One of the best reasons to choose to cruise on a small ship in the Mediterranean Sea is the opportunity to visit ports with delightful harbors where big cruise ships cannot go, to dock among the stunning pleasure yachts or tender to the heart of town.
On a six-night voyage in May from Barcelona to Rome’s port of Civitavecchia, Windstar Cruise’s Star Pride spent a day at each of five ports, Sete and Sanary-sur-Mer, France; Monte Carlo, Monoco; Portofino and Portoferraio (Elba), Italy. We tendered to Sanary and Portofino, parked near the centers of Sete, Monte Carlo, and Portoferraio.
Sete, an old and still thriving French Mediterranean fishing port, sits between the sea and a salt-water lagoon that yields mussels and oysters, reason enough for a local lunch.
My partner, Fran Golden, and I walked a few blocks from the docks and over a canal into the heart of the lower town, where restaurants line the water and fishing boats tie up between adventures into the Med.
From a local resident we met, we were armed with a recommendation for lunch, Le Porto Pollo. Here, we consumed a meal of oysters, fish soup, salad, and a dry rose from a regional vineyard. Our lunch: 12 oysters (12 euros), two bowls of fish soup (7 euros each), chevre salad for two (9.5 euros), one-half bottle of dry rose (11.5 euros). It was a fresh feast, a collection of local fare that made this port stop memorable. With euros trading at about $1.35 per euro, I figured we spent about $64 for a fine meal for two, with wine.
A table away, a local couple were celebrating something with a tier of 18 oysters, 12 shrimp and 18 sea snails (bulots) at 29 euros, about $40.
Our lunchtime view was fishing boats and the passing parade of walkers at the edge of a canal. I recommend such a lunch in Sete, France.
Wednesday market in Sanary
Star Pride tendered passengers to a small pier in a harbor of boats at Sanary-sur-Mer, for the busy weekly market at the edge of the water. Stalls were crammed with food for shoppers and plenty for immediate consumption, cheeses, veggies, fruit, bouillabaisse, and everything else you might expect at a famed market that draws locals from surrounding villages.
Sanary is said to be one of the sunniest spots in France, and the town was in full, bright form when we arrived.
Fran and I walked the crowded market, where several stall owners offered us a taste of their products. A spoonful of calamari simmered with garlic tasted wonderful. We were thinking it would be nice to buy something for dinner at home, but of course our home was an ocean away.
I was thinking also, on that pleasurable Wednesday morning in France, that a good cruise line, one that touts its personal service and arrangements for special occasions, would make certain its ships arrive in Sanary on such a Wednesday, the weekly market day, not on a Tuesday or a Thursday when the village would be a nice visit, yet not nearly as special as ours.
Portofino, one of the world’s prettiest harbors
There was a time, after the January 2012 Costa Concordia debacle that is relived daily in the Italian press, when cruise ships, no matter what their size, were prohibited from tendering passengers into the famous harbor at Portofino, Italy.
Portofino could not imagine a damaged cruise ship stuck like a beached whale off its harbor, like the Concordia remains near the island of Giglio, between Portofino and Rome’s port of Civitavecchia.
We anchored so far off Portofino that we couldn’t see the opening of one of the world’s most distinctive harbors. But, as Windstar executives explained, we were fortunate to be there at all. Tendering rules into the Portofino harbor have been relaxed a bit, but even yachts like Star Pride must anchor a ways out to sea.
Once ashore, passengers scattered around the tiny town painted with Tuscan colors, where celebrities hang out in summer. Our group followed a guide for an energetic walk up to a lighthouse, the 16th century Castle Brown and Church of Saint George.
Portofino is one of those scenic travel stops that you will never forget. Arriving from the sea is the best way. Others are not as much fun. You can get close by car or train, but most guides recommend taking a ferry from Genoa, Rapallo or Santa Margherita.
Even better is the gentle tender ride from an anchored Star Pride.
Photos by David G. Molyneaux, TheTravelMavens.com
David Molyneaux writes regularly about cruising news, tips and trends at TravelMavenBlog.com. His cruise trends column appears monthly in U.S. newspapers and on other Internet sites, including AllThingsCruise. He is editor of TheTravelMavens.com