Coming up: My MSC Mediterranean cruise on the Splendida

MSC Splendida
MSC Splendida

It’s been a dream of mine for the many years I’ve been a travel writer – getting to the fabled isle of Capri.

Next week I will embark on a cruise from Barcelona to Marseilles, Genoa, Messina, La Goulette (Tunisia) and Naples – with a side trip, at last, to Capri.

The trip, on the MSC Splendida, one of 12 in the Italian family-owned fleet, third largest cruise line in the world, departs from Barcelona on May 16.

The enormous Splendida, at 1,094 feet able to accommodate 4,000 guests, has 18 different decks, six restaurants, 13 indoor bars and lounges, theaters, card rooms, an aqua park, a Zen area, even a Formula 1 simulator.  There’s a teen disco, a squash court, jogging track and spa. 

The line is known for its Mediterranean glamor and style, meaning that in seven nights of dinners, only two are casual dress, three are dressier and two are formal.  Sophia Loren is the fleet’s godmother. The byword of the company is Life should be measured in moments not minutes – and each of these moments should be savored.”

Barcelona, our first stop, is known for its distinctive architecture and La Rambla, a lively street which is home to restaurants, clubs, street theater, the city market and Barcelona’s oldest buildings and monuments.  But Barcelona has more, including the Montjuic Cable Car which takes visitors up the hillside to Montjuic Castle.  On the way down, get off at Mirador and make the short walk down to La Rambla.  After 9 p.m. in spring and summer, the “Magic Fountain” on the mountain comes to life with water displays arranged to music and changing lights.  Back down in the city, children will love the Museu de la Xocolata, showing the history of chocolate here and an opportunity to paint with chocolate as well.

Our first stop will be Marseilles, oldest city in France and with a climate blessed by the gods, with 300 days of sunshine each year.  It is the largest yachting center in France and the second largest in Europe.  All water sports have their place here, from sailing to kayaking, diving sports and board sports.  It is the most filmed city in France after Paris.

Our second stop is Genoa, Italy, the capital of Liguria.  When I was last there, on a Cinque de Terre walking tour, I discovered that there is a subculture of basil growing in this area, with so many different kinds of basil that the locals can tell the difference in taste when basil touches their tongues, and pesto is a highly developed art form.  The birthplace of Christopher Columbus, the city’s rich art, music, gastronomy, architecture and history caused it to become the  European Capital of Culture in 2004.  Columbus donated one-tenth of his income from the discovery of the Americas for Spain to the Bank of Saint George in Genoa for the relief of taxation on foods.

At the time of Genoa’s peak in the 16th Century, the city attracted many artists, including Rubens, Caravaggio and Van Dyck. The plague killed as many as half of the inhabitants of Genoa in 1656 and 1657.

Our next stop will be La Goulette, also called Tunis, the capital of Tunisia.  The northernmost country in Africa, the city feels neither Arab nor African but in both architecture and way of life, Moorish and French, ancient and modern.  Some of the city looks its 3,000-year age, some looks 2014. Rarely does an American cruise ship stop  in this exotic Mediterranean port and that’s why we’re happy we’re on an Italian ship.  The souk is worth visiting, with camel skin shoes, silver jewelry, spices, rugs and antiques, but be sure to haggle for prices.  The Ruins of Ancient Carthage may not be as complete as those in Ephesus, but fascinating nevertheless, and it’s in a lovely neighborhood with lush gardens and expensive homes.

The village of Sidi Bou Said has been described as a Tunisian Santorini, clinging as it does to the hillside above the sea, with white-washed and blue-shingled houses, an inspiration to poets and artists such as French novelist Colette and Swiss painter Paul Klee.

Messina, third largest city on the island of Sicily, will be our Sicilian stop.  This is where drivers from the mainland of Italy take the ferry to Sicily and its busy port.  It has a beautiful Cathedral of Norman and Gothic architecture and much history.  Plutarch set his “The Life of Pompey” in Messina.

We will stop in Naples, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world and the most bombed Italian city during World War II.  Much of the city’s 20th-Century periphery was constructed under Benito Mussonlini’s fascist government and during reconstruction efforts after World War II.  Naples’ historic city center is the largest in Europe and is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

MSC Splendida
MSC Splendida

Pizza originated in Naples and Neapolitan music has influenced the world.  But the reason I’m excited to go to Naples is that the Splendida has a special excursion from Naples to Capri, that gorgeous island which I’ve been hoping to visit ever since I saw it in the distance years ago, from the Amalfi Drive on the mainland.

We will take a boat from our port in Naples to Capri and spend five hours touring that island. I can’t wait.


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