For all round efficient, safe touring, all well organised to interesting, and inaccessible or difficult places - Captain's Choice can't be bettered.
Joan Lawrence - Ancient & Holy Lands, 2016
We say goodbye to Australia and board our flight, headed for the Dalmatian Coast of the Adriatic Sea, and its thousand shades of green and blue.
Our flight lands in Dubrovnik, Croatia where we catch a connecting flight to Tivat in Montenegro. From Tivat we drive to Kotor, where our privately chartered ship, Princess Eleganza awaits us. After we have checked in to our cabins, we celebrate our journey with welcome drinks and a Mediterranean dinner made of the freshest regional produce.
We leave our ship docked in Kotor and take a trip to Rijeka Crnojevića, a town on the River Crnojević. The confluence of the river with Lake Shkodër is exceedingly pretty, and we stop here for photos. A scenic boat ride along the western shore of the lake brings us to Virpazar, where we have lunch in a traditional Montenegrin restaurant and sample the local wines. We return to Kotor and explore the town on foot. This evening, choose from a handpicked list of the city’s best restaurants.
Today, we set sail for the Pearl of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik. Old stone buildings with red tile roofs greet us as we arrive in what used to be the hub for Croatia’s trading fleet in the 15th and 16th centuries. We approach the city in the customary way - through the Pile Gate, across the drawbridge and onto the Stradun, the main street in Dubrovnik’s medieval Old Town. Within the World Heritage-listed city, marvel at the Gothic and Romanesque architecture of the Rector’s Palace, Sponza Palace and the Dominican and Franciscan monasteries.
Our ship hugs the Dalmatian Coast, heading north towards Korčula Island, where Marco Polo was reportedly born. The Old Town is another charming medieval village built of stone, where narrow streets and public squares are lined with 15th and 16th century palaces of merchants and nobles, including that of former Venetian governors. This evening, choose any of Korčula’s charming restaurants for dinner. We remain moored in the port for a night.
The island of Hvar is one of the sunniest places in Croatia. One of its most atmospheric too. Thirteenth century city walls meet Gothic palaces and a dizzying selection of restaurants and bars. Our ship docks in Stari Grad, where a short coach ride places us in the middle of Hvar Town. Explore the sights - St Stephen’s Cathedral, its large, adjoining square, and the Franciscan Monastery. We also visit the Benedictine Convent to witness a tradition unique to the nuns who live there. For hundreds of years, these nuns have used aloe leaves to make the most stunning, intricate lace. The craft is so exceptional that it is listed by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. We return to the ship for dinner, but because we are docked overnight in Stari Grad, you may head to shore for a moonlit stroll.
Split is one of those exuberant places where history is alive, kicking and very much part of daily life. It was founded by the Greeks in the 3rd century BC. Then, in AD 293, Emperor Diocletian, who was born nearby, chose Split as the site of his retirement palace and fortress. After the fall of Rome two hundred years later, the palace was abandoned, but only for a while. Residents of Split moved in, building new spaces that incorporated the existing palace walls. The palace makes up most of Split’s Old Town - when you walk through the narrow alleyways of town, you are literally walking in Diocletian’s hallways. Today, you will still find numerous homes, shops and cafés there. For dinner, choose from any of the restaurants that line the glittering Riva Promenade.
While we have been spending time on the coast, Croatia’s inland attractions are just as visually stunning. Today, we visit Krka National Park, which encompasses both banks of the River Krka. It is a place of spectacular gorges, deep turquoise water and waterfalls - Roški Slap (slap means waterfall in Croatian) tumbles 46 metres over 17 limestone steps. Once we are back on the ship, we cruise to Šibenik, where the River Krka meets the sea. This town, unlike Split, was founded by Croats. We spend the early evening strolling through its streets.
People have lived in the city of Zadar continuously since the late Stone Age. It has been conquered, burned or occupied by the Romans, Avars, Byzantine Empire, Franks, Venetians, Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires. All left traces of their rule via architecture. In contrast to the violent takeovers, the city is one of the prettiest in Dalmatia. After docking in Zadar, we head to Zrmanja Gorge. At the dramatic entrance to the gorge, a motor launch takes us an hour upriver to Obrovac for lunch, where we sample authentic Croatian cuisine, then return to Zadar. This evening, pick from Zadar’s best restaurants for dinner.
We spend the morning walking the streets of Zadar, then sail for Rab, a picture-perfect medieval town set on an island with olive groves and grapevines. The Old Town features four elegant Romanesque bell towers and stone streets. Soak in the Mediterranean air and dine at any of Rab’s atmospheric restaurants tonight.
This morning, our ship takes us to Opatija, once a seaside retreat for the elite of the Austro-Hungarian empire, who built lavish Belle Époque villas here in the late 1890s. Spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the town on your own, then return to the ship for a farewell dinner. Tomorrow, we leave our ship, headed for Italy, on the other side of the Adriatic Sea.
We disembark Princess Eleganza and drive to the city of canals where we’ll stay three nights at Hotel Danieli. Venice never fails to charm. It is a rare destination that manages to make decay a thing of beauty. Here palazzi, in a resplendent mix of Gothic, Byzantine and Moorish styles, continue looking majestic even with their ground floors flooded.
By now we will have discovered why the iconic Hotel Danieli was adored by the classic composers, authors and poets, having played host to Goethe, Wagner, Dickens and Byron. This evening, we dine in our hotel, taking full advantage of its opulent interiors.
Today, take a guided walk that includes the city’s most delightful sights. You may also choose to explore the city on your own. A gondola ride is a classic Venetian experience. As is devoting a couple of leisurely hours to St Mark’s Basilica. Or visit the bustling Rialto Market, where Venetians have bought their fresh produce for seven centuries. At the beautifully restored Palazzo Bru Zane this evening, we have the privilege of watching a private piano concert.
We bid the Hotel Danieli goodbye this morning. A boat whisks us directly from the hotel to Santa Lucia Station on the Grand Canal where we join the Golden Eagle Danube Express train and head west along the Po River to Cremorna. The town is often overlooked by tourists, which is to our benefit. Observe the true rhythms of small town northern Italy as you walk its 13th century piazza. Cremorna was and still is home to numerous stringed instrument makers. Amongst them, the Stradivari family, who crafted the world’s best violins, violas and cellos. Only 650 of these instruments survive today. Catch a rare glimpse of one, the 1727 Stradivarius violin called Vesuvius, here at the Stradivari Museum.
Return to the train for a true Italian lunch as we travel to Verona. The city is known as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. See Juliet’s balcony and other major sights on a walking tour. This evening, our private dinner is served in the stunningly beautiful town of Sirmione overlooking Lake Garda.
Bologna has several nicknames. La Grassa (the fat one), La Dotta (the educated one) and La Rossa (the red one). La Grassa because this is where bolognese sauce was created. La Dotta for the University of Bologna, founded in 1088, which we visit. And La Rossa for the colour of its red tile roofs, which we view from the top of Torre Prendiparte, an ancient tower. Here we toast our climb and the breathtaking sight with a glass of prosecco.
The Golden Eagle takes us to Rimini, where you may spend your afternoon on one of these Your World experiences.
We dine in San Marino tonight, where we sample their famous Torta Tre Monti, the Cake of the Three Towers.
Today, our train hugs the Adriatic coast all the way south to Bari. You’ll have a few hours to simply gaze out the window and permanently fix the views in your memory. Bari’s old town welcomes us with narrow streets and priceless glimpses into its residents’ lives. Don’t be surprised to walk past womenfolk making orecchiette pasta in the lanes outside their homes. We also visit the 12th century Castello Svevo, which hosted Isabella of Aragon during the Renaissance. As we are in the Italian south, we stop at a local olive oil mill to taste the unrivalled authenticity of their product. This evening, the Golden Eagle crosses the peninsula as we dine.
In AD 79, Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying Herculaneum, Pompeii and many of its inhabitants under tonnes of ash. Since 1748, visitors have come to see the extraordinarily preserved buildings and casts of the volcanic eruption’s victims. Besides visiting the major sights, we are treated to a rare behind-the-scenes tour of ongoing conservation work. Lunch is at the Michelin-starred President, at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. Here, we savour wine of the Campania region and the distinctive piennolo tomato. It only grows in the Vesuvius region, and enjoys a protected status not unlike certain wine grapes.
The second half of the day is spent travelling through the scenic splendour of the Parco Nazionale del Cilento, Vallo di Diano e Alburni. Craggy mountains and thick green forests meet crystal clear rivers and pristine beaches. We arrive at the ‘toe’ of Italy, Villa San Giovanni and spend the night here.
As we enjoy breakfast on board, the Golden Eagle crosses the narrow Strait of Messina between the Italian mainland and Sicily via a unique train ferry, one of just a handful in the world. A short ride later, we arrive in Palermo, a city that is over 2,700 years old. Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architecture jostle for space while Arab and Norman influences are both evident. We tour the city on foot, ending with an aperitif and private concert at the Teatro Massimo, built in 1897 and renowned for its perfect acoustics.
In the afternoon, explore more of the city on your own or visit Corleone, the town infamous for producing many Mafia bosses, including the fictional Vito Corleone of Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.
Agrigento is home to the largest and best-preserved ancient Greek buildings outside of Greece. We tour the World Heritage-listed Valle dei Templi, a breathtaking sacred area where seven monumental Doric-style temples were built between the 6th and 5th centuries BC.
After lunch, our train takes us to Ragusa, an old town clinging to the hill side. Grey stone houses, Baroque palazzi and steep old roads make us reach for our cameras. At a nearby hotel, we watch a cooking demonstration focussed on the area’s proudly local cuisine. This evening, aboard the Golden Eagle, we travel on to Syracuse.
Once upon a time, Syracuse was a larger, more vibrant town than Athens. Cicero even wrote that it was the most beautiful city in Ancient Greece. It was occupied for a time by the Vandals and the Ostrogoths. And in AD 535, was the first part of Italy that the Byzantine Empire managed to wrest back from the Ostrogoths. Ancient Syracuse was centred on the island of Ortigia, and we view its delights from the water on a leisurely cruise.
The Golden Eagle then takes us inland to Caltagirone, a hilltop town famed, since the 10th century, for its majolica and terracotta wares. We also tour the 4th century Villa Romana del Casale, which was vividly decorated with what is now the biggest and most interesting collection of Roman mosaics worldwide. This evening, the creative Sicilian cuisine of Al Fogher invites us to indulge.
The hilly landscapes of Sicily roll by as we travel to Catania, set picturesquely and dangerously at the foot of Mt Etna. It has been destroyed several times by earthquakes and eruptions from the volcano. Yet, there is much architecture of note to see. The city is peppered with grand piazzas and ornate churches, and you will have the chance to explore it on your own. Later, we are scheduled for a Sicilian pastry-making class at the Società Storica Catanese, where we learn to make iconic local sweets like the cannoli. We then travel on to Taormina, where we check in to the Hotel San Domenico Palace for two nights. The building was once a Dominican monastery, and boasts views of Mt Etna and Taormina Bay.
Taormina sits on a hill that is the last point of a mountain range, overlooking the Ionian Sea. It is the premier holiday town on Sicily and has a distinctly relaxed air. Our personal volcanologist takes us on a tour of the Mt Etna Museum, then onto the mountain itself. There, we discover the Sicilian palmento – a cellar, built in black lava, meant for crushing grapes and making wine. At our palmento, we taste a range of local wines, then go above ground to enjoy lunch among the vines. After lunch, we spend the afternoon relaxing with Taormina’s ancient Greek theatre as our backdrop. In the evening, we gather at our hotel for dinner and to toast the end of a great journey.
Reluctantly, we leave today for the airport, where we fly to Rome and then onwards to Australia. As we travel home, we contemplate the region’s history and natural beauty, unable to decide which is more impressive.
Sometimes travelling can be a chore, distracting you from the fascinating places you are in. That’s why everything mundane has been moved behind the scenes. You will never have to carry a map, luggage, small change for tips or bargain for a taxi fare.
There are no hidden costs. Everything is included – flights and other travel arrangements, luxurious accommodation, travel insurance, all dining and drinks, and sightseeing trips. Even the Your World experiences within your itinerary and internet access when available.
Welcome to your homes away from home. Each one has a certain something that sets it apart from every other residence at its location. Whether for its history, cultural significance or natural setting, we’ve selected only the very best.
On Riva degli Schiavoni, just steps from the Bridge of Sighs, this hotel dominates the lagoon in palatial splendor. The monuments of nearby St Mark’s Square pale in comparison to the precious works of art, rooftop terrace views and exquisite Venetian interiors. All of which make this stay exceptional in every way.
Our yacht features a promenade deck and sun deck so you can make the most of the Dalmatian coastline. And when the weather permits, dining happens al fresco, featuring the most luscious and freshest of Mediterranean produce.
For an exploration of Italy, there is no more well-appointed mode of travel than the Golden Eagle. Large picture windows show off the Italian countryside, while plush furnishings and elegant wood panelling encourages utter relaxation. In the evenings, our resident pianist entertains us in the Bar Lounge Car.
Fares are based on a Heritage Cabin aboard Golden Eagle Danube Express and Category 1 Suite aboard MS Princess Eleganza. Per Person Twin Share
Fares include Etihad flights from Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. Prices from other cities available on request.
Land Only Guests join the tour in Kotor for dinner on Day 2 and depart Taormina after breakfast on Day 24.
Princess Eleganza Suite Upgrades per person, twin share
Category 2 $450
Category 3 $800
Category 4 $1,500
Golden Eagle Suite Upgrades per person, twin share
Deluxe Suite $10,150
Superior Deluxe $15,500
Solo Suite Supplements per person
Heritage and Category 5 $9,300
Deluxe and Category 5 $20,800
Sup. Deluxe and Category 5 $29,800
Includes supplements for single hotel rooms. Solo availability at the above prices are limited.