MOGENS JOHANSEN reports on some idyllic Mediterranean locations during a spectacular Viking Sea cruise
There is a plethora of choice when it comes to cruises around the Mediterranean, but if someone was to ask me to pick one, Viking’s Empires of the Mediterranean would be very close to the top of the list.
Ten days, five countries . . . and every morning you’ll wake up in a new place.
Each port of call is quite different but they share a common history. Here’s a taste of just some, which I was lucky enough to visit while cruising aboard the Viking Sea.
Slovenia may have one of the shortest coastlines in Europe, but the 47km coastline, nestled between Italy and Croatia on the Adriatic Sea, includes beautiful old historic towns like Koper, Izola and Piran. Today I’m spending the day in Koper, Slovenia’s biggest port.
Koper is just over 100km east of Venice, across the Adriatic Sea, and during the rise of the Venetian empire the heavily fortified medieval city was of great strategic and commercial importance for both the Venetians and the people of Koper.
It’s only a short walk from the Viking Sea to Tito Square, the main hub of the old town. It is said to be one of the most beautiful Mediterranean squares in the north Adriatic. And standing here looking around, it’s hard to argue with that.
The old streets of Koper that fan out from the square immediately win me over. They are a beautiful place to explore by foot. The narrow cobblestone streets and lanes reveal many charming shops, galleries, cafes and restaurants.
I’m keen just to sit and soak up the atmosphere of the place, so I find a shady cafe in the lane by the square and sit back to do a bit of people watching while enjoying a scoop of pistachio ice-cream and a shot of espresso coffee.
The ancient city of Dubrovnik was described as the “Pearl of the Adriatic” by Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw who was so enchanted with the Croatian city that he also said, “Those who seek paradise on Earth should come to Dubrovnik”.
It’s Dubrovnik’s Old Town I’m looking forward to seeing because it is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in the world.
The most recognisable feature of the historic city is the fortified city walls which give it the characteristic appearance that has made it world famous. It is one of the most beautiful and strongest fort systems in the Mediterranean. And the city behind the walls is just as impressive as the fortifications.
I enter through the Pile Gate on the western side, which has been the main entrance to the city for centuries. I approach the gate over a stone bridge and wooden drawbridge with a stature of St Blasius, the patron saint of Dubrovnik, gazing down from a niche above the gate.
I feel like I’m stepping back in time as soon as I walk through the gate. The picturesque square inside has an impressive public fountain called the Big Onofrio as its centrepiece. The Church of the Saviour and a Franciscan monastery on my left lead the eye down along the Placa, which was Dubrovnik’s most favoured promenade and gathering place.
It is the widest and most beautiful street of the old city centre and it divides the city down the middle between the western and eastern gates. The Venetian influences are clear with a beautify symmetry leading towards the Luza Bell Tower, with its two human figures that strike the bell on the hour, at the eastern end.
I’m awestruck by this amazing place. There’s just so much to see! As I wander through the streets and narrow lanes I discover new treasures around every corner.
Santorini is pretty much in the centre of the Greek archipelago between Greece and Turkey and north of Crete in the southern part of the Aegean Sea. I’m on Viking’s included shore excursion, Summits and Countryside, which departs from the Athinos port.
It is the island’s commercial port, so there is space for the buses which will take us to visit the picturesque Oia and the capital Fira.
As we approach the harbour, I can see other buses, like ants, working their way up along the many hairpin turns to the top.
It looks amazing and when our turn comes it rewards us with come stunning views of the cruise ships in the caldera below. Off to the side it is a sheer drop down so I’m quietly hoping the bus driver knows what he’s doing . . . especially when we meet trucks heading in the opposite direction.
At Oia we have some free selfie and shopping time. The narrow lanes are filled with beautiful shops and cafes.
It’s a photographer’s paradise, but we are not alone . . . the place is inundated cruisers and young ladies in their finest, just wanting to capture the perfect selfie with the views, the whitewashed houses, and the blue domes . . . It’s pandemonium at all the best vantage points.
It’s a similar story later when we arrive at Fira. By now a few thousand people are emptying out of the huge Odyssey of the Seas which has just arrived in the caldera below.
Most of them coming up on the cable car but some of the more adventurous ones are zigzagging their way up a narrow path on the back of donkeys.
The place is packed but strangely it seems to cope. It’s easy to find a nice place for a lunch with a view — just about every cafe and restaurant here have a gorgeous view. I choose a rooftop restaurant for a Greek salad and a Yellow Donkey beer. And sitting here looking out over this beautiful place it suddenly looks peaceful and serene.
To find out more about Viking’s Mediterranean itineraries visit vikingcruises.com.au