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Exploring new territory

19/01/2017

Guest David George is a self-confessed cruise addict and has visited many destinations around the world on board P&O Cruises ships. But there’s nothing quite like the thrill of visiting a port for the first time, he says

Guest David George in Tarragona

Guest David George is a self-confessed cruise addict

If you’re new to cruising, the Mediterranean is a brilliant destination to begin your adventures at sea – glittering waters and sunshine beckon, and in every port there are different cultures to experience, each steeped in history that goes back thousands of years. First visits to places like Barcelona, Rome, Venice and Dubrovnik are sure to provide a lifetime of memories, and will be revisited time and again.

 

I’m a self-confessed cruise addict, and have visited many destinations around the world on board P&O Cruises ships – from the Arctic down to Australia and from Vietnam across to the USA. But even as a seasoned cruiser, the Mediterranean – my first-ever cruise destination – continues to draw me back year on year. Although there is a certain romanticism of visiting ports I have been to before, nothing beats the thrill of sailing into a new port in this part of the world I know so well for the first time.

 

Last year, I was lucky enough to visit many new and exciting places. But there were three ports – two were maiden ports for P&O Cruises too, which brings its own excitement – which completely won me over.

 

Timeless Tarragona

If you rate Barcelona as highly as I do, then you’ll love Tarragona, the Catalonian capital of Costa Dorada, which was a new port in the 2016 P&O Cruises programme.

 

The city is a smaller version of Barcelona just along the coast, right down to having its own Las Ramblas (La Rambla Nova), a tree-lined pedestrianised street popular with locals and visitors alike, and only a five-minute stroll from where the shuttle bus stops on your journey from the port to the city. In the case of Tarragona, however, the street is shorter, quieter and, in my opinion, prettier. Pause here for a coffee and watch the world go by, and don’t miss the fascinating statue of a pyramid of people at the far end.

 

The city is famous for these castells or human towers, and on public holidays families have fun attempting to ‘build’ their own. The gymnastic tradition goes back 250 years and some of the highest towers have been known to reach 10 human storeys.

 

Tarragona sits on a rocky outcrop, its history stretching back more than 2,000 years. From its sandy beaches, a UNESCO-listed Roman amphitheatre dominates the foreground and the walled city (also UNESCO-listed) rises behind, with narrow streets and alleys tempting you to explore hidden courtyards and squares.

 

As we prepared to sail that evening, local families on the quayside waved us off and gymnasts formed a human tower in our honour. Atop sat a small child in Catalonian costume, clinging on for dear life but still managing a broad smile. Is it any wonder that I plan an early return here?

A view of Kotor

Kotor is one of David’s favourite lesser-known cruise ports

Captivating Kotor

The Bay of Kotor in Montenegro is simply stunning. I was out on deck early to take advantage of the views from Oriana as we sailed towards the town and the captain negotiated a path between soaring mountains to reach the anchorage.

 

Kotor’s ancient walls zig-zag wildly up crags and steep slopes behind the town, providing residents with protection from invasion during the course of its 1,500-year history. The walls stretch for more than two miles, but only serious hikers would want to tackle them. Better to do as I did and stick to the lower ramparts that cling to the shoreline and the old town centre. 

 

The old town (Stari Grad) is accessed through the town walls and the warren of passageways, lined with boutiques, galleries and shops, open up to the Square of Arms, the main meeting place for townspeople and visitors. Here you find locals busy shopping alongside visitors relaxing at café bars. Behind the twin-towered façade of the imposing 12th-century Cathedral of St Tryphon, I saw an interior completely repaired following extensive damage caused by civil war in 1979. Today, both inside and out, the cathedral looks magnificent.

 

Now independent of Serbia, you can sense the pride Montenegrins feel for Kotor. Walking the narrow streets by the cathedral, I admired courtyard homes that have been lovingly restored and garden terraces overflowing with well-tended vines, specimen trees and flowerbeds.

 

There is a lot to see and an occasional rest is essential. At lunch, the dilemma of ship or shore was resolved when I saw the menu outside one of the small cafés. It included dishes that Isidora, who works in one of the shops on board Oriana, had recommended. She grew up here, and I decided to sample the rakija (a plum brandy) and some mountain cheese from the Durmitor region with freshly baked pogača, a local bread.

 

Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is one of my favourite lesser-known cruise ports. If you haven’t been before, put the town on your bucket list – it won’t disappoint.  

 

Authentic Italy

Corigliano Calabro, another new port for P&O Cruises in 2016, is located in the boot of Italy. It’s a pretty hilltop town still untouched by tourism and where you will find a slice of authentic Italian life.

 

Shopping malls and major stores may be noted only for their absence, and initially you may not spot many bars or cafés either. As the shuttle bus ascended the twisting road from the port to the middle of the town, with white homes clinging perilously to the steep hillside, the only shop I spotted was a hardware store with its proprietor standing outside, clutching a tiny espresso and gazing in awe as our coach pulled up. Behind him, hanging from nails, was an array of rusting bathtubs, shovels, rakes and saws. Think Open All Hours and you’ve got the picture. 

 

But those in need of retail therapy need not despair. Further up the hill there is a tiny shop that stocks postcards and souvenirs with shelves of liquorice of every taste and size, while outside an old lady sells yo-yos and spinning tops for a euro or two. Higher up again and beneath a viaduct (well worth taking the steps to the top, by the way, to admire the distant views of mountainsides covered in olive groves), I even found a small café.

 

Standing proud at the top of the hill is the castle, and it is never far from sight as you explore the narrow streets. Down one, the owners of a small terraced house shyly invited me in to look through the shuttered window in their kitchen. The view of mountains and glittering sea was magical. After a ‘Ciao! Grazie mille’, I continued to the castle. Built in the 11th century to control the area, its role changed 600 years later when it became a private residence. It opens daily to the public and is well worth the few euros for admission.

 

I have already mentioned liquorice because this area is renowned for it. Sellers are keen to share some with you and the sheer variety of the stuff surprised me: raw roots for sucking (remember those?), brittle and bitter pieces, as well as creamy sweets to chew. Naturally enough, there is also liquorice liqueur.

 

Corigliano Calabro may be small, but it is rich in history and is a delight. The more corners I turned, the surer I became that I will be back to unravel further hidden secrets.

 

Find out more about cruises to the Mediterranean >

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