VENICE -- It's one of the most beautiful views of a city from the deck of a cruise ship. As the new Carnival Breeze began making its way into Venice, just past the midway point on a 12-day Mediterranean cruise, nearly every passenger, it seemed, was out on deck photographing the canal-filled city from this unique vantage point. As if to heighten the majestic entrance to the historic city, an Italian opera played over the ship's speakers as we marvelled at the passing landmarks including the Campanile -- the famous 98-metre-high brick bell tower, near the Doges Palace in St. Mark's Square.
It's just one of many spectacular viewpoints in the seven ports of call on the itinerary. And although every city is unique, once on the ground, one thing they all share in common are locations with sweeping scenic vistas -- whether from towers or hilltops, or even from ancient city walls. A few places worth visiting:
BARCELONA - Parc Guell
Architect Antoni Gaudi's whimsical creation in Barcelona's Gracia neighbourhood has gardens, a small museum, unique architecture to enjoy, and of course the views! Named for and commissioned by Gaudi's main patron, Count Eusebio Guell, it's now a public park, offering wonderful vistas of the city atop its central plaza (from where you can glimpse another Gaudi construction -- the Sagrada Familia church). Take a rest break on the serpentine-shaped bench decorated with colourful bits of ceramic tiles, and admire the gatehouses topped with red and white mushroom shapes, then meander through the Room of a Hundred Columns, or walk through a garden to the Gaudi House Museum (where he lived for a time).
MARSEILLE - Notre Dame de la Garde
No visit of Marseille is complete without a trip to the hilltop Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, a famous monument whose interior includes many ex votos -- paintings, plaques, war medals, etc., given as votive offerings -- some dating to the 13th century. Built in Roman Byzantine style on the city's highest point and topped by a statue of the Virgin gilded with gold leaf, the basilica offers some of the best views of the city and beyond.
Sites include l'Estaque (a fishing village once popular with Impressionist painters) in the north, to the Calanques (soaring white limestone rocks) in the south, and the Chateau d'If -- a fortress on an uninhabited island in the Frioul Archipelago. The ship's shore excursion will take you to the basilica. If you go on your own, you can take a bus, a Petit Train, or walk up, following a circuit from the Old Port with explanatory panels.
ROME - Il Vittoriano
This massive white marble monument to Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of the united Italy, is not the city's best loved structure (some call it the "wedding cake" or "the typewriter") but Il Vittoriano, which towers over Piazza Venezia, does have at least one thing going for it -- the view. For a fee, you can take a glass lift to the top for a 360-degree panorama of the city, or go around to the back terrace for a free view taking in the Colosseum and its environs. Another great lookout point can be had from Janiculum, close to Rome's historic centre.
DUBROVNIK - City walls
A walk atop the city's famous 15th-century ramparts is a major attraction in large part due to the spectacular views. It's a great vantage point of the old town with its orange tiled rooftops, historic landmarks and sea vistas. Dubrovnik's wall, one of the best-preserved fortifications in Europe, is about 2-km long, has three entrances, and takes about an hour to walk from start to finish (excluding photo and rest stops). Along the way you'll find three forts, a museum, an occasional souvenir shop, and fresh fruit drinks. Wear comfortable shoes and a hat.
TAORMINA - Ocean views
The Breeze docked in the Sicilian port of Messina from where many visitors venture about an hour's drive away to the medieval town of Taormina, nestled on the steep hillside of Monte Tauro. Enjoy the sea views and glimpse nearby Mt. Etna -- Europe's largest active volcano -- from the Piazza IX Aprile, while listening to street musicians playing classic Sicilian melodies. Attractions include a Greek Theatre built in the 3rd century B.C. -- which is still in use and also offers great views of the surrounding countryside -- Saracen's Castle, the cathedral, the Roman Baths and the Corso Umberto, lined with cafes and art galleries.
NEED TO KNOW
For cruise information, check carnival.com or call 1-800-Carnival.