In alliance with Smithsonian Journeys.
This cruise is part of a collection of PONANT voyages that are specially-tailored for English-speaking travelers who want to engage with the world. In addition to the usual elements of the PONANT experience, the listed price for these voyages includes transfers to and from the ship, talks and discussions aboard ship by world class experts, and a shore excursion or activity in each port of call that encourages guests to embrace the sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of the local environment and culture.
This voyage in the heart of the Mediterranean explores four islands that, despite their differences, share a history of successive waves of civilizations that have washed over them from prehistoric times to the present. Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Byzantines, French, and Italians—all have left their mark on the language, art, architecture, and cuisine of Elba, Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily.
From Nice, France, your discovery of these very special islands begins in Portoferraio, the main harbor of the island of Elba. Most famous as the site of Napoleon Bonaparte’s exile in 1814-15, Portoferraio was founded by the Medicis in the 16th century. A visit to Villa San Martino, Napoleon’s summer residence during exile, is followed by a visit to the charming village of Porto Azzurro and a wine tasting and sampling of Tuscan mezze at a local vineyard.
You will want to be on deck as your ship navigates the narrow waterway that leads to Bonifacio, perched high on cliffs on Corsica’s southern coast. Board a mini-train to transport you to the oldest part of the city, where you can stroll through winding medieval lanes of brightly colored houses and admire their fine Gothic architecture. Or you may prefer to explore the small archipelago of the Lavezzi Islands, a nature reserve famous for the Grotte du Sdragonatu (Dragon’s Cave) accessible only by sea.
Cagliari, Sardinia’s capital, is your gateway to the archaeological site of Nora. Founded by Phoenicians in the 8th century BC, it was subsequently taken over by Carthaginians, then by Romans. Explore the remains of Carthaginian warehouses, buildings from the time of the Roman Republic, a Carthaginian-Roman temple, large baths with splendid mosaics, and a theater, almost intact, dating to the time of the Empire.
Then, spend three days on the largest Mediterranean Island on your voyage, Sicily, as you visit the cities of Palermo, Taormina, and Syracuse. Palermo, Sicily’s capital, was founded by the Phoenicians in 827 BC and became one of Europe’s greatest cities in the 12th century, when the Normans took control. Here you may combine Roger II’s Cappella Palatina, featuring dazzling mosaics and magnificent inlaid marble floors and walls, with a drive to nearby Monreale to explore its famed Norman cathedral. Or you may choose to focus on Palermo’s famous markets and street food, or decide to travel along the coast to the resort town of Cefalù.
The beautiful resort town of Taormina, perched high on a cliff overlooking the Ionian Sea, is home to a stunning Greek theater, an Odeon from Roman times, buildings blending Arab and Norman cultures, and villas built by European aristocracy in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is also a gateway to Mt. Etna and the vineyards that thrive in the rich volcanic soils of its slopes.
In Syracuse, your final port of call on the island and a town that once rivalled Athens as one of the most powerful cities of the ancient world, you may choose to explore the Roman Amphitheater of Augustus and the 15,000 seat Greek theater, or travel to nearby Noto, a Baroque World Heritage site, now rebuilt following a devastating earthquake in 1990. Also join a walking tour of Ortygia, Syracuse’s old town.
Your voyage ends in Valletta, Malta.