The Western Mediterranean is rich with alluring and dramatic destinations, full of art, history and some of the world’s best food, including along Italy’s western flank, the chic south of France and the coastlines of Spain and Portugal.
Portugal’s Portimao is the gateway to the Algarve, a rugged Atlantic coastal area of protected bays, high cliffs and beaches where fishermen haul their catches as they have for centuries.
Lisbon is Europe’s smallest capital and one of its most intriguing with elegant architecture, café-lined plazas and museums of great European art. The 12th-century Castle of St. George is perched on the city’s eastern hill in the legendary neighborhood of Alfama, where soulful Portuguese music fado was born.
Spain’s Costa del Sol is a haven for European sun lovers with its stretches of beaches and lovely Malaga where the seaside promenade is lined with tapas bars and restaurants.
The passage between the Atlantic and Mediterranean, is signaled by Gibraltar, a British territory famous for the Rock of Gibraltar and embattled history: within a short walk of each other are a 15th century cathedral and 13th century mosque. The Mediterranean is synonymous with a carefree lifestyle in the sun and no where is it epitomized more than on the Balearic islands of Mallorca and Ibiza with their palm tree-lined boulevards, umbrella-dotted beaches and elegant plazas.
Beautiful Seville is one of the most alluring of Spain’s cities, with charming cobblestone streets lined with Baroque buildings and sultry flamenco performances. The 14th century Alcazar is an official residence of the royal family and the monumental Cathedral is the world’s third largest church. Along Spain’s northeast coast is vibrant Barcelona where there is much to absorb, including Gaudi’s distinctively creative Sagrada Familia and enchanting neighborhoods of Gothic architecture, tapas bars and colorful markets.
Along France’s Cote d’Azur, the seductive atmosphere of Cannes, Nice and Villefranche draw vacationers for their delightful medieval centers and beaches along the sparkling Mediterranean. The 16th century hilltop artist village of St. Paul de Vence overlooks the coastline while nearby Monaco is a tiny, modern-day principality with sleek yachts bobbing in the Monte Carlo harbor and the famous Grand Casino.
Italy’s scenic ports are many, including Genoa, the capital of an old maritime republic, today known for the rich green olive oil used in its pesto and focaccia and as a gateway to the lovely villages of Cinque Terre. Livorno is the port for Tuscany, including nearby Pisa, home of the iconic Leaning Tower, and the Renaissance capital of Florence, where there never seems to be enough time to fully appreciate the treasures of Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci while indulging in a gelato along the banks of the Arno River.
The capital city of Rome is an ancient living museum with layers upon layers of history still visible in almost every neighborhood. No visit would be complete without seeing the Colosseum, St. Peter’s Basilica and the Sistine Chapel and enjoying a plate of pasta and taking in la dolce vita around the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps.
Naples, a frenetic port where bristling-hot pizzas emerge from wood-burning ovens and laundry still hangs high across narrow alleys, is the gateway to Pompeii. The city, destroyed by still-active Mount Vesuvius more than 1,500 years ago, offers a fascinating glimpse into Roman life. The romantic seaside towns of Capri and Sorrento are easy side trips.
The vast island of Sicily contains many beautiful Baroque cities, including the historic port of Catania. The hilltop town of Taormina is an idyllic spot for taking in views of the Mediterranean and, from its ancient Roman amphitheater, the frequent bursts of volcanic ash from towering Mt. Etna.
The island country of Malta has been at the crossroads of Mediterranean history for 7,000 years and its colorful past is evident in the ancient harbor town Valletta where you can wander the twisty streets as did the Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Normans, French, Spanish and British over the centuries.
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