Unparalleled variety awaits in the Atlantic Ocean, from the Flower Island of Madeira to The Canary Islands which captivate, with their persistently mild weather and contrasting colourful flora, imposing volcanic landscapes and fine, sandy dunes.
Columbus had his ship “Pinta” repaired on Gran Canaria. He also visited the Countess la Bobadilla on La Gomera. Vasco da Gama, namesake of our ship, made a stop on Tenerife, as did Alexander von Humboldt and Charles Darwin.
On the island of Lanzarote, enjoy one of the most unique experiences in Europe, Timanfaya National Park, where the rugged volcanic landscape still seems to rise-up from deep within the fields of long cooled lava. La Palma, the fifth largest island of the Canaries, also impresses with its rustic rocks, laurel forests, roaring waterfalls and fantastic volcanoes. The second smallest island, La Gomera, is greener and more fertile in the north thanks to the trade winds, while to the south, the sandy beaches are perfect for relaxation.
Picturesque fishing villages, fantastic coastal views, unusual rock formations and roaring waterfalls, there’s so much to see on this gem of an island. Madeira’s capital city of Funchal offers a host of sights as well, including the Sé Cathedral and the famous farmer’s market, filled with everything from exotic fruits to colourful flowers and fresh fish. In the botanical gardens are a magnificent collection of camellias dating back to the turn of the 19th-century, centennial trees, a rose garden and many other charming horticultural designs.
Situated a little under halfway to the American mainland, Portuguese seafarers discovered the Azores in the early 15th-century and named the tiny archipelago “Ilhas dos Açores” in honour of the hawks they saw nesting on the islands. It later transpired that the birds were buzzards, but by then the name had stuck. A paradise for nature lovers, a wide variety of endemic plants flourish in the rich volcanic soil, and with a little luck you may also see an Azores noctule, or a Monteiro’s storm petrel, hovering in the Atlantic trade winds.
The African Coast
In Atlantic waters, the African coast has so much to discover. In Morocco, friendly people, exotic markets and beautiful architecture are waiting to welcome you – and in the Bandia Nature Reserve near Dakar, see giraffes and other wild animals in their natural habitat on a fabulous modern safari.
Casablanca was founded by the Imazighen in the 8th-century and is dominated by the great Hassan II Mosque. Its main minaret is over two-hundred metres high, making it the tallest of its kind in the Islamic world.
The capital Rabat is the only Moroccan royal city by the sea. Here, the white and blue whitewashed houses gleam brightly in the sunshine and the traditional changing of the guard happens each day at the imposing Royal Palace.
Marrakesh is filled with decorative mosques, labyrinthine lanes, exotic palaces, secret gardens and bustling souks. Agadir has one of the most beautiful beaches in the country and you won’t want to miss the idyllic harbour city of Essaouira, where the picturesque houses, eccentric archways and twisting pathways of its UNESCO World Heritage Medina are truly magical.
An African Adventure
The Senegalese capital of Dakar is the most western city on the African mainland and is also the nation’s economic centre. Strolling through the historical old town, you will be amazed as magnificent buildings from the colonial period give way to quaint markets, the cathedral and mosque. If you love observing animals, you can look forward to seeing rhinos, giraffes and gazelles in the Bandia Reserve, or if you would rather go for a swim in the Atlantic, there are inviting beaches close to the city.
Even though Gambia is Africa’s smallest country, it still displays an abundance of what this exotic continent has to offer. In the capital city of Banjul, clothing, traditional handicrafts and local delicacies are on sale at the colourful market, where haggling is welcome. If you like the quieter side of life, follow the course of the mighty Gambia River and use the day to go bird and animal watching. In the south of the country get to know the daily life, history, culture and traditions of the Gambian people.
Journey through the Mediterranean into the roots of European history. To the west, flora and fauna abounds on picturesque islands such as Menorca or Corsica, while to the east, see landscapes filled with the ancient legacy of the Greeks and the Romans.
Island-hopping has always been the best way to explore Greece and there really is no better way than on a cruise.
For thousands of years poets have extolled the virtues of Santorini. The famous blue domes and whitewashed walls of Fira and Oia nestle majestically on the steep volcanic coastline and provide breathtaking views of the Aegean Sea. Another gem of the Cyclades is Mykonos, one of the most popular islands in Greece, where fun-seekers mingle along picturesque waterfronts to the backdrop of its iconic windmills.
The Ancient World
The Greeks considered the tiny island of Delos sacred and in 1990 it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The gleaming white ruins of a lost civilisation remain a wonder to behold in the bright Mediterranean sunlight.
At the height of its wealth and influence, the city of Knossos in Crete must have been an awe-inspiring sight. The capital of Minoan Crete and the centre of an advanced Bronze Age civilisation, this was one of the greatest settlements in all of antiquity.
At the ancient site of Olympia stood the Temple of Zeus, housing a famed 40ft-high gold and ivory statue of the god by the Athenian sculptor Phidias, acclaimed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. It was also here that the inaugural Olympic Games took place.
Florence & Pisa
Considered the most beautiful Renaissance city, the buildings, museums and art galleries of Florence are world-class, as is its oldest bridge, The Ponte Vecchio, which dates back to 1345. In Pisa, you really must visit the legendary 56-metre-high leaning tower, the bell tower of the cathedral built from pure Carrara marble.
The island of Elba is famously where Napoleon lived from 1814 following his exile, but his connections go back even further on the island of Corsica, where the capital of Ajaccio was the family’s ancestral seat and the Maison Bonaparte is now a museum displaying historic heirlooms.
To the French it will always be the Côte d’Azur, but there is no doubting this is one of the most glamorous stretches of coastline in the world. In Cannes, the Promenade de la Croisette stretches the length of the town, passing sandy beaches and outstanding architecture. The former fishing village of Saint Tropez is another destination where it’s not unheard of to spot international film stars. In Nice, Neoclassical architecture mingles with blooming botanical gardens and outstanding Belle Epoque buildings such as the Hotel Le Negresco.
The Riviera isn’t just in France, however. We also offer the chance for another unforgettable experience, on a cruise along the Italian Cinque Terre to enchanting Lucca, bustling Milan and “The Superb” city of Genoa.
The Iberian Coast
Lisbon’s Belem district is home to three of the city’s great landmarks – the Modernist Monument of the Discoveries, the fairy-tale Belem Tower and the spectacularly ornate UNESCO World Heritage Jerónimos Monastery, built more than five hundred years ago to celebrate Vasco da Gama’s discovery of a sea route to India.
On the Portuguese Algarve, Sagres Point looks out across the wide expanse of the Atlantic Ocean, once considered the edge of the world. Then visit the lively town of Lagos, renowned for its excellent mix of culture and beaches.
Cadiz and Jerez
With its narrow streets and charming small squares, the old town of Cadiz reflects the city’s rich history and position as the gateway to The New World. Jerez de la Frontera is famous for giving its name to sherry and of course there is always time for a tasting of this popular export.
Although Málaga may appear a little austere, you will soon find its historic city centre charming. The majestic, unfinished Gothic cathedral is surrounded by traditional balconied buildings, narrow pedestrian streets and the best tapas bars in the province.
Dominating the wonderful landscape of Andalusia is one of the most magical places in the world and the most outstanding symbol of Moorish heritage in Spain, the Alhambra palace. Nearby is another palace, the Generalife, built as a summer paradise for the Sultans of Granada, where the terraces, grottoes, flowerbeds and fountains reflect the glamour of its Moorish inhabitants.
From Catalan art nouveau to bustling markets and ancient Roman or medieval treasures –
as soon as you enter the Catalonian capital you will find yourself immersed in history. In all, nine of its buildings are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the world-famous Sagrada Familia, crowning achievement of Antoni Gaudí, despite the fact it is still unfinished.
Founded by the Romans, Valencia is a charming old city and is also home to some wonderfully modern architecture, including the futuristic City of Arts and Science. This is also the birthplace of the world’s most famous rice dish, Paella, so be sure to try a dish!