P & O Cruises Britannia
Imagine visiting all those places you’ve always wanted to go travel to, but instead of unpacking and packing every couple of days or so, and having to move on, organise planes, trains and automobiles, you just step of-board your luxury floating hotel and have someone take you there…….well, that’s one of the benefits of a cruise around the Mediterranean. Today’s post is all about Gaudi, Tapas and Dancing Andalusian Horses, with a few freshly made pizzas, several glasses of sherry, historical buildings and a bucket list pilgrimage thrown in for good measure – it’s highlighting some of the shore excursions I made when I sailed in P & O Cruises Britannia recently; you can read all about my overall experience here: Gastronomic Mediterranean Cruise with P & O Britannia.
A cruise around the Med in such a beautiful and comfortable ship is a wonderful experience, and I embraced the relaxing and tasty lifestyle on sea days, with trips to the Spa, sunbathing on the Lido sun deck and enjoying a quiet drink on my private balcony in my cabin, with a glass of fizz for company – but, when you sail in to port, the excitement of a new place to see and visit takes over, and the desire to see places you’ve only ever read about or seen on the TV is a very strong pull, well it is for me anyway! I went ashore at each new port, on some exciting and interesting shore excursions that were on offer on the Britannia, with an extensive list to choose from; if organised tours aren’t your thing, then there is always the option to go off by yourself using the convenience of pre-booked transport.
My itinerary of ports on the cruise with Britannia was as follows:
Tue 6 September: Cadiz – Sherry Tasting and The Royal Spanish Horse Show in Jerez
Thu 8 September: Barcelona – Gaudi Park and Tour of Barcelona
Fri 9 September: Monte Carlo – Trip to the Artist’s Village of Saint Paul de Vence
Sat 10 September: Rome – Taste of Tuscania and Lunch at an “Agriturismo” farmhouse
Sun 11 September: Naples – Naples Pizza Festival Experience
Tue 13 September: Cartagena – The Tapas Trail
Thu 15 September: Vigo – Trip to Santiago de Compostela
In a “Photo Gallery” below I share some of the photos I took on my excursions, as well as highlight the tours and what I did on each of them; at each destination, there were at least six choices of trips, with some ports boasting up to twenty-eight excursions, so there really was something for everyone to choose from. As a food AND travel writer, I was obviously drawn towards to the numerous food related excursions that were on offer, although I realised a life’s dream of visiting Santiago de Compostela, as well as visiting the Gaudi Park and The Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, something I cannot remember doing when I was there as a child. The excursions available also offer different levels of activity, so are able to choose something as sedentary or as active as suits your personal requirements.
The shore excursions can be booked on board Britannia, but if you want to guarantee a place on your chosen trip, it’s best to book on-line before your cruise, as some of the more popular excursions are sold out before the ship even sails! Before you reach each port, there is always a “Port Presentation” which highlights all the main attractions, which is very handy and is well worth attending. You can book, discuss and leave feedback at the Excursions desk on deck 5, and there is an extensive brochure where all the excursions are listed, which is in your welcome pack in your cabin. I have to admit to being amazed with just how many excursions were on offer, with some trips even offering helicopter rides, train rides, Segway rides, plus the opportunity to explore some of the ports and cities by bike too!
I hope you’ll enjoy a “virtual photo gallery” of the excursions I went on, and I will add a few helpful notes for each trip, should you wish to visit them via an organised trip or by yourself. Please note that some destinations are extremely busy at certain times of the year, so expect to queue and be part of large crowds too. Karen
NB: Images are all mine, unless otherwise stated
Disclaimer: I was the guest of P and O Cruises who paid for me and my guest for a two-week cruise, several hosted and select dining dinners, accommodation and all my food whilst on board Britannia; all views are my own and are not representative of P and O Cruises, any of their employees or third-party agents. Karen S Burns-Booth
For more information about Britannia and other P & O Cruises, please visit their website here:
Inside cabins: start from £1,149
Outside cabins: start from £1,249
Balcony cabins: start from £1,549
Excursion 1: Cadiz – Sherry and Royal Horse Show in Jerez
A coach took us to Jerez, which was about 1 hour away – the trip was described as “medium with 15 minutes of walking”, which was very accurate ; we were taken to Gonzalez Byass, home to Tio Pepe and Croft Original Sherry:
Located in the heart of the city, this is the largest of Jerez’s bodegas – the sizeable ones are all like small towns, complete with named streets; here in Tio Pepe, you ride on a miniature train. On the tour, you’ll see an unusual, circular pavilion with an impressive dome designed by Gustav Eiffel.
Historic barrels (botas) and bottles dating back centuries; and, probably the most fun part, barrels signed by illustrious visitors including Lady Thatcher, Martin Luther King, The Duke of Edinburgh and Orson Welles. The sweet, musty aroma of the various wines being aged in their barrels – another well-known brand, popular in the UK, is Croft Original – pervades the whole place.
Look out for the drunken mice who enjoy a tipple – the dogs employed to keep the bodegas clear of unwelcome four-legged visitors, called ‘bodegueros’, are bigger versions of Jack Russell terriers. (Andalucia.com)
After our sherry tasting trip, we were then taken to ROYAL ANDALUSIAN SCHOOL OF EQUESTRIAN ART; here we saw the famous dancing horses of Andalusia. The show was an hour and a half long, and was a magical experience of man and horse working in harmony. BE WARNED, it is VERY HOT inside the arena, so make sure you take a fan! (NO photos are allowed once you are inside the arena)
Show “How the Andalusian Horses Dance”
The unique show, “How the Andalusian Horses Dance”, is an equestrian ballet accompanied by quintessential Spanish music and 18th century styled costumes, all put together and choreographed using movements based upon Classical Dressage, Doma Vaquera (country-style riding) and traditional equestrian chores. Each show consists of between six and eight different choreographies, with the same degree of difficulty and entertainment value and scheduled by the school according to the following repertoire……read more here.
The coach trip took us through the centre of Barcelona, and was only about 45 minutes from the dock; we went to the Park Güell (Gaudi Park) first and the The Sagrada Familia Gaudi Cathedral. The excursion is listed as “medium with 15 minutes of walking”, this is not very accurate, as we did at least 1 hours walking in each location, and much of it was uphill in the Park.
About the Park:
The best and most famous example of Art Nouveau landscape-architecture has been designated a UNESO World Heritage Site. Count Eusebi Guell, a wealthy businessman, conceived the project as infrastructure for a garden suburb on what Gaudi described as ‘the treeless mountain’. The only parts to be completed, before worked stopped in 1914 and it became a public park in 1922, were a grand entrance, two houses, 3km of paths, a marvellous terrace and the hippostyle hall, planned as an underground market. Guell’s friend, Antonio Gaudi, was the designer. Both men intended that the project would express the spirit of Catalonia as a potentially independent nation. The park is very popular and has an obscure symbolic content. Shapes and colours were inspired by natural forms which Gaudi, a devout catholic, saw as instances of divine craftsmanship. The park is set into the hills overlooking Barcelona. Serpentine terraces, seats, galleries and acrades run with the mountainside. They are decorated with polychrome mosaics of broken stone, ceramic pots and old tiles. The bright colours might remind one of azuelejo. The curved terraces might remind one of Duncombe, the path layout of Buttes Chaumont. But the design has an energetic brilliance which belongs more completely to the twentieth century than any other public park made in Europe during the first half of the twentieth century. (Garden Visit.com)
After walking about the Gaudi Park, the coach took us to The Sagrada Familia Gaudi Cathedral in the centre of Barcelona; this unique building is rich in organic symbolism inside, and out, and is well worth a visit if only to see the light streaming through the stunning stained glass windows.
The Sagrada Familia Gaudi Cathedral:
The Sagrada Família, inspired by nature and faith, has been under construction since 1882. It’s now in the final phase, with just another 11 years until completion. Six new towers will soon be added to the famous Roman Catholic basilica in Barcelona, bringing the total to 18 and—at long last—finishing the work begun by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí in the late 19th century. The building is now 70 percent complete and on track to be finished in 2026—the centenary of Gaudí’s death—though some decorative elements could take up to six additional years to complete. (National Geographic.com)
Excursion 3: Monte Carlo, Monaco – Visist the artist’s village of Saint Paul de Vence, France
On disembarking by tender, the coach journey was just over an hour to Saint Paul de Vence in France; the trip was advertised as ” medium with 15 minutes of walking”, this was a bit misleading, as we walked around the village for over an hour and a half, and there were some steep uphill walks to negotiate too. Made famous by 20th century actors, artists and writers , Saint-Paul has a vibrant cultural centre. Some celebrities simply passed through, others decided to settle. Each in their own way marked the village indelibly, adding to its charm.
I thought this was a charming village, but felt we did not have enough time to enjoy it, or indeed eat at one of the numerous restaurants, as indicated on the excursion information.
After visiting Saint Paul de Vence, the coach took us through Nice, along the Promenade des Anglais and the seafront.
Excursion 4: Rome – Tuscania and Lunch at an “Agriturismo” farmhouse
An hour and a half in the coach took us to the charming town of Tuscania; here we had some free time to wander around before heading to an “Agriturismo” farm, where we were served lunch which comprised locally produced olive oil, tomatoes, olives, ham and cheese with bread and wine.
Tuscania was an Etruscan town of some importance and many tombs have been found in its environs. The rich were buried in sarcophagi covered by a statue where the dead were portrayed as if they were attending a banquet, which was part of the funerary ceremonies. In the 19th century the local Campanari family spearheaded the exploration of Etruscan tombs. They organised the first Etruscan exhibition in London. Many of the valuable discoveries ended up in various European museums, as well as Tuscania’s own Archeological Museum. (Wikipedia)
The “Agriturismo” farm grew its own almonds, as well as olives, tomatoes and other vegetables and made its own wine too, all of which we enjoyed as part of our lunch there.
Excursion 5: Naples – Naples on our own and the Naples Pizza Festival Experience
We docked right in the centre of Naples, in the port there, and so were able to walk into the city; in the morning we explored the back streets of Naples, as well as having coffee and lunch in the city too. Naples is a fascinating city, but it’s advisable not to travel solo. There are lots of pick-pockets in the city, sadly, and I was nearly the victim of a double act “husband and wife” scam.
In the evening, we went on a nocturnal coach trip of the city, before ending up at the famous Naples Pizza Festival; here we were given vouchers for a pizza, beer, cake and coffee. Spread along several kilometres of seafront, the views of Mount Vesuvius are spectacular, as are all the stone-baked pizzas too!
Although there were plenty of Neapolitan pizzas to sample, we also enjoyed other types, including zucchini flowers and baby spinach and broccoli too. Neapolitan pizza (Italian: pizza napoletana) is made with tomatoes and Mozzarella cheese. It must be made with San Marzano tomatoes, which grow on the volcanic plains to the south of Mount Vesuvius, and mozzarella Campana, the DOP version can be made with Buffalo Mozzarella Cheese, ‘Mozzarella di Bufala Campana’ made with the milk from water buffalo raised in the marshlands of Campania and Lazio in a semi-wild state (this mozzarella is protected with its own European protected designation of origin)
Excursion 6: Cartagena – The Tapas Trail
Here again, we docked in the heart of the town, so, this was a walking tour of the area, with tapas along the way! Cartagena is in the province of Murcia, and the port, which is situated in the Mediterranean’s Costa Cálida, has been prized since Carthaginian times. Thanks to its strategic position on the Murcia coast, it has been inhabited by several cultures which have left their mark on its artistic heritage. A tour of the place and its museums will draw us into the history of a city closely tied to the sea. (Tourism Cartagena)
The Tapas Trail offered us Patatas Bravas with Fried Quail’s Eggs, Paella, Spanish Omelette with Olive Oil and Bread, Bacalao Fritters and Coffee with Almond Meringues. With the first four courses came Sangria, so I was well oiled by the end of the tapas trail walk! The coffee was called “Asiatico Cafe” and was made with condensed milk, lime, liquor 43, brandy, cinnamon and freshly ground coffee beans. The tour was advertised as being active with lots of walking, which it was!
After a welcome short walk back to the port, we were soon back on board Britannia again!
Excursion 7: Vigo – Trip to Santiago de Compostela
My last excursion of the cruise and one that I was looking forward to more than anything! We docked in Vigo, which is in Galicia on the north-west coast of Spain. My excursion was by coach to Santiago de Compostela, an hour and a half away. I have always wanted to visit this pilgrimage city, and even one day to walk the Camino.
This famous pilgrimage site in north-west Spain became a symbol in the Spanish Christians’ struggle against Islam. Destroyed by the Muslims at the end of the 10th century, it was completely rebuilt in the following century. With its Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque buildings, the Old Town of Santiago is one of the world’s most beautiful urban areas. The oldest monuments are grouped around the tomb of St James and the cathedral, which contains the remarkable Pórtico de la Gloria. (UNESCO)
As well as the magnificent cathedral, Santaigo de Compostela has some wonderful street markets and architecture; after we visited the cathedral, we had some free time to wander around the medieval lanes and alleyways, before we were treated to some refreshments at the stunning San Francisco Hotel Monumento, where we had Tarta de Santiago (Santiago cake) and coffee. The excursion was well planned with lots of spare time to do your own thing, and I highly recommend it, although next time I will be walking into the city via the Camino!
I hope you have enjoyed the virtual tour of all the places I stopped at and visited whilst cruising with Britannia – I will be covering some of the places I visited above, in more detail, and with regional recipes in several non-collaborative posts later on, so please do keep popping back! As you can see, a cruise is not just about the fine food and entertainment, the shore excursions offer you a chance to visit places you’ve always wanted to see, as well as get a feel for the country you are in, meet the people and enjoy the local cuisine. Karen
My last P & O Cruises Post: