Traveling & Tasting in the Mediterranean

by Tori Ward, ROX Travel, Cruise and Resort Specialist

After returning from a European cruise with two friends, it became clear that I misunderstood the meaning of the Mediterranean diet. I gained some weight and a new appreciation for areas around the sea from which the diet earned its name.

Venice

The water was high in Venice and streets were wet, but we sloshed along with the locals who took it in stride. Watching the gondolas motoring about in the rushing canals, we jumped back from the bank when power boats caused water to crash over the pavement.

We had three days to explore Venice’s churches, museums and a couple of the neighboring islands. In 1291, officials in Venice moved glassmaking to Murano, a short boat ride away, to protect the city’s wooden structures from fire. The move protected the wooden frames and supports of the iconic St. Mark’s Basilica, whose bell tower immediately identifies it and its next door neighbor Doge’s Palace, as the heart of the city. The Palace now houses one of Venice’s museums. Walk in and look up at the breathtaking masterpiece that is the ceiling.

Croatia

Sailing from Venice as the sun set, we headed to Croatia. The fifth season of “Game of Thrones” was filmed in Sibenik, our port, but we were more interested in visiting Krka National Park. Time spent outdoors among the native plants and cascading waterfalls took up our morning. About an hour away from Sibenik is Split, a Medieval town with a very millennial vibe. Often, locals greet each other with a word that means “take it easy.” As we wander the narrow, winding streets along this coastal jewel, we can’t help but be charmed and relaxed as the sea sparkles below.

Kotor

Our next port of call, Kotor, a coastal town on Montenegro’s Adriatic coast, was a surprise. I loved all the cobblestone streets and local crafts presented in the shops. The old city was built like a maze to confuse invaders, and even the locals get lost. We spent a lazy hour at an outdoor cafe enjoying some of the delicious local fare while counting the stray cats that inhabit the city by the hundreds.

Greece

To gain some perspective of Corfu, Greece, a Hop-On, Hop-Off bus was our method of travel. The ship docked opposite the New Fortress, and when I read that it was constructed in 1576, I was eager to see the remains of the Old Fortress that protected the city during the Byzantine period. We hopped off at Mon Repos Estate, a neoclassical villa and grounds, that was the birthplace of Prince Phillip of the United Kingdom. The grounds are beautiful in an overgrown “The Secret Garden” kind of way, and the buildings are rather neglected. However, the parklike setting is relaxing.

We spent the remainder of the day in Old Town, first climbing to the top of the Old Fortress, a fortification full of history. We were rewarded with amazing views. Directly across the street from this site is the Venetian-inspired area of Old Town. Charming arched cafes face the Esplanade. The streets within the city center are mostly traffic-free, and the bakeries, with the travernas (small restaurants or cafes), competed for my attention after hours of sightseeing.

Leaving the port at dusk, the rain that had threatened fell, and a rainbow appeared on the starboard side of our boat, ushering us out to sea. We were on our way to Rhodes.

Rhodes and Santorini

I fell in love with the lovely walled port town of Rhodes and was enchanted by the hilltop city of Lindos and the Acropolis. Meandering through the pebbled streets, we were always just a few footsteps away from views of the Mediterranean Sea below or a cat or two posing for a picture.

Santorini was everything I imagined it to be. The white buildings and blue-domed churches shine far above the sea. While it’s thought that the buildings are painted white as a defense against the intense summer sun, the truth is that in 1967, the military government dictated the color scheme, and now it’s the landmark of the hillside villages on the island. After walking on paths shared by donkeys that transport materials along the cliff-side structures of Fira, we popped into an Aegean-inspired bistro for grilled octopus and mashed chickpeas.

Athens

Since my freshman year of college, I’ve longed to visit Athens and was not disappointed. The Temple of Zeus, which began construction in 470 A.D., is a focal point of the city, with 15 of the Corinthian columns still standing. Earthquakes, wars and environmental impact have contributed to its destruction. The Acropolis that sits as guardian to the city was constructed during 5th-century B.C. Once inside, we spent the next two hours marveling at the Parthenon, the Odeon of Herodes, the Theatre of Dionysus and the Temple of Athena. I had mixed feelings about the restoration project of the site, an effort that’s been going on since 1975, with modern scaffolding and equipment visible everywhere.

The Plaka, the old district of Athens, sprawls under the Acropolis and is a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood of shops, restaurants and outdoor cafes where people-watching is on the menu.

Catania and Naples

Heading back to Italy, we had sunny days in the Sicilian ports of Catania and Naples. Catania sits in the shadow of Mount Etna. The highlight of the day was stumbling upon a farmers market in the Piazzo Carlo Alberto. As much as I was trying to hold out until lunchtime pizza, I couldn’t resist a grilled artichoke fresh off the fire, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with fresh herbs and garlic. Catania is Phoenix, Arizona’s sister city.

In Naples, we opted for a day excursion to explore nearby Sorrento. Sorrento is famous for its lemons, and the product to bring home is Crema di Limoni, a creamy version of Lemoncello. We kept an eye on Mount Vesuvius, but the only thing rumbling was my stomach as we wandered the streets in search of sfogliatellas (shell-shaped filled Italian pastries) and an espresso. This pastry was first created in a monastery, and believe me, eating one is almost a religious experience in and of itself.

We ended our afternoon at a winery with a wine tasting and were treated to a lunch of olives, cheeses and bread drizzled with the winery’s olive oil and vinegar. After all these treats, I wasn’t prepared for the huge bowls of pasta topped with grilled cherry tomatoes and fresh basil leaves that they brought us.

Cruising the Mediterranean

To see so much of the Mediterranean, I can’t think of a better way to experience the diversity of the area than a cruise. Our voyage was a 12-day cruise aboard the Pacific Princess. The cost of sharing with two friends made the trip affordable and airfares during that time of year were reasonable. Call me if you would like to start planning a trip today!