7 Epic Mediterranean Cruise Excursions, Zero Sticker Shock
The words "Mediterranean cruise" tend to conjure up visions of lounging on a sun-strewn deck, vino in hand -- impossibly blue water rippling in every direction.
But of course, the sea is only part of the region's allure. Countless cliffs lined with crooked, colorful villages beckon from the shore, to say nothing of all the inland temptations (see: vineyard-laced medieval hill towns).
So the question for anyone on board is how to have as many land-based experiences as possible without racking up an epic bill for excursions.
Arguably the best answer? Regent Seven Seas Cruises, a luxury line that offers amazing experiences in the likes of Cannes, Saint-Tropez and Portofino -- exclusive ports accessible only to small vessels -- at no extra charge. In fact, this is the only line in its class to include unlimited excursions in every port of call with your cruise fare. And for good measure, the cost of your cruise also covers roundtrip business class flights to Europe, all-suite, all-balcony accommodations and premium wine and spirits.
To start visualizing how you can squeeze the most Med -- and value -- out of your own Regent Seven Seas Cruises experience, read on.
1. Visit Hilltop Villages and Vineyards outside Saint-Tropez.
This French Riviera resort town has long been the playground of the rich and famous -- from Brigitte Bardot to Elton John -- and Regent Seven Seas Cruises is one of the few cruise lines with access to it. While Saint-Tropez itself is worth exploring, so are the surrounding hilltop villages. On Regent's guided tour of them, you'll find 17th-century churches, shop-lined narrow streets, the ruins of a medieval castle -- and breathtaking views of Saint-Tropez Bay.
Thirsty? Opt instead for a tour of a family-run vineyard in the nearby -- high up -- medieval village of Gassin, where the wines pair perfectly with the mountain and water views.
2. Go Glam -- or Medieval -- around Cannes.
Whether or not the attendees of its fabled film festival are in town when you are (and you could coincide with them this May), Cannes, France will dazzle you with opulent shops, Michelin-starred restaurants, and one of the most storied seaside boulevards on earth: La Croisette. Pull into port with Regent Seven Seas Cruises, and you can take a panoramic driving tour of the city's swanky streets and nearby beaches, with a bonus trip to Nice.
Or head to Saint-Paul de Vence, an ancient hill town turned modern art magnet -- Picasso, Matisse, Chagall and Miro were among its many iconic denizens -- where the medieval lanes harbor some of the 21st century's most beloved galleries.
3. Eat Home-Cooked Treats in Divine Dalmatian Surroundings.
On Croatia's Dalmation Coast, where even the baseline beauty is off the charts, Korcula is a standout. Forested, dotted with tiny villages and surrounded by see-through emerald waters, this island makes for a dream daytrip. Once in port, you can take a guided walk through the old town -- a walled medieval enclave where Marco Polo may or may not have been born. (Venetians, for their part, claim him as their own.) But regardless of which version of history you subscribe to, this is a fascinating tour.
Or you can get out into the countryside on a trip to a family home, where your hosts will ply you with herbal brandy (it's dangerously good), goat cheese, salted fish and other local treats. You're welcome to explore the house, stroll the vegetable gardens -- and hang with the family donkey and goat. Then, for an even better taste of local life, you can roll up your sleeves and help your host make a local pasta dish from scratch.
4. Check out Cephalonia's Subterranean Scene.
Your gateway to this Greek island is the modern town of Argostoli, but not far beyond city limits, ancient wonders await -- two of which make for one seriously ethereal excursion. The first is the (more or less) 150 million-year-old Drogarati Cave, where you'll follow in the footsteps of many a distinguished guest as you descend into the so-called Chamber of Exaltation. The acoustics in this magic cavern have inspired everyone from Maria Callas to Munich's Bayerische Philharmonie to concertize here. Even in the absence of a world-renowned musical act, though, the dramatically lit stalactites and stalagmites put on a memorable show of their own.
In keeping with the underground arts theme, you'll paddle around Melissani Lake (aka Melissani Cave), where sunbeams penetrate the collapsed portion of the ceiling to illuminate the turquoise water inside -- as if by some lighting director's design.
And to ease you back into reality, the return to Argostoli will follow a coastal route with views to the mythic island of Ithaca and the beautiful beach of Myrtos.
5. Make Your Way from Minarets to Movie Studios in Tirana.
Old meets new in Tirana, Albania, home to the stunning 18th-century Ethem Bey Mosque, the soaring (by local standards) 21st-century Sky Tower and all manner of architectural treasures in between. Of those you'll see on Regent’s Tirana Landmarks tour, however, perhaps the most fascinating hails from the mid-20th century, when the propaganda film-making Kinostudio set up shop. Though this Communist-era icon is now home to modern TV companies, touring the grounds (with a little imagination) takes you right back to 1952, when the studio's famed "Skanderbeg" was the talk of -- coincidentally -- the Cannes Film Festival.
6. Go for Baroque in Portofino.
An ancient fishing village turned celebrity hot spot, Portofino is home to a diminutive, yet dazzling stretch of coastline on the Italian Riviera. Here you'll find pastel-colored houses, amazing portside pesto pasta (you're in Liguria, ancient birthplace of this venerated sauce) and walking trails that wind along the coast or through the lush surrounding hills.
Though the hiking is breathtaking, you can cover more ground -- at least figuratively -- on the private boat that Regent Seven Seas Cruises will book for you. Sail to Santa Margherita Ligure to explore the gorgeous seaside gardens and endlessly opulent parlors of Villa Durazzo, a 17th-century marquis's summer residence. Have fun judging for yourself whether the Grotesque Parlour is -- as many believe -- the most beautiful, then make your way back to the marina via the Baroque-style church of St. James and maritime-themed Oratory of Saint Erasmus.
7. Face the Music in Venice.
Though you shouldn't miss out on that signature Venetian musical moment -- when a gondoliere serenades you and your beloved while rowing you through some of the Italian city's most achingly romantic canals -- another local performance is at least as memorable: Regent Seven Seas Cruises will whisk you off to a 16th-century concert hall, where an esteemed orchestra in period costume will perform some of the world's most celebrated Baroque music. Tip: End the night on one more sweet note with a slice of tiramisu in the region of its invention before returning to the ship.
Bottom Line: If you're seeking a once-in-a-lifetime Mediterranean experience both at sea and on land, Regent Seven Seas Cruises is the line to choose.