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Lovely Ports Less Visited...

Posted by Amy Clyde on 6/11/2015
Posted in: Tauck’s Travelogue
Tags: Europe, Italy, Small Ship Cruising, Travel, Venice

introshipOne of my great pleasures in life is discovering a secret gem – finding a treasure that’s new to me and known to just a lucky few. An out-of-the-way café where the food is delicious... an inviting trail I’ve never seen before... a good writer everyone isn’t talking about yet... and always, always places off the typical tourist radar that knock my socks off.  

It might be my primitive hunting instinct, revamped for the modern age, forever searching for fresh mental food. Maybe I never got over my Nancy Drew-inspired sleuthing obsession and still see the world as a string of mysteries to investigate. Or it could be I like to know about cool things off the beaten path for bragging rights. Yep, there’s probably a lot of that in it.

And so, inevitably, I was drawn to Corsica. As soon as I arrived, it was clear this mountainous, vineyard-rich island wasn’t on everyone else’s list; it felt remote and not overrun – very Corsican, distinct from the rest of Europe, steeped in tradition, not trendy. My week in Corsica gave me a real getaway – I strolled cobblestone streets and local markets where no one spoke English and everyone was kind about my French… dined on fresh seafood and sipped local wines… went swimming off beautiful beaches… and learned everything I ever wanted to know about Napoleon.

corsica2By far the best way to catch your first sight of Corsica is to sail into the port of Bonifacio on a small ship cruise. Bonifacio is one of the most dramatic harbours in the Mediterranean; perched on the edge of limestone cliffs, its medieval citadel and sprawling old town look like they’re about to tumble into the water. Yachts line the harbor, a crisp white fleet standing out against a rocky backdrop and green hills. Fortunately, big ships aren’t able to enter the port so they won’t obscure the view as you approach; even better, there are no big-ship big crowds to cramp your style as you explore ashore.

When you set foot on land, go up to the old town, walk its maze of cobbled streets, enjoy the views out to sea from the bluff above the harbor, and stop in one of the excellent restaurants to sample the local vin and cuisine; wild boar – sanglier – is an island specialty. Then have some more wine; Corsicans are rather proud of it. (Treasures of the Mediterranean)

grimseyislandRead on to learn about a few more coastal gems to put on your small ship cruise destination list – extraordinary places that might make you, too, feel like you’ve stumbled on buried treasure…

A world away from Bonifacio, cruise through Iceland to tiny Grímsey Island (pop. 86), to check off a bucket list item and earn a few bragging rights of your own; Grímsey – green and flat with cliffs that plunge abruptly to the sea – straddles the Arctic Circle line and is just the right place to step across it, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. On this northernmost of the inhabited Icelandic islands, you might spot puffins and Arctic terns, who share their home with hardy fishermen. (Iceland: Land of Fire & Ice)

croatiaThe Croatian islands of Hvar and Korcula, in the Adriatic Sea, are better known, but, because they can’t be reached by large ships either, they still feel like a bit of a secret. Korcula, in particular, is dotted with peaceful villages untouched by time. Hvar is more glamorous. Prized for centuries for their fertile land and strategic locations along the Adriatic’s trade routes, the two islands have been inhabited or claimed by everyone from Neolithic peoples to the ancient Romans and Greeks, imperial Venice, and the Habsburgs. Each invader has left its architectural and cultural marks.

Must-sees in Hvar include the old town, where you’ll find historic St. Stephen’s Cathedral and the main square. Walk up to Spanjol Fortress, towering above the town; the views are worth the climb, and you can visit the dungeon. Breathe in the scent of lavender, growing on the hillsides of Hvar like purple wildfire, and be sure to taste the olives and wines the island is known for. Korcula has a rich artistic tradition to discover – don’t miss its celebrated Moreska sword dancing, unique to the island and performed in the old town since the 17th century. (Treasures of the Aegean)

petersburgKnown locally as “Little Norway,” picturesque Petersburg, Alaska still shows the influence of its first European settlers, Norwegian fishermen. The bustling waterfront is lined with working fishing boats and faded boathouses, and you can’t go too long without spotting an eagle. In old Petersburg, many of the tidy wooden houses and businesses in Sing Lee Alley are painted with Norwegian rosemaling, a decorative folk art from the 18th century. Much of the old street is built on pilings over Hammer Slough, including the Sons of Norway Lodge, on the National Register of Historic Places. As you explore, have your camera ready. (Alaska's Inside Passage)

If Alaska sounds a bit chilly, picture yourself swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, and diving in a marine preserve where the water is 80 degrees, and nature evolved for thousands of years with virtually no human interference until 2005. Coiba National Park, in the Gulf of Chiriquí off the Pacific coast of Panama, is that place – a secluded archipelago of 39 pristine islands opened in recent years to small groups of visitors only after the infamous, isolated penal colony on the largest island, Isla Coiba, was shuttered. (Manuel Noriega interrogated political detainees here. Many prisoners simply disappeared.) coiba

Today the area’s remarkably bio-diverse jungles and turquoise waters are a UNESCO World Heritage Site – offering the largest coral reef in the eastern Pacific; a Technicolor world of underwater creatures; twenty species of whales and dolphins; and rare tropical birds, like the scarlet macaw and the crested eagle – a boon for scientists and paradise-seekers alike. (The Panama Canal & Costa Rica

If the sea less travelled appeals to you too, and you’re ready to explore tucked-away harbours and memorable ports of call, you might want to check out our full collection of small ship cruises. Tauck expeditionary ships will take you on adventures in Antarctica and the Galápagos Islands. Our yachts and sailing vessels voyage throughout Europe, Asia, Australia, and Alaska. It’s an embarrassment of riches, and I can’t decide which treasure I want to discover next. What about you?

 

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