Visit Funchal, Tangier, Malaga, Barcelona, Ibiza, Mahon, Toulon, Monte Carlo, Ajaccio, Portoferraio,Elba and Rome (Civitavecchia).
The Madeira Archipelago, consisting of the islands Madeira, Porto Santo and Desertas, is situated in the Atlantic, about 400 miles from the African coast and 560 miles from Lisbon. Discovered by the Portuguese in 1419, Madeira, the largest of the islands, became of great importance to Portugal for its sugar production and later on for the cultivation of wine. The unusually temperate oceanic climate and extraordinary scenery had Northern Europeans flocking to Madeira as early as the 18th century to spend the winter months. The winning combination of high, rocky peaks, steep green ravines and waterfalls in the interior, with the flowering charm of Funchal still attracts nearly half a million visitors each year.
Situated just across the narrow Strait of Gibraltar from Europe, Tangier has long comprised a hybrid culture that is nearly as European as it is African. Standing atop Cap Spartel, one can gaze down on the place where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean. The “Hollywood” district where the foreign embassies have traditionally been located reflects the European influence. But ascending the hill above the waterfront, one enters the narrow, winding alleys of the Kasbah, the city’s oldest, most Moroccan section. Down the coast, nearby Tetouan retains a nearly untouched walled medina, with sections originally occupied by Andalusian, Berber and Jewish populations. It is small enough that visitors can explore it without risking becoming lost, making it a perfect choice as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Often little more than a gateway to the Costa del Sol for sun-seeking vacationers, Malaga is a most interesting city in its own right. First settled by the Phoenicians, Malaga was held by virtually every ruling power in the Mediterranean at one time or another. Two Moorish fortresses, the 11th-century Alcazaba and the 14th-century Castillo de Gibralfaro still stand sentry above the harbor. Malaga was the birthplace of Pablo Picasso as well as the Malaguena style of flamenco. During your time here, you may wish to sample some of the sweet Malaga wine and excellent tapas for which the city is noted.
Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is said to have been founded by the Phoenicians, and was once the rival of the powerful states of Venice and Genoa for control of the Mediterranean trade. Today, it is Spain's second largest city and has long rivaled, even surpassed Madrid in industry and commerce. The medieval atmosphere of the Gothic Quarter and the elegant boulevards combine to make the city one of Europe's most beautiful. Barcelona's active cultural life and heritage brought forth such greats as the architect Antonio Gaudi, the painter Joan Miro, and Pablo Picasso, who spent his formative years here. Other famous native Catalan artists include cellist Pau Casals, surrealist Salvador Dali, and opera singers Montserrat Caballe and Josep Carreras. Barcelona accomplished a long-cherished goal with the opportunity to host the Olympics in 1992. This big event prompted a massive building program and created a focal point of the world's attention.
Ibiza, the third largest of the Balearics, began to grow from a quiet, little-known island into a playground for the rich and an enclave for artists in the 1950s and 1960s. The island's brilliant, whitewashed houses reflect not only the summer sun, but 300 years of Moorish rule, earning it the nickname of 'Isla Blanca' or White Island. The town of Ibiza, also known as Eivissa, is a delightful combination of Medieval and 19th-century architecture. Visit the picturesque upper town (Dalt Vila), far removed from the sometimes hectic pace of the rest of the island. The ancient cathedral, enclosed by 16th-century walls which are a national monument in their own right, provides a stunning view of the Mediterranean below.
Mahon is the capital of Menorca, second largest of the Balearic Islands. It stands out from the others because of the abundance of prehistoric structures, and because its culture was influenced by British occupation in the 18th century. The people who built the prehistoric constructions are believed to have been responsible for similar works in Sardinia, and for Stonehenge in England. Believed to have been founded by the Carthaginian General Mago, Mahon was held by the Moors from the 8th to the 13th century and in turn occupied by the English, the French and the Spanish. Mahon was finally ceded to Spain by the Treaty of Amiens in 1802.
One of the Mediterranean’s best ports and largest harbors welcomes you to the home of the French Mediterranean Fleet. Located in the Var prefecture of the Provence, Toulon has a long history that is revealed in various districts of the city. The Old Town is along the harbor, with narrow streets and small squares, most boasting a nicely decorated fountain. The Upper Town is mostly 19th century grandeur. You can take a cable car to Mont Faron, bypassing the road that is a notorious stretch for bicycle racers. The waterfront neighborhood of Le Mourillon is a family-friendly beach area for Toulonais. There are wonderful museums of history, art from various periods and naval history to explore as well.
The Principality of Monaco is the epitome of Riviera chic. This tiny enclave of 370 acres surrounds a sheltered harbor that draws yachts from around the world to enjoy the beautiful scenery, mild weather and elegant casino. Glamorous Monte Carlo is one of Monaco's four quarters, which also include La Condamine, the business district; Monaco-ville, the capital; and Fontvieille, an area built on reclaimed land. Ruled by Prince Albert II, Monaco has a population of over 32,000, of which about 16 percent are citizens, or Monégasques.
Corsica, the "scented isle," was the birthplace of Napoleon, and as late as the last century bands of brigands controlled his mountainous and rugged homeland. The beaches of Ajaccio, ranging from narrow crescents to broad, golden expanses help to account for the city's rise as a popular resort. Such scenic attractions as the Calanches of Piana, those red granite mountains with their spectacular slopes and formations add an additional element of interest.
Despite its small size, the island of Elba has been known since the beginning of recorded history. Called Ilva by the Ligurians and Aethalia by the Greeks, Elba passed to the Etruscans and later the Romans. It was ruled by Pisa in the Middle Ages, was a haven for Barbary pirates in the 16th century and then privately owned by the powerful Medici family. The island's most famous resident was Napoleon Bonaparte, whose first exile from France and short reign over Elba lasted from May 1814 to February 1815. During that time, Napoleon was able to improve the island by altering street plans, building new roads, modernizing agriculture and developing the iron mines. Iron ore is still mined above the Rio Marina and then shipped from Portoferraio (Port of Iron). With a population of just over 11,000, the town is the largest of the eight on the island and is considered its capital. Geologists and gem stone collectors find Elba a treasure trove with over 150 minerals and semiprecious stones found here due to the seismic turmoil that created the island. The rich soil also produces an astonishing range of foliage and flowers aided by sun that shines almost every day of the year. Despite summer tourism, the island is largely agricultural and the ambience is quiet and relaxed, allowing the visitor to enjoy Elba's natural charm, peaceful abundance and timeless beauty.
Originally built by Emperor Trajan who had a villa here, Civitavecchia has flourished as a major port for Rome since the 13th century. Today it is an important ferry terminal and for many travelers the gateway to the Eternal City, Rome. The Renaissance fortifications that surround the harbor area were begun by Bramante and completed by Michelangelo in 1535.