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Secret tunnels & abandoned monasteries: 8 off-the-beaten-track Mediterranean attractions

Mediterranean cruise vacations take globetrotters to the continent’s best destinations, but you don’t always have to stick with the masses as these off-the-beaten-track ideas prove.

Mediterranean cruises are overwhelmingly popular but if you know the main sights well or are looking to avoid the tourist crowds…can the region still be for you?

The answer is a resounding yes. Cruise lines may call at famous ports across France, Greece and beyond but there’s still a glut of activities and sights both in and around these cities we bet you haven’t visited yet.

Norwegian Cruise Line offers countless Mediterranean cruise holidays and there’s definitely an itinerary that suits what you’re after.

You can travel in luxury too – on NCL’s 11-night Mediterranean: Italy, France & Croatia sailing from Venice (Trieste) to Rome (Civitavecchia). Guests will be onboard Norwegian Epic which is renowned for its entertainment offering as well as well-appointed accommodations and a wide variety of dining options including Cagney’s Steakhouse and French restaurant Le Bistro.

So where will Norwegian Epic be taking you in the Med? We’ve taken a look at some of the ports of call on this NCL Mediterranean cruise and investigated the best off-the-beaten-track activities to make sure you really get the most out of every moment.

What to do in Kotor

Railways and ruins

Secret tunnels

Kotor [below, left] is a beautiful coastal town in Montenegro known for its gorgeous natural scenery, rich history and well-preserved medieval architecture, but perhaps rather less known are its submarine tunnels.

One of the best hidden attractions in the Bay of Kotor, this network of underground tunnels and bunkers was built during World War II by German and Italian forces to protect submarines and ships from Allied attacks in Kotor Bay.

It’s only a blast from the past visitors need worry about now, though. On Mediterranean cruises here, take a guided tour to learn about the history and engineering of these underground structures, including the main submarine base featuring a large underground hall that was used to store torpedoes and other munitions, and the remains of old railway tracks used to transport supplies to the submarines.

Abandoned villages

For less war and more peace, head to the abandoned village of Gornji Stoliv located just a few kilometres north of Kotor.

Visitors can explore the ruins of the old stone houses and churches perched on the hillside, and enjoy a tranquil and picturesque setting away from the crowds. You’ll also benefit from spectacular views of Kotor Bay, no enemy-sightings required.


Monks and mules

Deserted monasteries

If you’ve got a taste for uninhabited hotspots on your Mediterranean cruises, check out the Monastery of Pantokrator on your Mediterranean cruise call to Corfu.

Now deserted, the Monastery of Pantokrator was built in the 14th century on the highest peak of the Greek island and offers breathtaking views of the island and the sea.

Be sure to explore the ruins of the monastery and its beautiful Byzantine frescoes, and maybe ponder on how well you’d cope with monastic life…

Cute donkeys

Missing Fido and Felix back home? Soothe the soul with a visit to the Corfu Donkey Rescue Centre; the sanctuary provides a safe haven for abandoned and abused donkeys on the island. Animal lovers can meet the real-life Eeyores and learn about the work being done to protect these gentle creatures.


Snorkelling and sculptures

Underwater paradise

Everyone knows the Amalfi Coast is a slice of heaven…so you know everyone will be there. Give the hordes on terra firma a miss during your NCL Mediterranean cruise call and explore the Gaiola Underwater Park, a protected marine area located off the coast of Naples [above] named after the two small islands of Gaiola.

Spanning over 42 hectares, the sub-aquatic paradise is home to colorful fish, sea turtles, octopuses and more, making it a popular destination for scuba diving, snorkeling and boat tours. The park’s crystal-clear waters offer excellent visibility, and visitors can follow marked trails to explore the underwater environment and see the marine life up close.

Erotic museums

Prudes look away! The Gabinetto Segreto, or “Secret Cabinet,” is a section of the National Archaeological Museum of Naples that houses a collection of 1st-century Roman erotic art, mainly unearthed during the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

The collection – which boasts a wide variety of artwork, including frescoes, mosaics and sculptures, that depict sexual acts and other taboo subjects – was first assembled in the late 18th century and was kept in a locked room that was only accessible to men until 1967.

Today, visitors can see the erotica with a special ticket and enjoy a fascinating glimpse into the sexual mores and attitudes of ancient Roman society.


Monasteries and masterpieces

Idyllic islands

Cannes can (sorry) get very busy indeed so take a break from the hustle and bustle of the famous Film Festival city and take a boat trip to the Lérins Islands on Mediterranean cruises to the South of France. The largest of the four, L’île Sainte-Marguerite [above, left], tends to get the most hype but neighbour Île Saint-Honorat is no less worthy of interest.

It’s home to a working monastery that has been in operation since the 5th century (the perfect opportunity to get answers to those monastic life queries) and visitors can tour the grounds and enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

Artistic havens

Alternatively, head inland to Mougins, a charming medieval hilltop village located just a few miles north of Cannes; it’s known for its beautiful architecture, picturesque streets and excellent restaurants.

Mougins has long been a haven for artists, and several famous painters have lived and worked here over the years – admire the oeuvres of Chagall, Man Ray, Matisse, Cézanne, Dali, Warhol, Picasso et al in its independent, upscale art galleries.

Hollywood stars often escape to Mougins when their red carpet duties are done and dusted in Cannes [above, right] so keep an eye out for the celebs too! Why not order some fresh fish and a glass of rosé in a Michelin-starred eatery while you star spot to truly soak up the best of the French Riviera? We have a feeling the life of a leading light is more our vibe than a monk…

Set Sail

Mediterranean: Italy, France & Croatia with NCL

Duration: 12 nights

Where: Venice (Trieste), Italy | Koper, Slovenia | Dubrovnik, Croatia | Kotor, Montenegro | Corfu, Greece | Taranto, Italy | Valletta, Malta | Messina (Sicily), Italy | Naples, Italy | Florence/Pisa (Livorno), Italy | Cannes, France | Rome (Civitavecchia), Italy

Ship: Norwegian Epic


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Published 05.17.23