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Cruise Around Italy: Your Guide to an Italy Cruise

Destination Reviews
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Much-adored Italy is top of the list for travellers around the world: and is it any wonder? The land of la dolce vita - literally translated to 'the sweet life' - is a place where tangible history seems to appear around every corner, olive grove-dotted hills frame cities straight out of Shakespeare and, of course, foodies and oenophiles delight in world-beating wine and cuisine. It can be quite overwhelming when you consider all that Italy has to offer in its little corner of the Mediterranean, with 20 distinct regions each offering something different, so here is your complete guide to an Italy cruise and how to cruise around Italy.

Many Italy cruises start or end in Rome or Venice, two cities known for tourist-filled streets - but for good reason. One of the world's great cities, Rome continues to dazzle and delight visitors with a potent mix of architectural marvels, continent-defining history and buzzing nightlife, while romantic Venice is charm embodied, a city like no other where a marble maze of turquoise canals criss-crosses beautiful bridges, overflowing with palaces, churches and charming little piazzas.

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Venice canals

Head west from Venice as part of your Italy cruise and you'll find Verona, conjuring up images of Shakespearean tragedy, but there is more to this city - including an impressive collection of Roman remains with an outdoor arena that hosts a wonderful opera festival every summer.

The northern Alps, from Aosta Valley and the Tyrol to the Dolomites, are famous for skiing in winter but afford beautiful summer hiking opportunities too among the jagged peaks and charming mountain huts.

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Verona

One of Italy's richest regions, Lombardy, plays host to the fashion capital of the world and economic powerhouse Milan - a dynamic and culturally rich city that's home to iconic buildings such as La Scala opera house and the striking Duomo cathedral.

It's also the gateway to Italy's most famous lakes: Como, Garda and Maggiore - though there are more than 1,000 in the country - known for their luxury accommodation and beautiful lakeside villas, though they're unlikely to feature on most Italy cruises due to their lack of proximity to the coast. For some of Italy's greatest food, next-door Piedmont is the place to sample truffles, cheese and wine in ancient vineyards among charming hilltop towns and beautiful baroque capital Turin.

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Lake Como

Head down the coast on a cruise around Italy arrive at one of Italy's many crown jewels - Liguria. Capital Genoa's atmospheric, labyrinthine streets of the old town are filled with dazzling architecture that harks back to the city's golden age, while nearby San Remo was a popular destination for European royals in exile, and the town retains plenty of glitz and glamour.

Most famous to visit on an Italy cruise, though, is the Italian Riviera - Portofino is one of the most popular spots, though don't miss the resorts of Santa Margherita, a photogenic yet down-to-earth place where yachts bob in the water and elegant hotels overlook the lovely seafront promenade, and Portovenere, whose colourful facades along its UNESCO-listed harbourfront make it one of the most picturesque villages on the Ligurian coast, and it has often been described as the 'sixth town' of the Cinque Terre.

San Remo

UNESCO-listed Cinque Terre itself is of course a bucket-list item and a must for any Italy cruise, made up of five colourful fishing villages perched on the coastline that look down onto boat-filled harbours and tavernas ready for sampling the region's famous pesto alla genovese and focaccia.

Find cobbled streets, authentic cafes and medieval buildings in historic, lively capital Bologna in next-door's Emilia-Romagna, nestled in the heart of Italy's north and the birthplace of some of the country's most famous cuisine - don't leave without trying some mortadella Bologna, parmigiano reggiano, prosciutto di parma and balsamic vinegar of Modena, to name but a few.

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Cinque Terre

As you head south to cruise Italy, another Italian icon emerges in the rolling hills of Tuscany, where centuries-old, crumbling villas and luxurious hotels perch among sunflower fields and cypress trees, scattered with sun-drenched vineyards and wineries. This is postcard-perfect Italy as you imagine it, and wonderful Florence is of course the main draw, resplendent with beautiful architecture and unrivalled artistic treasures, while nearby Pisa is of course famous for its precarious Leaning Tower, but it's also home to the Renaissance delights of Siena and Lucca.

Don't leave without sampling at least one winery - chianti is famous here - perfectly paired with a bite of the region's famous crostini, panzanella, truffles and more. The island of Elba, just off the Tuscan coast, where Napoleon Bonaparte was famously forced to live in exile between 1814-15, is a must-visit, home to white-sand beaches and red-roofed houses in the charming town of Portoferraio. Laidback Umbria is Tuscany's rugged little sister, a landlocked region of pretty hilltop towns and fascinating art and culture, perfect for those who have been to Tuscany and want to head a little off the beaten track.

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Tuscany

Southern Italy's Campania region, just below Rome, is home to rough and ready Naples, but the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city centre rewards exploration, and, as well as the best pizza in Italy, the city also acts as a gateway to the fascinating remains of Pompeii and Herculaneum, the beautiful Amalfi coast, and famous names such as Positano, Ravello, and the captivating island of Capri.

These get incredibly busy in the summer, but the whitewashed villas, vineyards and lemon trees tumbling down to yacht-bobbing harbours are of course worth a visit, from the ruins of Roman villas to gorgeous private residences surrounded by flower-filled gardens. Basilicata, in the 'instep' of Italy's boot, is lesser-known, but the rock-hewn city of stone Matera is truly resplendent, with limestone churches, monasteries, palaces and houses that rise above its UNESCO-listed caves.

Southern Italy’s Campania region, just below Rome, is home to rough and ready Naples, but the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city centre rewards exploration, and, as well as the best pizza in Italy, the city also acts as a gateway to the fascinating remains

Capri

Fill your boots - quite literally - on the heel of Italy's 'boot' in Puglia for arguably some of the country's best food (think extra-virgin olive oil, cheese, burrata, tomatoes and wine), where the Italians themselves are said to holiday.

This is a region that's beginning to find its way into the travel pages for its charm and authenticity; highlights include Otranto and its imposing castle and Romanesque cathedral that dates back to 1088; the vibrant port of Bari; and Lecce, known as "Florence of the South". Calabria is more off the beaten path still, and filled with authentic charm, stunning beaches and dramatic coastlines on the 'toe' of the country.

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Trulli houses, Alberobello, Puglia

Finally, Italy's spectacular south: Sicily, where stunning turquoise waters and colourful houses are home to a rich history and beautiful Taormina, which enjoys a truly spectacular setting on Sicily's east coast, perched on a mountainside looking out towards the smouldering Mount Etna.

Don't mind the Aeolian Islands, a volcanic archipelago to the north of Sicily whose main port Lipari Town is filled with pastel-coloured houses, fishing boats and enticing restaurants in its charming little harbour. Then, Sardinia, equidistant between Europe and Africa, feels like a whole new country, with sandy beaches and a mountainous interior that affords a whole other holiday in itself.

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Lipari Island

Generally, you can expect to enjoy pleasant weather from about May to September, with the season lengthening the further south you go. While it varies slightly by region, you can expect July and August to be very busy indeed across the country, so we'd suggest sticking to lesser-known regions if you choose to travel in these dates, or opt to visit the busier regions in the off-season.

Meet the author

Claire is Marketing Manager at Mundy Cruising, having worked with the company for nearly a year and in travel for over 8 years. Most recently she's cruised on Seabourn and has also sailed with Ponant and Uniworld. Her favourite destination is Sweden however she's also enjoyed cruises in the the Galapagos, Mediterranean, Caribbean, Northern Europe, Greek Isles and the Far East. When she’s not travelling she loves weekends away in the countryside.

More about Claire

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