Without a doubt, this is the most comprehensive voyage I have ever been part of. In 15 days we visited the following cities or ruins: Marseilles, Avignon, Arles (France); Florence, Rome, Pompeii, Herculaneum, Sorrento, Taoromina (Italy); The Bay of Kator (Montenegro); Butrint (Albania); Corfu (Greece); Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar (Croatia); Venice (Italy). It is impossible to name a singular favourite, every stop had its highlight.
It was an interesting start to the cruise when our planned stay in Cannes was sidelined by weather and we needed to pull up anchor and head to safe port in Marseilles. Quick thinking and actions by the ship’s excursion crew allowed the day to be saved with a bus tour of Marseilles and a walking tour of the city’s cathedral. The second largest city in France, Marseille is an active port town (in fact was one of the first Greek ports Western Europe) dating back 30,000 years. Heavily bombed during the Second World War, Marseille has worked diligently to rebuild and is currently focusing on revamping the Old Port and the waterfront area.
It was very early one morning when we left Marseilles by bus for a day-long visit to Avignon and Arles. The drive through Provence to Avignon proved to be well worth the early start: fields of lavender, and sunflowers, Cyprus trees and the clearest blue sky imaginable were all part of the local scenery. Famous for its bridge and frequently referred to as the City of Popes, Avignon does not disappoint.
In 1309, Pope Clement V chose Avignon as his residence and until early 1377 Avignon was the seat of Papacy, not Rome. It was during this time that the immense, Gothic, Palais des Papes was constructed for the seven popes and two antipopes who would eventually reside within the walls. The Palais des Papes and the surrounding fortress and towers are remarkably well preserved and a pleasure to visit.
Ancient Rome in Arles? Who knew? I certainly had no clue what to expect when, during a stroll through Arles I stumbled upon a Roman Amphitheatre. Built in 90 AD, this massive structure holds 20,000 spectators who, during the day, would have enjoyed chariot races and bloody battles.
Arles is a beautiful town that has attracted many artists throughout time, most famously perhaps, Vincent Van Gogh. Van Gogh arrived in Arles in 1888 and his fascination with the town and surrounding countryside resulted in more than 300 paintings and drawings. It was in Arles that Van Gogh’s mental health began to deteriorate, culminating in his infamous ear cutting incident. Reproductions of Van Gogh’s paintings can be seen around town and are lovely reminders of his presence and tremendous artistic gift.