By Bonnie MacLaird, Chief Blogging Officer, Azamara Club Cruises on Friday, January 30, 2015
As an under-graduate studying Sociology (ahem…a while ago) I spent many a night reading Darwin and becoming fluent in his theory of evolution via natural selection. So it was with great interest that I recently read a fascinating article called “Darwin’s Forgotten World: Australia’s Blue Mountains Influenced the Great Thinker’s Understanding of Evolution as Profoundly as the Galapagos.” (Perrottet, Tony. Smithsonian Magazine, January 2015: 50-61.)
Sicily… I just love saying the word. It has such an awesome undertone in American popular culture and to be honest, it really lives up to it in many ways. While American mobster movies have made Sicily a household name; most people don’t really know anything about it and don’t think to go there when they think of Italy. I have been to Sicily on three different occasions and each one was better than the last leading me to discover more of the biggest island in the Mediterranean.
My first time in Sicily I flew into Trapani; a small coastal city on the west coast. Western Sicily is ancient and rugged, tranquil and sunny and a fascinating introduction to the island. It looks today much of what it must’ve looked like 100 years ago. There are shepherds herding their sheep, stone farmhouses dotting the horizon and fields of Marsala grapes as far as the eye can see. It is almost perfect and an amazing way to get a true sense of the island and its people. The west coast of Sicily is by far the least touristed part of the island and maybe in fact the whole country of Italy.
As you move east, you will undoubtedly stop in the capital of Sicily, Palermo. Palermo is a rugged city with a lot of character. I think of it because it was the setting for the final scene in The Godfather trilogy where an assassin missed Michael Corleone and accidentally killed his daughter. That scene can be relived at the famous Teatro di Massimo in the center of town. It is very beautiful and not to be missed.
The best way to see Palermo as is the case for most of Italy is by foot, eating your way through the city. The best restaurant that I ate at was Focacceria del Massimo across from the Teatro di Massimo. The workmen’s lunch of pasta and sandwiches is absolutely fantastic.
From Palermo, you can head west or south. I suggest heading south taking in some amazing scenery including Mount Etna en route to the east coast of Sicily. The east coast is where you’ll find some of the beautiful and famous port towns like Siracusa, Catania and Taormina.
Mount Etna, Sicily
All of these towns are wonderful to explore and take day trips from as well. Another little known but great spot in Sicily is Agrigento in the south; which is the home to the Valley of the Temples. Personally, it was probably my favorite thing about Sicily aside from the food of course!
However, no matter where you go in Sicily, you will always find three things. Stunning scenery both natural and manmade; amazing food that is uniquely Sicilian; and lovely people with a real zest for enjoying life. Sicily is a place you’ll want to return to over and over.
Azamara has several cruises calling in Sicily including:
By Azamara Club Cruises on Thursday, January 22, 2015
Longer stays. Overnights. Night touring. It’s why Azamara voyages are for those who love travel. After all, why travel all the way to an exotic destination only to leave it before the sun has set? Since a picture is worth a thousand words, we searched Instagram for these incredible photos of our favorite cities to experience after dark.
Evenings in Venice were made for wandering. Enjoy a sunset gondola ride, take in the live music from cafe orchestras at St. Mark’s square, and stroll down cobblestoned alleys that lead to dead ends. The city is quieter, mysterious and charming at night.
If you visit St. Petersburg in June, you’ll experience the famous “White Nights”, when the sun only sets briefly and city streets bustle around the clock. But as this photo shows, the city can be just as beautiful at dusk.
Just like Venice, Amsterdam’s canals and bridges make it a beautiful place to visit at night. Enjoy a late dinner, explore the city by bicycle, or people-watch from a sidewalk cafe to soak up the ambiance of Amsterdam in the evening.
Night markets, bars and coffee shops are all popular places to spend a night in Ho Chi Minh City. Street food is popular here. Be prepared for the aromas of grilled meats and fragrant soups to tempt you away from formal dinner plans. Don’t leave without trying authentic banh mi, the popular Vietnamese baguette sandwich.
In Sorrento, your favorite way to spend the evening just might be watching the sun set. It’s impossible not to fall in love with the relaxed ambiance, quaint streets and stunning panorama of this part of Italy.
Late-night and overnight stays in Barcelona are a must if you want to experience the city like a local. Most restaurants serve dinner from 9pm to 11pm. Enjoy cava wine, tapas and churros while you’re here.
The photo above is of a church, perched on Mount Tibidabo. The mountain provides stunning views of Barcelona and the surrounding coastline.
This November cruise includes three overnight stays! Spend the night in Palma de Mallorca, Valencia, and Barcelona.
Sydney Harbour is so stunning, we couldn’t choose just one photo. This 10 Night Great Barrier Reef voyage concludes with an overnight stay in Sydney, so guests have the opportunity to extend their stay in this incredible city.
Now there’s just one question: where will you go next?
By Azamara Club Cruises on Thursday, January 15, 2015
We love seeing your Azamara cruise photos almost as much as you love Azamara cruises. These photos showcase fifteen incredible Italian travel destinations that can be visited via cruise – all courtesy of our incredible guests.
Photo Credit: Anne T.
The beautiful island of Elba might be best known for its connection to Napolean. We love it for Portoferraio’s bustling waterfront boardwalk, historic villas and fortresses, and incredible cuisine. Indulge in fresh cuttlefish, squid and octopus, while you’re here.
Manarola, Cinque Terre
Photo Credit: Hermi Z.
The five cliffside villages of the Cinque Terre show guests a quieter side to the Italian Riviera. Manarola is the second-smallest of the towns, and possibly the oldest. Make sure you try the locally produced wine, Sciacchetra, while you visit!
Rome, the eternal city. Art, history, culture, food, shopping – Rome offers something for everyone. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and it can’t be experienced in one either. Travel here countless times, and you’ll always discover something new. The awe-inspiring Colosseum and breathtaking beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica may even justify repeat visits.
Livorno is the gateway to Tuscany, and a wonderful port for both new and veteran cruisers. If you’ve been to Florence and Pisa already, you can spend your time in port exploring quiaint Tuscan villages like Lucca and Volterra.
Photo Credit: Vanessa J.
From the famous Blue Grotto to the incredible views of Monte Solaro, the island of Capri will take your breath away. Take the chairlift from Anacapri to snap a photo like this one.
Giardini Naxos, Sicily
Photo Credit: Corinne W.
Here you’ll find the still-active Mount Etna volcano, towering over this port at 10,900 feet. Volcanic soil has enriched farmland, resulting in lush crops of olives, citrus and grapes.
Positano is one of the most picturesque towns along the Amalfi Coast, making it a favorite stop for Azamara cruisers. Visit Spiagga Grande, a beach lined with restaurants, cafes and gelaterias. If you’re in the mood for shopping, pick up some beautiful handmade leather sandals.
Photo Credit: Jill M.
Florence is a bustling mecca of culture. Take in incredible architecture, food, shopping and art while visiting. Try not to get overwhelmed! Use our “Seven Things To Do in Tuscany” blog as a guide for planning your time in port.
Photo Credit: Hermi Z.
Considered by many to be the most picturesque of the Cinque Terre towns, Vernazza has recovered well from a devastating mudslide in 2011. For the best views, begin hiking from Vernazza towards Monterosso al Mare.
Photo Credit: Andrea
Portofino is the quintessential storybook Italian town. Thanks to charming streets, picturesque pastel homes, exclusive boutiques and quaint cafes, the calm fishing village has become a favorite of the “Jet Set”.
Plan your visit for 2017 – this cruise calls on Portofino and includes a stop in Monte Carlo during the world’s largest yacht show.
Photo Credit: Jillian
Santa Margherita can be a starting off point for a visit to the Cinque Terre, but is also a wonderful resort town in its own right. Visit the Villa Durozzo Palace, a beautiful building from the 1600s that now serves as the Vittorio Rossi Museum.
The backdrop of Mount Vesuvius makes for a striking photo when our Azamara ships tender in Sorrento. Visit the preserved ruins of Pompeii, a city captured in volcanic ash after Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79AD. You can also climb to the summit of the volcano.
Indiana Jones, much like James Bond, was always pretty good at those clever one-liners and every time I go to Venice this quote is all I can say. Venice just makes your mouth gape. Your body relaxes and you just take in the majesty of this city of water. Venice is perfect.
I went to Venice for my first time way back in 1998 and have been back 4 subsequent times and each time it’s been better than the last. I think that Venice is truly appreciated as you get older and as you take your time to discover the true nuances of this great fairy tale city.
I don’t care what any guidebook tells you to go see or do in Venice. The best thing to do is simply stroll around the alleyway streets that seemingly dead-end around every corner. Get lost in Italy’s greatest treasure. That’s where you’ll discover the Venice that you can’t find in guidebooks.
Eat gelato, cappuccino, pasta and all your Italian favorites from little hidden places outside of the main touristic thoroughfares. Discover little hidden piazzas and restaurants and find your perfect Venice photos where you least expect them.
While places like the Grand Canal and Piazza de San Marco are fabulous, you will be bombarded with thousands of tourists and charged significantly more than other areas of Venice. Don’t get me wrong, these are must-see places but just make sure you discover your own Venice. It’s a small place with a lot to offer beneath the surface.
Some of the hotels in Venice are some of the world’s best luxury retreats. It makes all the difference when choosing a place to stay in Venice. I especially recommend a place overlooking the Grand Canal, as that’s my favorite way to take it in-watching the world go by. Watching couples driven around by the famous punters of Venice and seeing first-timers blown away by Venice’s beauty and allure.
As I stated, Venice is a big tourist spot and expect it to be crowded if you go in the summer or the high season. It’s one of the world’s most popular places to visit for a reason. But if you have some flexibility, go during the off season or even in the winter and have the streets basically to yourself to experience as you see fit without throngs of tourists. I warn you it gets pretty cold in the winter but it’s a different experience that I loved!
However, whether it’s winter, spring, summer or fall – you’ll be saying “Aaaaaahhhhhh, Venice”.