Adriatic cruise: A history lesson in every port

Suzanne Cadisch cruises through the centuries on a luxury sea voyage along the Adriatic coast

You can buy a pair of designer jeans in Emperor Diocletian's third-century retirement palace, at Split on the Croatian coast. This is where crumbling Roman walls house sleek boutiques and bars, and hundreds of people call a former imperial villa home. The Adriatic port city is a surreal meld of the ancient, the modern and all points between, making it a perfect metaphor for the cruise that brought me here.

A luxury voyage around this part of Europe is like a virtual theme-park ride through 20 centuries of culture. Each day delivers you to a different point in time for a spellbinding meander through its lifestyle, art and architecture. Then it's back to the ship for some very 21st-century pampering while you are transported, through the night, to the next era on the itinerary. It's like a journey in Doctor Who's Tardis: time travel made easy.

The odyssey begins in Rome, where I spend a couple of days hurtling between classical antiquity and the Renaissance before taking the hour-long train ride to the port of Civitavecchia to join the Celebrity Silhouette. The size of the crew alone is almost twice the population of the Vatican – 1,500 to look after 2,886 passengers at full complement, which is a ratio that spoils you rotten.

What I enjoy most about a big ship of this quality is the sheer variety of places to eat, drink, join in, or do nothing. Go to a party or curl up in a quiet corner; there are plenty of places to do both. It is blissful to be able to eat out in a different restaurant almost every night, take in a high-calibre show, and go on for a nightcap or to a nightclub without worrying about transport home.

First stop on the switchback ride through the centuries is Naples; alight here for first-century Pompeii, where Mount Vesuvius stopped the clock in AD79 and gave us a unique window on everyday Roman life. There is so much preserved here it is easy to conjure up the doomed inhabitants, and when the heavens open, sending torrents of water crashing through the streets, my question about the giant stepping stones placed across every road is answered vividly by the gods.

Thoughts of tunics and togas are soon elbowed aside by Silhouette's hi-tech restaurant QSine, where I use an iPad to order an ultra-modern meal of sushi lollipops and flashing LED shrimp cocktail. These cultural contrasts are dizzying.

The ship moves on via Sicily to Malta where I pass up a detour into prehistory (a visit to the Neolithic temples at Tarxien) to spend the day in Valletta, exploring the 16th- to 19th-century era of the Knights of St John and the besieged island's heroic stand during the Second World War. The capital's cathedral, a Baroque marvel decorated by the knights to rival the great churches of Rome, houses the largest Caravaggio in the world, a not-to-be-missed, dark and disturbing 19sq m of The Beheading of St John the Baptist.

Get your breath back at the nearby Caffe Cordina, a Maltese institution since 1837, where you sample homemade pastries inside under the ornate vaulted ceiling or outside under the gaze of Queen Victoria's statue and the pigeons perched on her stone head.

With only one sea day on this packed itinerary, the opportunities to dive deep into another country's history come thick and fast, but every port offers an alternative to full-on sightseeing. At Corfu and Bari I opt instead for a gentle paddle in present-day culture, strolling through the backstreets and finding cafés where the locals go for their ouzo or Campari soda.

But at breathtakingly beautiful Dubrovnik, Croatia, it is back to total immersion in the multilayered history of the place. Get on to the eighth-century walls encircling this medieval city as early as you can before the crowds or the heat diminish the experience. From the highest landward bastion, a terracotta sea of roof tiles ripples beneath you in the foreground with the brilliant blue of the Adriatic sparkling beyond. Later, it is shocking to see those same views rent by war in an exhibition of photographs taken just 20 years ago during the Serbian siege of Dubrovnik after the break-up of Yugoslavia.

Early next morning we sail into the fjord of Kotor Bay, Montenegro, the only point on the voyage where the giant ship is dwarfed by the stunning natural scenery. This medieval town, its narrow, crooked streets strung with laundry and dodgy-looking wiring, is also protected by ancient fortifications, but here they snake for miles up the mountainside and some stretches are in a ruinous state of repair. The first stage is relatively easy going, though, and the view is well worth it.

Day 10 brings us to Split where, after roaming the city-in-a-Roman-palace, I wander off the tourist trail and stumble on modern-day Split at play. Packed Bacvice Beach looks like a poster for a 1970s European holiday resort, with local families enjoying picnics on the sand and ball games in the shallows – and rather too many men in unfeasibly tiny swimming trunks.

Back in Italy the next day, Ravenna's fifth- and sixth-century mosaics are simply dazzling. It is claimed that Cole Porter, who honeymooned here, was inspired to write "Night and Day" by the gorgeous blue and gold-starred cupola of the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. For the "no mo' duomo" crowd – a phrase coined by one group of American cruisers after a particularly church-heavy sightseeing day – Ravenna is also the gateway to the spanking new Enzo Ferrari museum at Modena.

There is one last dash across the Adriatic to call in at Koper, Slovenia, before final docking in Venice for another cultural banquet, dominated by the Byzantine basilica of St Mark's and the glorious Gothic Doge's Palace. Before leaving home I had paid the princely sum of €1 online to secure timed entry to St Mark's and jump the queue. What a good decision that was.

Fitting this much time travel into less than a fortnight would be exhausting, if not impossible, with any other mode of transport, but on a cruise ship such as the Celebrity Silhouette it is exhilarating. Perhaps Doctor Who should reconsider his undeniably spacious but horribly spartan police box.

Travel essentials

Celebrity Cruises (0845 456 0523; celebritycruises.co.uk) offers a 13-night Adriatic fly/cruise on Celebrity Silhouette, departing 26 June, from £1,508 per person, based on two sharing an inside stateroom. The price includes flights from Gatwick to Venice and return from Rome, plus transfers and meals.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Life and Style
Cooked up: reducing dietary animal fat might not be as healthy as government advice has led millions of people to believe
healthA look at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
Sport
Angel Di Maria poses with Louis van Gaal after signing for Manchester United
sport
News
peopleGerman paper published pictures of 18-month-old daughter
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
'A voice untroubled by time': Kate Bush
musicKate Bush set to re-enter album charts after first conerts in 35 years
Life and Style
tech
News
people
Voices
voices
Sport
Roger Federer is greeted by Michael Jordan following his victory over Marinko Matosevic
tennisRoger Federer gets Michael Jordan's applause following tweener shot in win over Marinko Matosevic
News
peopleJustin Bieber accuses paparazzi of acting 'recklessly' after car crash
Arts and Entertainment
Oppressive atmosphere: the cast of 'Tyrant'
tvIntroducing Tyrant, one of the most hotly anticipated dramas of the year
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
News
Ukrainian Leonid Stadnik, 37, 2.59 meter (8,5 feet) tall, the world's tallest living man, waves as he poses for the media by the Chevrolet Tacuma car presented to him by President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko in Kiev on March 24, 2008.
newsPeasant farmer towered at almost 8'5'' - but shunned the limelight
News
Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in ‘The Front Page’, using an old tech typewriter
media
Life and Style
Could a robot sheepdog find itself working at Skipton Auction Mart?
techModel would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

    Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

    A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
    Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

    The science of herding is cracked

    Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
    Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

    This tyrant doesn’t rule

    It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?
    Rachael Lander interview: From strung out to playing strings

    From strung out to playing strings

    Award-winning cellist Rachael Lander’s career was almost destroyed by the alcohol she drank to fight stage fright. Now she’s playing with Elbow and Ellie Goulding
    The science of saturated fat: A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    A big fat surprise about nutrition?

    The science linking saturated fats to heart disease and other health issues has never been sound. Nina Teicholz looks at how governments started advising incorrectly on diets
    Emmys 2014 review: Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars

    Can they genuinely compete with the Oscars?

    The recent Emmy Awards are certainly glamorous, but they can't beat their movie cousins
    On the road to nowhere: A Routemaster trip to remember

    On the road to nowhere

    A Routemaster trip to remember
    Hotel India: Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind

    Hotel India

    Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace leaves its darker days behind
    10 best pencil cases

    Back to school: 10 best pencil cases

    Whether it’s their first day at school, uni or a new project, treat the student in your life to some smart stationery
    Arsenal vs Besiktas Champions League qualifier: Gunners know battle with Turks is a season-defining fixture

    Arsenal know battle with Besiktas is a season-defining fixture

    Arsene Wenger admits his below-strength side will have to improve on last week’s show to pass tough test
    Pete Jenson: Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought

    Pete Jenson: A Different League

    Athletic Bilbao’s locals-only transfer policy shows success does not need to be bought
    This guitar riff has been voted greatest of all time

    The Greatest Guitar Riff of all time

    Whole Lotta Votes from Radio 2 listeners
    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Britain’s superstar ballerina

    Alicia Markova danced... every night of the week and twice on Saturdays
    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    Berlin's Furrie invasion

    2000 fans attended Eurofeurence
    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    ‘It was a tidal wave of terror’

    Driven to the edge by postpartum psychosis