The capital and port of Catalunya vibrates with life, and there’s certainly not another city in the country to touch it for sheer style, looks or energy. In the city centre you’ll discover world-class art museums and its fashionable designer restaurants, bars, galleries and shops. And in Antoni Gaudí’s extraordinary church of the Sagrada Família and the world-famous boulevard that is the Ramblas, you have two sights that are high up on any sightseeing list. Start at the Ramblas and ramble through the nucleus of the city, discovering tapas bars hidden down alleys little changed for a century or two, designer boutiques in renovated old-town quarters, bargain lunches in workers’ taverns, unmarked gourmet restaurants, craft outlets and workshops, fin-de-siècle cafés, restored medieval palaces and neighbourhood markets.
La Goulette, Tunisia
The city of Tunis (and the port of La Goulette) delivers a wealth of attractions that are waiting to be discovered, from the UNESCO-listed Medina with its mausoleums and palaces to its white-washed, cobbled satellite town. At ancient Carthage you can visit the largest Roman thermae built in Africa, where the Baths of Antoninus overlook the azure Mediterranean sea and feature a range of impressive relics. Along the coast is the seaside enclave of Sidi Bou Said, known for the bright white of its buildings, the intense blue of its doors, windows and balconies, and the sandy hue of its cobbled streets
A lively, bustling, noisy port, Palermo yet holds an unrivalled display of Norman art and architecture and Baroque churches, combined with a warren of medieval streets and markets. With Sicily’s greatest concentration of sights, and the biggest historic centre in Italy bar Rome, Palermo is a complex, multilayered port. The best thing to do here is just to wander as the fancy takes you, sifting through Palermo’s jumbled layers of crumbling architecture, along deserted back alleys, then suddenly emerging in the midst of an ebullient street market.
Naples and Pompeii, Italy
The old part of Naples – the centro storico – is formed by the main streets of Via dei Tribunali and Via San Biagio dei Librai, which still follow the path of the ancient Roman roads. This is the liveliest part of Naples, an open-air kasbah of hawking humanity that makes up in energy what it lacks in grace. But it’s the city’s most intriguing quarter, and a must-see on any cruise to Naples. On an excursion to Pompeii, you can visit one of Campania’s most important Roman commercial centres, where the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 in effect froze the town’s way of life as it stood at the time. An excursion to the island of Capri will bring you to a place of legend, home to the mythical Sirens and a playground of the super-rich.
Genoa and Portofino, Italy
Known at the height of its historic power as “La Superba” (The Superb), Genoa is eclectic, vibrant and full of rough-edged style. Explore Genoa’s old town: a dense and fascinating warren of medieval alleyways home to large palazzi built in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries by Genoa’s wealthy mercantile families and now transformed into museums and art galleries. The Acquario di Genova is the city’s pride and joy, is the second largest aquarium in Europe, with seventy tanks housing sea creatures from all the world’s major habitats, including the world’s biggest reconstruction of a Caribbean coral reef. On an excursion to Portofino, you can explore an A-list resort tucked into a protected inlet surrounded by lush cypress- and olive-clad slopes.
Marseille is the most renowned and populated metropolitan area in France after Paris and Lyon. The cafés around the Vieux Port, where glistening fish are sold straight off the boats on quai des Belges, are wonderful spots to observe the city’s street life. In the afternoon, the terraces of the north side (Le Panier) offer sunshine and great views. The best view of the Vieux Port is from the Palais du Pharo, on the headland beyond Fort St-Nicolas. On an excursion to Avignon you can visit the capital of the Catholic Church during the early Middle Ages and for centuries a major artistic centre. Low medieval walls still encircle Avignon’s old centre, as it nestles up against a ninety-degree bend in the Rhône river. Their gates and towers restored, the ramparts dramatically mark the historic core off from the formless sprawl of the modern city beyond.
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