Cruises: For added adventure,try a Black Sea package
If you love the variety of waking up in a new country each day, and wish to venture beyond the Mediterranean, try the Black Sea. You could tick Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and Georgia off your "must visit" list. The last three are "difficult" destinations, so a cruise is the ideal way to get a taste.
A range of cruise lines offers the Black Sea but each has just a few departures each year, usually on smaller or mid-size vessels, which means ports are less crowded than on more mainstream European itineraries.
This year, Cunard's Queen Elizabeth makes her first dip into the Black Sea on a 12-night cruise that starts in Venice on 30 September and ends in Athens, so you get the delights of the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas thrown in. As well as Yalta and Odessa in Ukraine, the Queen Elizabeth calls at the tiny medieval town of Nesebur in Bulgaria. The cost, from £1,529, includes flights (0843 374 0000; cunard.co.uk).
A selection of excursions is always offered – at no extra cost – when you sail with Regent Seven Seas (023-8068 2280; rssc.com). From the Russian port of Sochi, at the foot of the Caucasus mountains, you can visit Stalin's dacha, have lunch in the forest or tour a tea plantation. Departing Athens on 3 July for 10 nights, the Seven Seas Mariner circumnavigates the Black Sea, ending in Istanbul. The cost is from £4,399; flights, drinks and gratuities are included. Another luxury ship, Crystal Serenity (020-7287 9040; crystalcruises .co.uk) sails from Athens (for the Aegean) to Istanbul on 6 September for 10 nights, with calls at Yalta, Sochi and Odessa (overnight). The cost of £3,109 includes flights, drinks and gratuities and $250 onboard credit for spa treatments, souvenirs, etc.
There's still space on the 15-day Black Sea Odyssey trip with Swan Hellenic (0844 822 0679; swanhellenic.com) starting in Istanbul on 12 September. Calls include the cliff-top ruins of the Sumela Monastery in Turkey; the botanical gardens in Batumi, Georgia; and Sevastopol, in the Ukraine, close to the key battlefields of the Crimean War. The cost, from £7,235 in a superior balcony suite, includes flights, excursions and gratuities.
Two companies have round trips from the UK. Go from Southampton on 30 August aboard Arcadia with P&O (0843 374 0111; pocruises.co.uk) for 20 nights to reach Odessa and Yalta, with fares from £1,449pp. Fred. Olsen (01473 746175; fredolsencruises.com) has a 28-nighter from Dover on 25 September, with calls in Varna, Odessa, Sevastopol and Yalta, costing from £3,979pp. Both start and end with three days at sea and overnight in Istanbul as well as calls in the Med en route.
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