The Mediterranean: Malta, Sicily and Naples


The beautiful islands of Malta are located in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, 92 kms south of Sicily. Life on Malta dates back to around 3,000BC and now its population is over 370,000.

We docked at Valletta which is the capital of the small independent nation and embarked upon an organised shore excursion which took us firstly to an archaeological site that is older than the Pyramids. The Archaeological Museum in Valletta, which we visited next, now houses most of the remains from the site and the detail of the sculptures is amazing.

From there we walked to the city's gardens for spectacular views and went inside the St Johns Co-Cathedral which has one of the best and most ornate interiors we have seen. Unfortunately photographs weren't allowed...

Afterwards we were driven to the seaside resort of Golden Bay for a truly magnificent smorgasbord lunch in the Radisson Hotel overlooking the sea. We were then driven to the ancient capital of Malta, Mdina, a medieval walled town situated on a hill in the centre of the Island. The town is still confined within its walls and over 11,000 people live there. The Cathedral of St Paul was well worth a visit and there were many palaces and a monastery, but simply walking through the old town is a breathaking experience.

On the way back to the ship we visited a studio where we saw filigree being hand made and we also visited the Valletta Glass company, similar to the better known Murano. What a day!

Catania, Sicily

Our next stop was Catania on the east coast of Siciliy. It is known for its seismic history, having been destroyed by a catastrophic earthquake in 1169, another in 1693 and several volcanic eruptions from the neighbouring Mount Etna - which, incidentally, is currently active.

Catania is a typical Italian city with all the hustle and bustle you would expect. We walked into the city and spent a few hours wandering through the fascinating outdoor fruit, vegetable and meat markets. We had coffee at Caffee du Duomo, in the main square opposite the cathedral, which as usual, was magnificent. We then caught a 'train' through Catania, narrowly missing parked vehicles and bouncing around quite considerably over the large pebbled surfaces. It was great fun and we probably saw more than the tourists in the big open topped buses.

As the ship left Catania that evening, little did we know that we were in for a real treat. From our balcony we watched, mesmerised, as Mount Etna erupted. We could clearly see the bright orange lava cascading down the sides of the mountain. What a sight!

Naples, Italy

As we had already driven the Amalfi Coast and visited Pompeii in 2011, we decided to take a tour of the ruins of Herculaneum. Herculaneum was an ancient Roman town destroyed by volcanic flows from Mount Vesuvius in 79AD. And although largely evacuated at the time, 300 skeletons were found along the sea shore.

Herculaneum is the kind of archaeological site that literally brings history to life. Much work has been done over the years to preserve the remains of buildings which still display the most beautiful mosaics and frescos in a variety of colours. It is hard to believe that the site is so ancient. Our guide was an expert on the subject and he assisted us to understand how the ancient Romans lived - in fact, not so very different to ourselves.

On the way back to the ship we called in at a Cameo factory where we saw craftsmen hand carving shells which are white on the outside and a variety of colours on the inside. This is the traditional way of making cameos and it was fascinating to watch. Naturally, given the intensity and detail of the work involved, they are quite expensive to purchase!