It's hard to imagine a more perfect travel destination than the Mediterranean - from the sea to the land, natural and cultural treasures enrich and inspire. Rugged cliffs, deep blue seascapes and historic cities hugging the coast all contribute to create a place that is truly unique in the world. There are a number of ways to travel the region, but perhaps the only way to get the full experience is to take a well-planned Mediterranean cruise.
Because of its amenities, the Mediterranean region attracts its fair share of visitors, including cruise travelers. However, not all cruises are the same. Often, large ships are unable to small harbors and hidden ports. When considering a Mediterranean cruise, be sure to look for smaller vessels that can take you to destinations off-the-beaten path that larger ships might miss. For example, tour operator Tauck offers a cruise aboard the ship Le Ponant, which is designed to access small harbors and more remote places.
In addition to giving travelers the unique combination of sea-and-land experiences and views, Mediterranean cruises can also provide surprisingly good costs savings. Compared to independent travel, cruises offered by Tauck can reduce costs by as much as 40 percent.
After you've considered ship size and cost, your top priority as a traveler should be finding an itinerary that highlights the best of the region while still including one-of-a-kind experiences. Consider these examples as a guideline for getting the most out of your Mediterranean cruise experience:
* Amalfi Coast: This seaside region of Italy surely numbers among the most spectacular coastlines in the world. Dotted along it are charming small towns where the pace of life is leisurely, the food is exceptional and the views are second-to-none. Amalfi and Ravello are the two must-see towns.
* Corsica: This island may be part of France, but it has an identity all its own. Its rugged mountains, glamorous small towns and beautiful beaches are all infused with a uniquely independent character. Small ships like Le Ponant, on a Tauck small ship Mediterranean cruise, are the only vessels that can access the small but spectacular harbor of Bonifacio. On shore, you can explore the town's historic 12th-century fortress town and savor its views out to the sea.
* Elba: This small island is almost certainly most well-known as the place to which Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled. But what you might not know is that it's also a place of exceptional natural beauty and home to excellent vineyards. Take the opportunity to sample some vintages while you explore the village of Porto Azzurro as you cruise the Mediterranean.
* Malta: The tiny Republic of Malta boasts an illustrious history. Throughout the centuries, its capital, Valletta, has been ruled by the Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and the Knights of St. John. The past is always present wherever you go in the fascinating town, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, essentially, an open-air museum showcasing Mediterranean civilization.
* Sicily: On this island, you'll find a town whose beauty has been celebrated for centuries. Taormina, clinging to the cliffs above the Ionian Sea, was a favorite of Goethe, who in the 18th century called it 'a patch of paradise.' Countless travelers through the ages have agreed - and you almost certainly will, too.