A Taste for Travel

Experience an exhilarating mix of history, epic scenery and culture

“Just don’t ask me for Fettucine Alfredo,” our guide, certified sommelier Luca Bartoli, says with a grin “We don’t eat it in Italy.” Instead, we tuck into pappardelle with ragu, and dip cantucci into jewel-toned vin santo so the brittle almond cookies can absorb the sweet dessert wine.

cathedral Sagrada Familia in Barcelona

Part of the facade of Sagrada Familia in summer, Barcelona, Spain
Deposit Photos

It’s not often you get to spend a day with a sommelier eating and drinking your way through the heart of Tuscany. Although this shore excursion takes place near the start of our 7-day Holland America Mediterranean cruise from Barcelona to Rome, our journey has already been full of fresh and memorable experiences.

The itinerary includes ports in Barcelona (Spain), Villefranche-sur-Mer (Nice), Livorno (Lucca/Florence/Pisa), La Goulette (Tunis), Palermo (Sicily), Naples (Pompeii/Amalfi) and Civitavecchia (Rome) as well as a day at sea aboard the Nieuw Statendam, a mid-size cruise ship that accommodates 2,666 passengers in 1,377 staterooms.

It’s an opportunity to experience four incredible countries in one sailing. And immerse ourselves in local flavour, traditions and history along the way.

Memorable Shore Excursions on the French Riviera and in Tuscany

The itinerary begins in Barcelona where we marvel at Gaudi’s architectural masterpieces, browse world-class museums and explore the Catalan food scene before embarkation.

outdoor pool on the Nieuw Statendam Holland America

Relax around the outdoor pool on the Nieuw Statendam 
Photo: Francisco Sanchez

At the Bon Voyage Sail Away party on the Lido deck, passengers take in the glittering view of Barcelona’s skyline while dancing to DJ-spun tunes and sipping themed cocktails by the Sea View pool.

The next morning, we arrive at Villefranche-sur-Mer on the French Riviera. This pretty town set on a crystalline bay is the jumping off point for shore excursions to Nice, Eze, Monaco and Monte Carlo.

Panoramic views flash around every turn of the drive to Eze, a medieval village of narrow streets, cobblestone paths and cascading flowers perched 400 metres above sea level. Then, a sunny afternoon in Nice allows for a stroll along palm-tree lined Promenade des Anglais and time to sip pastis, the anise-scented aperitif popular in the South of France.

port of Villefranche-sur-Mer

The pretty port of Villefranche-sur-Mer is the gateway to Nice and the French Riviera.
Photo: Francisco Sanchez

Next up, is Livorno, Italy where the Taste of Tuscany excursion takes us to Lucca, where we walk through the 17th century ramparts that circle the city to enter quiet streets lined with ochre-coloured buildings, the Romanesque cathedral and piazza set on an ancient Roman amphitheatre.

Then, after a morning spent exploring, it’s time for a wine-tasting and farmhouse lunch at Trattoria il Poggio in the rolling hills of the Tuscan countryside.

The farm’s fertile lands produce extra virgin olive oil as well as DOG and PGI protected wines. Following a tour of the vineyards and wine cellar, the owner hosts lunch on the family’s garden terrace.

Back in the motor coach, our guide has a surprise for us. The air fills with the sounds of “Nessun dorma” from Giacomo Puccini’s opera Turandot, sung by Andrea Bocelli. “Both Puccini and Bocelli were born in this part of Tuscany,” he says, cranking up the volume.

Villa Torrigiani

Villa Torrigiani, dating to the 16th century, is located near Lucca, Italy
Photo: Francisco Sanchez

So, with the famous aria playing as background music, the motor coach meanders a narrow country road lined with cypress trees to reach Villa Torrigiani, one of the best examples of Baroque architecture in Tuscany.

Originally built in the 1500s as a summer home for a wealthy family in the silk trade, the palatial home is filled with hand-painted frescoes and surrounded by reflecting pools, manicured lawns, fountains and gardens modelled on Versailles. It’s especially atmospheric in the spring with birdsong echoing between the weathered stone columns of the loggia overlooking the fragrant flower beds.

Fine dining at Rudi's Sel de Mer

Fine dining at Rudi’s Sel de Mer by Master Chef Rudi Sodamin 
Photo: Francisco Sanchez

Onboard the Nieuw Statenda

Our day at sea between Livorno, Italy and La Goulette, Tunisia provides the opportunity to enjoy the amenities onboard the Nieuw Statendam. It’s a Pinnacle-Class ship (signifying extra amenities) and Holland America’s Culinary Council of seven world-class celebrity chefs craft the menus at the included restaurants as well as specialty venues (extra cost).

On this cruise, we upgraded our fare to Holland America’s Have It All premium cruise package. It includes amenities such as a credit for shore excursions, a Signature Drink Package, a specialty dining selection, and Wi-Fi. Combined with a promotion that includes pre-paid crew appreciation gratuities, it’s a no-surprises, all-inclusive luxury cruise.

Our favourite specialty dining venues include Tamarind with Pan-Asian cuisine by sushi master Chef Andy Matsuda, the Pinnacle Grill and Rudi’s Sel de Mer, a French brasserie where fresh seafood plays a starring role.

Amalfi coast in the port of Naples

Visit the Amalfi coast in the port of Naples
Photo: Francisco Sanchez

Seafood lovers will be interested to know that Holland America has further elevated its culinary offerings with the launch of a new global fresh fish program. This initiative features destination-inspired menus with 80 types of fish sourced locally. Acclaimed Japanese Chef Masaharu Morimoto will curate special dishes to be served in the Dining Room and in a new pop-up restaurant rolling out in November.

Post-dinner, there’s time to unwind with movie nights by the Lido Deck pool followed by live music at the Rolling Stone Rock Room, B.B. King’s Blues Club, Billboard Onboard and dance performances at the stunning World Stage.

Our welcoming veranda category cabin on the Gershwin Deck (deck 5) features a private veranda and is filled with light from floor-to-ceiling windows. It includes a desk and chair, a sitting area with coffee table, a queen-size bed, ample closet space, a mini-bar and cabinet/serving area plus spacious bathroom.

Sea days are a prime time to enjoy a game of pickleball on the Sports Court or relax by one of the sparkling swimming pools. During spring sailings it’s often warm enough to roll back the retractable roof above the Lido Pool and its three whirlpools so guests can enjoy the Mediterranean sunshine.


Carthage (in Tunisia) fell to Rome in 2nd century B.C.
Photo: Francisco Sanchez

Heart of Antiquity in Tunisia, Sicily and Pompeii

A highlight for many on this Mediterranean cruise is the opportunity to step foot on the continent of Africa. Camels and traditional folk music greet us at the port of La Goulette in Tunisia.

While little remains of the city of Carthage, founded in 800 BC, the Baths of Antoninus at this UNESCO World Heritage Site are remarkably well preserved. Walking among the ancient stone archways and columns is the best way to get a sense of the scale and opulence of the Carthage Baths, one of the largest in the Roman Empire when constructed.

Baths of Carthage in Tunisia

Walk through history at the Baths of Carthage in Tunisia
Photo: Francisco Sanchez

Photographers and shoppers make good use of their time during a stop at the village of Sidi Bou Said, famous for its street market and Moorish architecture of sugar cube houses with blue shutters and doors.

Palermo Italy

Marvel at the architecture in Palermo Italy
Photo: Francisco Sanchez

An overnight sailing takes us to Palermo, Sicily where we step off the ship and into the heart of Europe’s second largest historical centre. The busy outdoor markets brimming with regional foods, labyrinthine alleys and eclectic mix of Arabic, Baroque, Norman and Art Nouveau architectural styles make this a place you vow to return to and explore further.

Another compelling port awaits the next day when we arrive in Naples and set off along the scenic Amalfi Coast. Sipping limoncello, shopping for souvenirs and admiring the breathtaking views is the perfect way to spend a morning in Sorrento. It’s followed by an afternoon guided tour of Pompeii with a local historian. This vast site is both remarkable and moving.


The Eternal City of Rome 
Photo: Francisco Sanchez

Although it’s been nearly 2,000 years since Mount Vesuvius erupted spewing toxic gas, rock and ash over the city of Pompeii, visiting the ruins is like stepping back in time. There are bakeries, public baths and grooves in the pavement where chariots used to clatter in this once-thriving metropolis. The fact that still-active Mount Vesuvius could erupt at any minute makes ancient history seem not so distant.

As the cruise wraps up in Citivecchia (Rome), we realize that while we’ve visited four distinct countries over the past seven days, at each port we’ve felt the warmth of the Mediterranean sun, its lands and its people, both past and present. And experienced classic destinations in fresh and marvellous ways.

Holland America: Holland America offers several itineraries to various ports in the Mediterranean in 2024 and 2025. Book shore excursions early. Sign up for notification of early booking bonuses and other news. www.hollandamerica.com

Michele Peterson is an award-winning travel writer who specializes in food, drink and sun destinations. Her work has appeared in major magazines, guidebooks and travel anthologies. Get recipes, travel tips and inspiration on her A Taste for Travel blog or via Twitter/Instagram @atastefortravel