Exploring new territory on a Mediterranean cruise

Guest David George is a self-confessed cruise holiday 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 is a self-confessed cruise addict

If you’re new to cruise holidays, the Mediterranean is a brilliant destination to begin your adventures at sea – glittering waters and sunshine beckons. 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 holiday 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. Although I have been on many cruise holidays, 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 for the first time, in this part of the world I know so well.

In recent years I have been 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 cruise port, the Catalonian capital of Costa Dorada.

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?

Captivating Kotor

The Bay of Kotor in Montenegro is simply stunning. I was out on deck early to take advantage of the views 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, opening 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. 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 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 is located in the boot of Italy. It’s a pretty hilltop town where you will find a slice of authentic Italian life.

Shopping malls and major stores may be noted for their absence, but those in need of retail therapy need not despair. As you wind your way up the hillside you’ll find small souvenir shops that mainly stock postcards – and shelves of liquorice of every taste and size! Winding higher up still, and beneath a viaduct (well worth taking the steps to the top to admire the distant views of mountainsides covered in olive groves), I 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 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.