Fresh off the boat: a culinary tour of the Mediterranean

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Fresh off the boat: a culinary tour of the Mediterranean

If you’re looking for a break from the daily grind, with excellent food, wine and service, you’ll find it on board one of Norwegian Cruise Line’s ships. We found our sea legs on a recent voyage in the Med

If you’re in need of a break, I recommend getting on board with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) in the Mediterranean, South America, Caribbean (or closer to home) for some much-needed R&R. NCL’s freestyle cruising concept allows you to set your own pace and itinerary, so you can enjoy everything your ship has to offer, plus the highlights of the ports you visit.

If you’re wary of “organised fun”, you can do as much (or as little) as you like.

Ching, ching! A drink for every palate

One of the exciting activities on board is the Meet the Winemaker programme, which is available on select cruises on Norwegian Escape, Encore, Bliss and Joy. NCL has partnered with leading winemakers including Antonio Hidalgo of Spanish sherry house Bodegas Hidalgo La Gitana, fourth-generation winemaker Michael Mondavi of Robert Mondavi in the Napa Valley, and Sandro Bottega of the famed Prosecco producer, to offer guests intimate wine tastings and wine-pairing dinners (some in partnership with certified Angus beef) where they’ll be able to interact with the winemakers, learn more about their wines, and sample them, of course.

norwegian escape cagney steak house restaurant specialty dining

Add to that the Sail & Sustain cocktail programme in which kitchen waste such as pineapple skins, watermelon rind and cucumber pulp are used to create unique cocktails on offer in the ships’ bars, and you have a recipe for refreshment. And with over 20 restaurants and bars to choose from on board, plus nightly entertainment and loads to amuse the kids, you’re guaranteed to be satisfied.

Peka and Posip in Dubrovnik

But that’s not all you have to look forward to. Each port has its own culinary specialty. On a recent cruise aboard Norwegian Escape that visited Dubrovnik, Corfu, Sicily, Naples and Livorno, I had the pleasure of trying them. In Dubrovnik, I sampled badel orahovac, a liqueur made from walnuts, which was very similar to grappa (read: strong!). Another interesting discovery was the peka, an iron dome under which food is cooked, usually in an open fire. This method can be used to cook almost anything, but we tried freshly baked bread made under the peka, with excellent local olive oil, charcuterie, cheeses and a glass of Posip, a wine made from a local grape of the same name.

freshly baked bread made under the peka

Sensational seafood in Corfu

In Corfu, seafood is the name of the game. After a tour of the island on the hop-on, hop-off bus (and a quick swim), we headed to one of the town’s Instagram worthy squares and enjoyed a plate of the best calamari I’ve ever eaten, a Greek salad with a slab of feta and no lettuce – take note local restaurants! It may have been the sheer joy of being out and about after two years of Covid isolation, but it was one of the best meals I’ve had in years. Follow that with a wander through the alleyways, a gelato or sorbet and life doesn’t get much better.

a Greek salad

Sicilian indulgence

Picture it: Sicily 2022 (apologies to Estelle Getty of The Golden Girls!). What do you see? Cannoli! Granita with brioche! Mandorla! It’s hard to pick one, so try them all! We headed to the hilltop village of Taormina and made a beeline for the first bakery we saw. I managed to make myself understood and was soon enjoying an icy lemon granita with a side of paste di mandorla (chewy almond cookies), which were welcome fortification before we enjoyed an excellent pizza at the stunning Isola Bella beach after a dip in the sea.

icy lemon granita

In Napoli where love pizza is king

Ah, Napoli! You can’t visit the home of pizza without trying a slice, but you can also book a shore excursion and head to the Amalfi Coast (about an hour’s drive away) to indulge in the delights of limoncello in an ancient lemon grove after watching it being made in front of you, and then enjoying charcuterie, cheese, bread and lemon-flavoured risotto in the sun-dappled shade. If you have time, head to Sorrentino Vesuvio wine estate and taste wines made from grapes grown in unique soils enriched with minerals from Mount Vesuvius’s eruptions. It’s all very dolce vita!

Napoli pizza

Gelato (or two) in Livorno

The last stop was Livorno, close to Pisa and Florence, and about two hours from the Cinque Terre, a quintet of impossibly picturesque villages clinging to the cliffs above the Ligurian Sea. It’s worth the trip. Some of the villages are only accessible by boat, so hop onto the ferry at Manarola and head to Vernazza for a quick swim – join the locals in jumping into the sea from the giant boulders – and then head to Monterosso for a stroll along the promenade with a gelato from one of the ocean-front cafés. It’s so good you may need more than one scoop.

gelato

 

If this sounds like what you need, head to ncl.com to book your great escape. You’ll soon find your sea legs ­– and excellent food and drink wherever you look. The Meet the Winemaker programme is available on selected voyages until December 2022, and in 2023.  

Lynda Ingham Brown Article by: Lynda Ingham Brown

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