The Western Mediterranean is one of the most popular cruise regions of the world, accounting for around 18% of the cruise market, and falling just short of dominating the industry by the Caribbean islands. It’s certainly not difficult to see why the Western Med is such a popular holiday destination, with warm and relatively dry summers, mild winters that allow travellers to relax in shorts and short sleeve attire when everyone back home is flicking the radiators on, not forgetting beautiful natural scenery such as olive and citrus trees that thrive in the warm climate. Many often associate the Western Mediterranean with Spain, and while this is a top destination, there are many other cities and ports in the region that are well worth a visit. Here, Bolsover Cruise Club choose six of the best ports in the Western Mediterranean…
Spain sees more than 5 million cruise tourists each and every year and the majority of these passengers take in Barcelona on their way around the Spanish coastline. Ships dock at the Port of Barcelona, approximately a 3 mile walk from the main hub of activity in the city centre, but there are plenty of transport options including taxis, public shuttle buses, and, of course, coach travel arranged through your on board excursions desk, which is usually a complimentary service.
One of Barcelona’s most famous landmarks is, undoubtedly, La Sagrada Familia, a gothic-style church that remains incomplete following the architect’s untimely death in 1926. If you plan on visiting, be sure to book tickets in advance to avoid the queues. If you’re travelling with children, Barceloneta Beach is just a short walk from the port where there are plenty of opportunities for swimming, building sandcastles, and enjoying an ice cream, or if it’s raining (which is unlikely!), take shelter in the Science Museum where there are hands-on exhibitions that are great for both the young and the young at heart. Of course football lovers will relish a visit to the Camp Nou Stadium where tours can be arranged independently or via your chosen cruise line. There’s also the captivating Olympic Village. The hop-on-hop-off bus services in Barcelona are excellent.
Most cruise line shuttle services provide transport for passengers from the quayside to the World Trade Centre, located just a short stroll from Las Ramblas. This is ideal for heading off to explore independently but is also one of the main hub areas for these hop-on-hop-off services, which offer excellent value for money.
Malta is a great place to pick up some unique souvenirs (the gift shop at the Malta Experience – a film-based attraction showing the history of the island – has perhaps the largest collection of trinkets and novelty items in the area), but one of the best things you can do in Valletta is simply walk around the streets and take in the amazing culture centred around the 16th century city. Many of the original structures and buildings still stand, making Valletta a very traditional and culturally fascinating place.
The Museum of Archaeology and Fort St. Elmo are two excellent places for history lovers, but if you prefer to take in the local scenery, take a walk along Boat Street between the Malta Experience and the Sliema ferry port on the opposite side of the peninsula. This is the best way to get spectacular views across the Mediterranean Sea. Cruise ships dock at the Pinto Wharf, just half a mile from the city centre, so it’s easily accessible by foot, or by public transport along with any complimentary shuttle services provided by the cruise operator.
Is there anywhere more glamorous and sophisticated than Saint-Tropez? Holding a prime location on the French Riviera, this town has been a hotspot for the rich and famous since the 1950s and is still as popular as ever. In fact, the amount of cruise passengers visiting Saint-Tropez and France grew by a whopping 12% between 2009 and 2010. This statistic continues to grow each and every year. Most cruise ships provide a tender service to the town, meaning you’ll get an up close look at all the luxury yachts and sailing boats in the marina. There are two beaches within easy walking distance of the port – La Ponche, great for swimming, and Plage des Graniers which is bigger and more active.
However, the must-do activity in Saint-Tropez is to head to a local patisserie and sample the famous Pie Tropézienne, a mouth-watering classic French brioche filled with a mixture of silky custard and rich buttercream. It’s so good, you better order two!
There are two main ports in Lisbon, Doca de Alcantara and Santa Apolonia, both situated along the Tagus River. Whichever port you dock in, you’ll be close to one of the two main attractions in the city – Ponte 25 de Abril, and Ponte Vasco da Gama. What’s so interesting about these bridges? Ponte 25 de Abril may look remarkably familiar – it’s designed in the same style as the famous Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and is equally as stunning, and Ponte Vasco da Gama holds the record for being the longest bridge in all of Europe, measuring nearly 11 miles in total!
If you take a trip across the Ponte 25 de Abril to the Almada district, be sure to check out the Christ the King statue, a smaller replica of the Christ the Redeemer statue in Brazil. There’s an observation deck located at 269 feet, which gives fantastic views across the city.
Tunis is perhaps one of the most unique Western Mediterranean cruise ports. Located in Northern Africa, the city is an interesting blend of old colonial French and Arabic influences. Tunis is the place to immerse yourself in a truly different culture, certainly much different than you’d experience in the European Mediterranean. The Zitouna Mosque, the largest place of worship in the city, is a popular tourist attraction, although non-muslims are not permitted to enter the mosque. There is, however, a viewing deck, which gives you a glimpse into different beliefs and religion.
Another way to experience the North African culture is to walk along the Souq – the traditional marketplace. Vibrant and colourful, this market sells all manner of Arabic clothing, fresh spices, essential oils and much more. For families, if you want to introduce your children to a different culture, this is the place to do it, as the market is very safe for example, and you’re very unlikely to be hassled by vendors.
An overseas territory of Great Britain, Gibraltar is very ‘technically’ British, but with fantastic weather! There are many duty free shops located around the port, which is great for stocking up on Christmas presents for friends and family back home. There is plenty to do in Gibraltar (many cruises only allow for half a day here, which really isn’t enough!), but if you’re strapped for time, there are two things you absolutely cannot miss. Firstly, get yourself over to Gibraltar Airport. It’s the only airport in the world that combines a roadway with a runway! When flights need to take off or land, traffic is halted to allow the planes to pass – it’s a great photo opportunity, and rather unbelievable to watch!
Secondly, walk or ride the cable car up to the top of the Rock of Gibraltar. There are great views of the African coast from the summit, and there’s even monkeys, so keep hold of your valuables! A tour of The Rock itself is also a great opportunity to learn more about this fantastic destination. Beneath the surface you will discover a whole new world that even houses a unique concert venue, used only for special occasions and distinctive performances.
When some people think of the Western Mediterranean, they can’t get past the great weather and fabulous beaches, but the region is really one of the most diverse in the world. The cruise ports here include a superb mix of sunny sands, historic towns, and Moorish architecture, so if you’re interested in culture, history, and sightseeing, there really is no better destination than the Western Mediterranean.
Bolsover Cruise Club are the UK’s no.1 independent cruise specialist and have officially held the number 1 independent cruise agent award for P&O Cruises and Princess Cruises since 1987. Based in Derbyshire, UK the company pride themselves on having leading industry knowledge as well as unrivalled customer service reputation.