A Mediterranean cruise with a twirl in every port: A fabulous European voyage to Ephesus, Nice, Sicily, Santorini and beyond

  • The luxurious Oceania Riviera holds 1,200 passengers for 14-day cruises
  • Its voyages around the Med take in places as diverse as Ephesus and Nice
  • The writer caught sight of priceless pieces by Picasso in St-Paul-de-Vence 

Sitting in the amphitheatre at Ephesus on the Turkish coast, where 24,000 Romans once roared on the gladiators, I learn how rock star Sting almost brought the house down.

'Sting gave a show here that was so loud the vibrations caused some of the ruins to collapse and we had to get people out quickly,' says Roza, our guide. 'Now all concerts have been forbidden.'

For Roman ruins, only Pompeii rivals Ephesus. The city was abandoned because of the plague, leaving it hidden under silt for 2,000 years. 'Good,' says Roza. 'Or it would be apartments now.'

Italian perfection on every corner: The cruise stopped in the ever-elegant Amalfi Coast town of Positano

Italian perfection on every corner: The cruise stopped in the ever-elegant Amalfi Coast town of Positano

It was to Ephesus that St John brought the Virgin Mary to live in safety after Christ's Crucifixion. The house, just a ten-minute coach ride away, is now a church.

Ephesus was the first excursion for 1,200 passengers on Oceania's Riviera cruise.

It is surreal to step from a glamorous liner and be immersed in legend-drenched antiquity, but this is the life of the modern cruise traveller.

For many on this Mediterranean voyage, calling at eight ports on the way to Spain, with excursions to Florence and Rome and a flutter on the tables at Monte Carlo, the ship is the destination.

While there are daily shore tours, many prefer to remain on board and be pampered. The Riviera has an art deco staircase, bedrooms designed by Ralph Lauren and eight restaurants.

Oceania gives each passenger £220 to spend on board, but it disappears on a 14-day cruise with wine at £12 a glass.

I take the coach when we dock at Nice for St-Paul-de-Vence.

At the celebrated La Colombe d'Or restaurant the walls are hung with £50million worth of impressionist art. Picasso, Dufy and Matisse ate here as struggling artists and paid for meals with paintings.

A kindly waiter allows us a peep.

The ship's artist-in-residence Graham Denison looks at the treasure trove and gasps: 'No one's guarding it. Anyone could just take them.'

Graham, from Poole, Dorset, who holds daily classes, has just painted portraits of Prince William and Kate.

There are culinary classes for those missing The Great British Bake Off, rumba lessons for Strictly addicts and musicals.

Most of the passengers are from the U.S., but Margaret and Robert Seer, a former policeman and his wife from Staines, Surrey, have splashed out to celebrate his retirement.

Room to swing a multitude of cats: The Oceania Riviera can hold up to 1,200 passengers in style

Room to swing a multitude of cats: The Oceania Riviera can hold up to 1,200 passengers in style

They love cruising so much they are already planning next year's trip. They join me on deck when we sail into Santorini, Greece. Beautiful, yet unsettling. Gaunt cliffs of black, purple and brown rise 3,400ft above a sea 1,800 ft deep.

Our anchorage is in the sunken heart of a volcano that erupted 3,500 years ago and filled with an onrush of water, drowning the nearby town, which inspired Plato's legend of the Lost City of Atlantis.

The clifftop is decorated with conical white houses and blue domed churches, spilling like icy cornices down the rock. The Americans have a limited tolerance for landscapes, but there is a rush to join the Land Of The Godfather excursion in Sicily.

We wind by coach to the hilltop village of Savoca, made famous in Godfather Part II, when Al Pacino, as Michael Corleone, pushes aside the beaded curtain of Bar Vitelli and sets eyes on the beautiful Apollonia. Here I am invited to hold a replica of the shotgun Pacino carried in the film.

At nightfall we sail for Positano, a cinematic landscape of pink and yellow villas, once a celebrity playground. Richard Burton and Liz Taylor camped at the San Pietro hotel where the owner fed penguins on the terrace.

By journey's end I have spent my freebie money mainly on souvenirs in Greece, proving the truth of the adage - beware of Greeks bearing gifts.

Travel Facts: Plan your own voyage around Europe 

Oceania Cruises (0845 505 1920, www.oceaniacruises.com) offers seven-night Mediterranean voyages on the Riviera from £1,460 per person - including return UK flights and all meals.



No comments have so far been submitted. Why not be the first to send us your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

By posting your comment you agree to our house rules.

Who is this week's top commenter? Find out now