Part 2 - Cruising the Med

Stephen Bellingham on 07 October 2014
Joining P&O’s cruise ship Ventura in Venice made a brilliant start to our week’s cruise.

We initially explored the whole ship to discover our favourite places. With East booked, the restaurant for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea located and a tour of the Spa area we were set.

Our mid-ship balcony cabin had fantastic views as we arrived early morning into ports. There were fridge and tea/coffee making facilities and a wonderful, attentive cabin steward who made a big effort on a special birthday. First port of call was the Mediterranean coastal town Kotor, Montenegro. Wow, what a view as we came into the Gulf. An early start by tender meant avoiding the intense heat of the day whilst climbing up to the Fortifications, 1350 uneven steps 4.5km above the city. Well-worth the effort for the view, however one does need to be fit and wearing appropriate footwear.

We had noted a local bar before ascending. Returning for a cold beer was a well-earned reward. We then wandered around the town with its Venetian influences, surrounded by impressive medieval walls. An abundance of historic buildings, cafes and restaurants filled the narrow streets and squares.

There are plenty of alternatives including boat trips to the two islands in the bay, a Hop on Hop off bus, beaches, Blue Cave and RIB adventure. It’s worth noting that the Tourist Office is just outside the walls, so you can get all the information and maps you need first off.

On our fourth day we entered the harbour of Corfu Old Town located between two large defensive forts. As the northern most of the Ionian Islands, Corfu’s location between Greece and Italy made it an attractive proposition for invaders and for passing ships. Subsequently, the Venetians, British and French all left their mark, which can still be witnessed today.

Corfu is one of the greenest, more traditional Greek Islands with fertile soil and mild weather. Agriculture and tourism are amongst its top earners. Olive oil is of good quality. A typical Corsican gift is Cumquat, the small orange that Marco Polo brought from China in the 13th century, sold as a liqueur or sweets.

The first bonus was free Wi-Fi at the port. We knew it was good, as many of the crew were there! (You pay extra on the ship, and it isn’t always that great due to location.)

Just a few minutes bus transfer takes you to Corfu Town – we actually shared a taxi for the same price which was much more comfortable. We explored the medieval town of cobblestone streets and alleyways. Meandering on we visited the Venetian-built Old Fortress, now a Unesco World Heritage site with its great views. Amazingly people turned away because there was a fee to enter.

En route to find a coffee we passed the Money Museum; its collection is one of the most complete of its kind in the world. Strangely we also passed a museum of Asian Art.

We stopped at a café along the French Arcades of Liston built by the French famous architect Lesseps; apparently a miniature of those in Rue de Rivoli, Paris. Amazingly cricket was being played on the Esplanade Green, a legacy to the 19th century British administration. Beware of flying cricket balls – not much health and safety.

Our visit was complete with lunch at a restaurant, full of locals and the obligatory TV then on to a Greek pastry shop with over 1000 on offer including gluten and fat free. We were really spoiled for choice.

A day at sea followed passing through the Strait of Messina between Italy and Sicily, 1.9 miles at its narrowest point! We joined a few other hardy travellers on the front deck. Mount Etna was in cloud so no pictures, however navigating the narrow passage and experiencing the strong tidal currents and force of the wind as the two seas met, was exhilarating. The Captain announced that normally they stand by at around 7 - 8 knots, however the tender needed 18 knots. It was quite exciting watching their boat speed up, curve about and the Pilot simply step off their boat onto Ventura.

On day six we sailed into Civitavecchia the major cruise and ferry port 50 miles from Rome. We strolled around the town, beach and fishing areas, whilst many passengers made their way to Rome, either on organised trips or by rail from the town centre. If staying in town, viewing the giant statue of a Navy sailor kissing a nurse is a must – it’s called Unconditional Surrender and is reminiscent of a famous photo taken in Times Square at the end of World War 2.

Our dinner companions had taken a Tuscan farmhouse tour and thoroughly recommended it. Another two girls on our table went to Rome and didn't make dinner. Be warned it is a very long day. In fact, two lads missed the ship’s departure and re-joined us 24 hours later in Corsica EUR300 lighter.

Day seven took in the port of Ajaccio, the largest city in Corsica. The first fact we learned was that Corsica is the fourth largest island in the Med after Sicily, Sardinia and Cyprus. We had hoped to go to Porto, however it was not possible to go that far and travelling around is difficult without a car.

We made the mistake of taking the mini-train. We saw quite a few of the key points however it wasn't a get on get off service, so it didn't offer flexibility. Ajaccio was incredibly busy with cars and people. Maison Bonaparte birthplace to Napoleon and the “Musee Fesch, with the second largest collection of Italian paintings in France are a possibility by foot.

We decided to take the local bus out past the pine tree seafront to the Pointe de la Parata from where we could admire the Iles Sanguinaires located at the tip end of the gulf of Ajaccio. It proved an interesting walk with maquis covering the landscape – the heath typical of Corsica.

Back on board we took lunch in the Bay Tree restaurant, followed by afternoon tea as it was my birthday (I was actually allowed a cream tea and a cake!) We found it to be very peaceful and much preferred it to the daily buffet – totally personal preference. That evening we had booked East to celebrate. It was a truly exotic dining experience with a great atmosphere, good service and tasty dishes. Our favourite bar was the Glass House – they offered a trio of sparkling rose wines so my evening was complete.

Day eight - our suitcases had been left outside our rooms late the night before, so we had a very smooth early morning disembarkation in Genoa where we were spending the night.

Our cruise had come to an end. On reflection we were pleased we had chosen the end of May. The weather was ideal and our ports of call not too crowded. We were very pleased with our balcony cabin, which proved a real bonus and in fact enjoyed our set dining experience, as we were with a lovely group, so had some interesting conversations during dinner each evening.