to Italy isn’t complete without visiting the stunning Amalfi Coast. We spent a full day exploring picturesque places such as Positano and Sorrento. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, which made the charming and colorful buildings look even better against a blue backdrop. I really enjoyed strolling around here, eating gelato, and admiring all of the markets and craftsmanship of the locals.
Located nearby is Pompeii, somewhere that I highly recommend visiting whether you’re on a cruise or staying in Rome. The celebrated ruins of Pompeii and Herculaneum came about after a devastating eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79 C.E. Back then, this area had been one of the most active and incredible Roman centers, but everything came to a standstill on that fateful day. While these ruins are very jarring to see, this is one of the most significant proofs of Roman civilization, and has provided historians with outstanding information of their art, culture, and everyday life. Pompeii is both fascinating and haunting, and I always discover something new when I visit.
Dubrovnik is such an enchanting tourist destination, especially for Game of Thrones fans who recognize it as King’s Landing! We spent a beautifully sunny morning walking around the Old Town. I love their polished, limestone streets, theatrical architecture, charming cafes and colorful shops along scenic side streets. However, there is so much more to Croatia than Dubrovnik and I am very thankful we got to explore more of this country with Holland America.
Croatia’s second biggest city, Split, is very lively with over 200,000 residents. The streets here are so narrow, winding, and charismatic. While its beaches and quiet trails are beautiful, the real star of the show here is Diocletian’s Palace which we had the pleasure of visiting. This UNESCO-listed fortress is 1,700 years old if you can even wrap your mind around that. It is located on the Adriatic seafront, and was the retirement home of Roman Emperor Diocletian. Through the centuries, many conquerors have taken refuge in its thick walls. If you only have time to see one thing in Split, have it be Diocletian’s Palace!
I was happy to escape the cities and visit Krk Island on our Mediterranean cruise. This Croatian island is located in the northern Adriatic Sea, and has history dating back over a thousand years to the Romans. During our visit, we enjoyed a wonderful walking tour of the island, and stumbled upon an interesting sight called Klancic. This is one of the narrowest streets in the world, only about 40 centimeters wide! It was really amusing trying to walk down it sideways.
We didn’t have very long in Montenegro, but I am so happy I got to visit this country for the first time. Cruising into the famous Bay of Kotor is something I will remember for the rest of my life, especially with the sun shining bright that morning. Its dramatic beauty is something to admire while exploring the Mediterranean.
There are so many idyllic seafront villages that are set against a backdrop of mountains overlooking the Adriatic Sea. The stone labyrinth that is the Old Town is filled with medieval architecture and historic monuments. We learned that this area only became part of Montenegro after World War II. Our ship docked across from the beautiful Sea Gate, which is the main entrance to the Old Town.
Definitely my favorite thing we did was explore Our Lady of the Rocks, one of two tiny islands islands that are located in the Bay of Kotor. We explored the Roman church, named after the island, and the museum attached to it.
The views from inside the church were absolutely amazing, it is such a tranquil spot to enjoy the Bay of Kotor. The other small island nearby is called St George Island, and has a monastery which dates back to the 12th century. We can admire this island from afar, however, it is off limits for tourists to visit.
Greece is one of my favorite countries in Europe so I was very much looking forward to stopping here on this trip. We sailed into lovely Corfu on another sunny morning, admiring the sparkling clear water.
Palaiokastritsa Village on the northwestern part of the island was our main destination for the day. We went out on one of the little boats and explored some of the crystal-clear sheltered bays pierced by black rocks nearby.
There is a monastery and museum here that amazingly dates back to 1225. You can find this monastery at the very top of a large hill, and it is very much worth the climb. The views from the top were absolutely breathtaking! Some of my favorite images from the trip were captured here.
Last, but certainly not least, is the small island country of Malta, located between Sicily and the North African coast. I fell in love with Malta a couple years ago, and I was so excited to return on our Mediterranean cruise!
We docked overnight in historic Valletta, the capital city of Malta, and enjoyed a very European 4th of July here. Malta is one of the smallest countries in the world, and Valletta is the perfect place to starting exploring it. This ancient city is filled with impressive monuments, lush gardens, and beautiful churches. It is only one-third of a square mile in area, which means that seeing it on foot is the way to go! After strolling around for just a little while, it’s very easy to see why it was recognized as the European Capital of Culture in 2018. To celebrate this new title, the city is working hard on restoring many historic buildings to its former glory.
Since Malta lies only about 50 miles south of Sicily, there are many Italian influences when it comes to their cuisine and culture. However, the Maltese do value their own traditions, and a great example of that is their folk music called Għana. This music is very bold, poetic, and features male vocals with a slow guitar sound.
In terms of history, I learned that because of Malta’s strategic location in the Mediterranean, its succession of rulers include the Normans, Sicilians, Spanish, Knights of St. John, French, British, and of course, Romans. Valletta dates back to the 1500s, and the entire city has actually been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980. I was very surprised to learn that, because of decades of British rule, English is the official language. But you’ll hear the local Maltese language as well. I’d love to return in a few years to admire all of the newly restored historic buildings! Whenever you go, I am almost certain you will fall in love with Malta as well.
Holland America are experts at planning itineraries that offer both adventure, culture, gastronomy, and history. Thanks to their expertise, we were able to visit an impressive 5 countries, in a little over 2 weeks! Thankfully, I felt there was such a balance between exploring and enjoying down time on the ship. You can also pick and choose as many or as little excursions as you want. If you’re looking for your next European vacation, you are in great hands with Holland America!
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Holland America, but all opinions here are my own.