Mediterranean cruise

The Star Legend, a Windstar cruise ship, docks in Nice, France. Pam LeBlanc photo

Count me out for big ship cruises. Spending time with 3,000 other people on a boat for a week sounds like getting locked in a shopping mall and pushed out to sea. But small boats? I’m a convert. Especially if you travel during the off season, like I did, when I booked a week-long Mediterranean cruise with Windstar.

Our ship, the 300-passenger Star Legend, was about half full. We departed from Civitavecchia, on the outskirts of Rome, and sailed to Barcelona, making stops in Livorno, Italy; Nice, France; and Marseille, France.

Mediterranean cruise

A crowd forms around Michelangelo’s sculpture David in Florence. Pam LeBlanc photo

Here are my 10 favorite moments…

  1. Seeing Michelangelo’s sculpture, David. I had no idea that walking around a corner and seeing that 17-foot sculpted body would affect me the way it did. He’s beautiful. Florence is just an hour’s drive from Livorno, Italy, so we booked an “on your own” excursion to the art-filled city on a bus with other ship passengers. (You can save money by hopping a train on your own.) We didn’t have reservations but had no trouble getting a ticket to the Accademia Gallery, where the statue is located, the same day. (Don’t try this in the summer; book online in advance.)
Mediterranean cruise

Pam LeBlanc sits on the promenade in Nice. Chris LeBlanc photo

2. Strolling the promenade in Nice, France. This wide pedestrian walkway hugs the stone-covered beach, and it’s the best place along the Mediterranean to people watch. You’ll see cyclists, strollers, lovers, runners and more all taking in the ocean views or stopping for a drink at one of the adjacent bars. We took a dip in the ocean, which was chilly in March. And that stony beach is not for people with sensitive toes!

3. Taking in a flamenco show in Barcelona. The historic Palau de la Musica Catalana, with its ornate balconies and elaborate central skylight, makes the perfect setting for a performance of Spain’s traditional, foot stomping dance. It made me want to don a tight, ruffly dress and stamp the night away.

Mediterranean cruise

At a market in Barcelona, customers inspect the sea urchin. Pam LeBlanc photo

4. Wandering the market in Barcelona. You can find anything from fresh scorpionfish to empanadas and skewers holding a spiral of fried potatoes at the Mercat de la Boqueria, on Las Ramblas in Barcelona. Gird your loins – it’s crowded, noisy and tons of fun. We sampled raw sea urchin and oysters, sipped wine, and sampled bruschetta and ceviche.

5. Visiting the Picasso Museum in Barcelona. When I think of Picasso, I think of portraits of people with their facial features rearranged. The museum has some of that, but it’s heavy on Picasso’s early stuff, which is much more realistic. In all, it holds more than 4,000 works, and it’s all displayed in a series of interconnected historic buildings.

Mediterranean cruise

Chris LeBlanc strolls the narrow streets of Nice, France. Pam LeBlanc photo

6. Roaming the narrow streets of Nice. Get out and ramble, without a plan or agenda. You’ll stumble into the most wonderful places.

7. Sampling the gelato. I aimed for two servings a day, and sampled an array of flavors, from Fior di crema (sweet cream) to coconut. Yum.

Mediterranean cruise

Vendors sell flowers at the market in Nice. Pam LeBlanc phot

8. Learning about cave paintings at the Cosquer Cave museum in Marseille. In 1985, a diver discovered paintings in a partially submerged cave 120 feet underneath the surface of the ocean. Tourists can’t get to that site, which is slowly filling with more water, but they can ride a cart through a replica of the cave at Cosquer Mediterranee, which opened in 2022. Most surprising? The cave paintings include depictions of penguins.

9. Climbing Castle Hill in Nice. After chugging up a few hundred steps, you can take in views of the beachfront promenade far below, the harbor, and a sea of red tiled rooftops. You’ll also find the ruins of an ancient castle and a man-made waterfall.

Mediterranean cruise

Chris LeBlanc enjoys a dip in the hot tub during a Windstar cruise in the Mediterranean. Pam LeBlanc photo

10. Soaking in the hot tub on the bow of the Star Legend, our cruise ship, while we were docked in the harbor at Nice. Nobody else seemed to know about the tub, which we had to ourselves as we sipped adult beverages and watched passing sailboats.


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I’m Pam LeBlanc. Follow my blog to keep up with the best in outdoor travel and adventure. Thanks for visiting my site.

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