16-DAY WESTERN EUROPE EXPLORER
Sail from Barcelona to Rotterdam with port calls in Spain, France, Monaco, Italy, Portugal, Great britain and The Netherlands aboard Holland America Line Rotterdam
April 13 Barcelona On the northeast coast of Spain, overlooking the Mediterranean, Barcelona is a vibrant port city, packed with centuries of iconic art and architecture—Gaudí and Picasso both called it home—and lined with sunny white-sand beaches. Explore the Catalan capital's tourist attractions and historic neighborhoods, Modernisme and world-renowned art museums, galleries and local crafts shops—some of which are centuries old and stock traditional Catalan wares. After you see the sights, there are lively tapas bars around every corner where you can stop for a drink, a café amb llet (Catalan for espresso with steamed milk) or a snack, no matter the hour. Green spaces for picnics, long walks and respite from the hustle and bustle are scattered throughout Barcelona's attractions: There's Gaudí's mosaic-decorated park, a neoclassical maze at the Laberint d'Horta, as well as plenty of high places (mountains, monuments and edifices) where sightseeing visitors can take in the view. A short trip from Barcelona by car or train, luxury outlets, cava wineries, a mountaintop abbey and the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean coast await.
April 14 Marseille, in the south of France, has more spice, grit and edge than the Provençal towns that surround it. A trade city since the time of ancient Greece, the port always seems to be on the brink of change, generating a certain energy that’s hard to find in the timeless and traditional countryside. In fact, sometimes it doesn't seem very French at all.Thanks to a multicultural population, the culinary scene (with seafood dishes and Michelin-starred restaurants galore) goes beyond the classic steak frites at bistros and brasseries. A 19th-century cathedral presides over the city and the working-class Le Panier district has winding streets flanked by fading facades, while Baroque edifices grace the commercial thoroughfare La Canebière, once compared to the Champs-Élysées.Marseille’s 2013 turn as the European Capital of Culture sprouted a crop of cultural venues, from striking museums to cutting-edge gallery spaces and thought-provoking concept shops that showcase local talent. The waterfront has been refurbished—and on sunny days, it’s the place for people- and boat-watching from restaurants famous for bouillabaisse or outdoor cafés serving glasses of rosé and pastis.
April 15 Monte Carlo The tiny and wealthy principality of Monaco, ruled by Prince Albert II, is dominated by the attractions in the resort quarter, Monte Carlo, with its casino, internationally acclaimed Opera House and the Triangle d’Or shopping area. The cliffs of Le Rocher de Monaco rise above the Mediterranean, the strategic stronghold of the Grimaldi family of Genoa who assumed power of this unstable region in 1297. The principality was a quiet backwater until the 1850s when trains put the sun-soaked destination within easy reach of affluent French and British travelers looking for an escape and relaxing things to do. Prince Charles III quickly understood what it would take to seduce the new tourists, and created a Belle Epoque resort featuring the mythic Casino de Monte-Carlo.Sitting on the coast like a precious gemstone, Monte Carlo and Monaco still draw an international jet-set crowd. The Palace commands from Monaco-ville, called Le Rocher by locals, and high-rises make the most of precious land with public elevators in lieu of sidewalks in this steep country. Superyachts fill the port, ultraluxury cars dominate the road and outrageous jewels sparkle under the night sky in an eternal promise that in some places, fairy tales really do come true.
April 16 Livorno, Italy The Renaissance-era port city of Livorno, Italy, gateway to Pisa, Florence and the rest of the attractions of Tuscany, is characterized by its solid 16th-century Fortezza and the charming canal network known as Venezia Nuova. It’s also famous for cacciucco, a spicy fish stew.To the north of Livorno, not far from the mouth of the river Arno, lies Pisa, an attractive university city best known for its Leaning Tower. Some 60 miles to the east, and also set on the Arno, is Florence, Tuscany's capital. The concentration of artistic treasures and cultural things to do in Tuscany, from museums and cloisters to bridges and chapels, is second to none—but there is lots more besides sightseeing in Florence. The food and drink culture in Florence takes in tripe stands and hole-in-the-wall wine bars as well as embracing gourmet restaurants and plenty of down-to-earth family-run trattorias. The shopping scene offers the designer stores of Via Tornabuoni and Via Roma, but there are plenty of quirky, independent boutiques too. And then there is Florence’s traditions of leather work, marbled paper, book-binding and furniture restoration. Explore the sights of the arty Oltrarno neighborhood for artisan workshops, great cafés, bars and restaurants and an authentically Florentine atmosphere.
April 17 Civitavecchia, Italy Rome, Italy is both a modern bustling city and an ancient open-air museum. You can walk in the footsteps of emperors, have coffee in Renaissance piazzas and see contemporary art all in one afternoon. Your sightseeing time in Rome begins at the nearby port of Civitavecchia, a seaside town with roots that stretch back to the Etruscan era. Take note of the Forte Michelangelo (both Bramante and Michelangelo had a hand in its design), and the lungomare, a lively stretch along the sea with beach clubs, bars and restaurants.Once in the Eternal City you can fill your day with museums, churches, archaeological sites, traditional trattorias, artisan shops and, of course, gelato. The Colosseum and the Vatican Museums are Rome's superstar attractions, but there are plenty of quieter gems to explore. For food lovers there are the markets in Campo de' Fiori or the slightly farther flung Testaccio. The hip neighborhood of Monti, next to the Colosseum, has a vibrant piazza scene and boutique shopping, while the Villa Borghese offers a green oasis with a view towards Saint Peter’s Basilica and the masterpiece-filled Galleria Borghese. Although Rome might not have been built in one day, you'll certainly be able to see the highlights and top things to do in Rome in 24 hours.
April 18 Cagliari, Sardinia Most sights are in Castello, the old town that climbs the hill behind Saint Remy's rampart. It's a rough grid of narrow streets and small squares with breathtaking views of sea, city and mountains. And while the old stones of Castello reflect millennia of history, Cagliari also has natural riches, with white beaches and flamingo-dotted blue lagoons nearby.
April 19 At Sea
April 20 Gibraltar Strategically located at the southern tip of Europe, facing Africa, Gibraltar offers a fascinating mix of cultures. With a history that includes Moorish, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and English influences (among others), this tiny, 6.7-square-kilometer British Overseas Territory is most famous for the giant Jurassic limestone rock soaring above the territory’s main commercial and residential areas. The Rock contains an abundance of history (military and otherwise), not to mention significant flora and fauna, and a labyrinth of caves and tunnels.Venture into Gibraltar’s densely populated streets for Spanish, British, Middle Eastern and Italian cuisine, as well as tax-free shopping on everything from luxury brands to handmade arts and crafts and artisanal edibles. Browsing and snacking around town is the perfect chance to hear Yanito, the singsong Spanish-English hybrid spoken here. There are also historic and holy places in Europa Point, and the Museum of Gibraltar provides an opportunity to learn about the region’s history and prehistory, as well as the migration habits of its birds and marine life.
April 21 Heulva, Spain This is the Spain you were promised: bright days, citrus trees laden with fruit, music that summons you to dance and then cry, palace walls hiding colorful interior gardens, even toreadors in tight pants and flamenco dancers in cascading skirts. And the food! The freshest possible seafood, the pork-based dishes (Ibérico pigs are fed acorns, resulting in a nutty, nearly irresistible taste)—even olives, with a sprinkle of orange rind and hot pepper—taste vivid, different. You’ll remember these flavors like you remember a first love.Huelva is a town with the worldly charm of a port and the added draw of stunning beaches. Columbus sailed from here and trade with the Americas brought great wealth. But Andalucía holds its own riches—including western Europe’s largest tract of undeveloped land, Doñana National Park.The treasures of Seville should not be missed, either. Moorish influence remains in the architecture, cuisine, music and bloodlines of the city. Stroll through the Alcázar, a stunning Moorish palace lost in time. The massive cathedral is magnificent, with five naves and an elegant bell tower, La Giralda. The old neighborhoods are still lively and residential, and the Metropol Parasol provides a surprising swoop of modern flair in the midst of age-old buildings. Your high expectations are welcome here. ¡Viva España!
April 22 Scenic Cruising
April 23 Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, is a wealth of sights, tastes and sounds. An ensemble of neighborhoods both old and new, it’s a city full of history, culture and tradition. After the devastating earthquake that struck in 1755, reconstruction began and the rebuilt Baixa area quickly became one of the city's busiest districts. From there, you can glance up at São Jorge Castle on one hill while in another direction you'll find Chiado, one of the trendiest and most elegant neighborhoods. The spirit of Lisbon can be encapsulated by the soulful musical genre fado which can best be enjoyed in the Alfama, the city's oldest neighborhood. Enter one of the area's old-school taverns and listen to passionate renditions of Fado Vadio, sung by amateurs, often after a round of aguardiente, an anise-flavored liquor.Visiting Lisbon, also known as the City of Seven Hills, requires some huffing and puffing but you can opt for touring around in a tuk tuk. Another fun option is to take one of the four elevators to access hilly neighborhoods: The Santa Justa vertical lift, an iron tower, can whisk you from downtown to Carmo for a visit to the historic Convento do Carmo or try the ultrasteep streetcar-type Elevador da Glória to get up to the botanical garden in no time.
April 25 Vigo, Spain Galicia feels a little different than the rest of Spain. It has its own language, Gallego, and its own milder and damper climate. During the 20th-century reign of General Francisco Franco (a Galician himself), the region was isolated for its contrary attitude (and for the smuggling operations along the coastline). During that time, national funds for roads, development and industrialization were withheld, effectively keeping Galicia poor and rustic. As a result, even many years later, the area’s economy is still based on fishing and agriculture (tourism is up-and-coming) and a visit here can feel like a step back to a less-globalized era. Vigo, with its large bay, has always been the workhorse of Galicia. The fishing fleet is still sizable, but is now joined in the water by more commercial shipping. The old neighborhoods down by the port are surrounded by increasingly modern districts and suburbs up the hill. Summer brings tourists from across Europe to enjoy Vigo’s beaches and to the spectacular Cíes Islands (Illas Cíes) offshore. This annual influx has modernized Vigo—cuisine, always considered a strong point, has become inventive; historic monuments on the avenues are now joined by a surprising amount of contemporary public art; international chains have appeared alongside the traditional shops by the port. The city proudly welcomes visitors to its slightly different corner of Spain, the beautiful Costa Verde.
April 26 Sea Day
April 27 Portland, UK Your visit to Portland and the English countryside of County Dorset will be rich in scenic beauty and centuries-old history. Visit the ancient village of Cerne Abbas and admire its beautiful 14th-century church and 16th-century houses; explore Sherbourne Castle, commissioned by Sir Walter Raleigh in 1594; and marvel at prehistoric Stonehenge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sample shore excursions: Historic Corfe Castle; Stonehenge & Salisbury; Stunning Sherborne Castle.
April 28 Le Havre, France When you arrive in Le Havre, France, opportunities to tour the attractions of the Normandy countryside await as soon as you leave your ship, while the sights of Paris are only 2.5 hours by high-speed train. Omaha Beach is 124 kilometers (77 miles) away and a visit there can be combined with one to the medieval town of Bayeux, home to a famous tapestry depicting the Norman Conquest.Closer to Le Havre is the Château du Breuil, a family-owned calvados distillery that gives tours and tastings in English (call ahead to check the times). Just across the Seine is the town of Honfleur, its Old Port lined with restaurants, shops and 300-year-old houses. The great medieval city of Rouen, where Joan of Arc was tried for heresy, is also easily reached by train (and deserves a full day of sightseeing and exploration). If you want to make the journey to Paris, the TGV leaves early in the morning and takes you from Le Havre to Gare du Nord in the heart of the city. From there, you can spend the morning shopping on the Champs-Élysées, then have lunch in a restaurant with a view of Notre Dame or the Trocadéro and stroll through the Jardin du Luxembourg or the Musée d’Orsay. A full day of things to do in Paris can include a dinner cruise on the Seine before catching a late-evening train back to Le Havre.
April 29 Rotterdam, The Netherlands (DISEMBARKATION DAY) The Netherlands’ second-largest city and Europe’s busiest port is home to some of the 20th and 21st centuries' most important architectural feats, which is particularly impressive when you consider that nearly all of Rotterdam was razed to the ground during World War II. Sometimes referred to as “Manhattan-on-the-Maas,” the city lives up to its reputation as a forward-looking metropolis with fascinating design and some of the Netherlands' finest museums and most trendy shops.Marvel at buildings by starchitects Rem Koolhaas and Norman Foster or get lost in the maze of gabled homes in historic Delfshaven, the point from which the Pilgrims set sail for the New World aboard the Speedwell in 1620. In the postwar years, Rotterdam has also become one of the most diverse cities on the continent as waves of migrants from elsewhere in Europe, North Africa and Turkey have come to work in the shipping industry, concentrated here thanks to the city’s location on the deltas of the Rhine and Maas rivers. With its sweeping harbor and massive Europoort, the city has quickly grown to become the largest port in all of Europe.