Croatia, Montenegro & Venice cruise on Azamara Quest - the itinerary
Ports of call:
I joined the ship in Piraeus (the port for Athens) – a pretty uninspiring place in itself, but the main port for the many ferries and cruise ships. I overnighted in a hotel here before the cruise, which is fine for just 1 night but for any longer I'd suggest staying in Athens itself. Chania, Crete – I did one of the ship’s excursions here, called “Chania Villages – the Real Crete”. The guide on our tour was exceptional (one of the best I’ve ever experienced) – excellent English, good knowledge and humour and great story-telling ability reciting Greek myths and legends etc. We were taken to the villages of Vamos (up in the mountains) and Georgioupolis (on the coast) to see the differences between them. Vamos is a traditional village, with life carrying on the same way it has done for centuries, and mainly unaffected by tourism, whereas Georgioupolis is a popular seaside resort for visitors, but still retains some of the charm of a traditional fishing village.
Kotor, Montenegro – being a small ship Azamara Quest is able to dock right on the small harbour wall, whereas other larger ships had to anchor out in the bay, which is a huge bonus as you can walk on and off the ship into the old town within minutes. The queues for waiting for the tenders for the anchored ships were horrendous, so I was glad not to be on them! Was up early in the morning as we entered “Boka Kotorska” (Kotor Bay) which is a stunning fjord – well worth the early rise for the beautiful scenery and photos! In the morning I took my guide notes (Azamara produce excellent port notes for each port of call on the cruise so if you wish to it’s very easy to wander around without a guide) and walked around the old town – a small but stunning ancient town (one to rival Dubrovnik!) with Cathedral of Saint Tryphon (dating from the mid 1100s), various churches and palaces, and stunning ramparts/city walls that stretch up the cliffs behind the town. Then in the afternoon I went on a private tour with a local driver/guide that I'd pre-booked, who hired us a water taxi to go over to the small manmade island of Our Church of the Lady of the Rocks, and from there drove on to Budva for a walk around the old town and on to see Sveti Stefan (now a private hotel).
Korcula – we were anchored off here, and I was one of the first to go ashore, in order to explore the town before it stirred and the tourists descended to get in the way of my photos! The Old Town (dating from the Middle Ages) is small and laid in a herring-bone fashion to allow for sea breezes to keep it cool. Marco Polo was supposedly born here (although Venetians claim the same!)
Venice – this is where my travel agent’s hat came back on (we never really go on holiday!) and I spent the whole of my first day doing hotel inspections to the Hotel Danieli (stunning hotel on the lagoon front only 5 minutes from St Mark’s Square), Gritti Palace (another beautiful hotel on the Grand Canal), Bauer Hotel, Bauer Il Palazzo, Bauer Palladio and Belmond Cipriani (a resort hotel on Giudecca island, a 5 minute private boat ride from St Marks Square). Doing this will help when suggesting hotels to clients for either long weekends or pre/post cruise stays. The 2nd day I then went back to being a tourist and walked round a lot of Dosoduro island (including visiting the Basilica of Santa Maria), having “done” St Mark’s Square and major tourist sights on a previous visit.
Zadar – one of my favourite places, unexpectedly! Firstly, we were docked right alongside the Sea Organ – a uniquely designed instrument that uses the wave action of the sea to compress air into nearly 3 dozen pipes that have been laid under stone steps down to the sea’s edge. As soon as I got off, before the crowds, I just sat on the steps and listened to the music – mesmerizing (later it seemed to be the popular area for visitors and locals alike to congregate, and swim in the sea next to the organ). I then wandered off with my trusty guide book to explore this fascinating town – with Roman Forum, ancient Cathedrals & Churches, Palaces, park etc
Split – this city really comes alive at night, and being summer holidays was buzzing! During the day I did the ship's excursion “Highlights of Split Riviera” where we firstly did a walking tour through Split (including Diocletian’s Palace) and shown how new Split has been incorporated inside the old town and palace, before going on to Trogir where we had a walking tour through the old town before a bit of free time to explore a bit more, sample the local beer before meandering back. From there we went on to “Pantan” Old Mill where we were treated to local specialties – snacks of smoked ham, cheese, bread, olives and wine.
Hvar – this town has become one of the “in” places for the young, rich and trendy brigade, with the nightlife seemingly more important than the daytime – certainly during the summer holidays! Hvar is an island and is stunningly beautiful, especially in June when the lavender is in full bloom. The centre of the town, the Piazza, is believed to be the largest in Dalmatia, and is where the majority of the old buildings are located and is the main orientation point, with the Cathedral, Palace, Arsenal, Loggia all on its edges.
Kotor – back to Kotor for a 2nd time – and this time I explored inland by taking the ship’s tour of “Origins of Montenegro”, visiting the villages of Cetinje (the old Royal Capital) and Njegusi. The scenery on this tour was absolutely stunning – with some interesting contretemps between buses and cars on the single track mountain passes with hairpin turns. These “negotiations” added to the fun for some (but not all) of us!
Dubrovnik – the weather didn’t hold out for us here, but being Scottish I wasn’t going to let a bit of light drizzle hold me back. It also meant that whenever there was a shower everyone scarpered off the streets, and meant I got better photos! Having been before and seen inside all the museums etc I explored angles for getting external pics. I had considered walking the city walls, but with the heat, humidity and rain showers making the stones slippery I decided against it!
An absolutely stunning itinerary and one that I would definitely recommend, especially for the scenery and ancient cities.