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The Mediterranean Under Sail
On a particularly warm evening this past April, I found myself sipping a cappuccino along the cobblestoned Stradun in Dubrovnik as the sun set over rose-colored tile rooftops. It may have looked as though I was on vacation, but I was hard at work scouting the islands, national parks, and harbor towns along the Adriatic coastline in preparation for our 2003 Mediterranean Under Sail itineraries.
I have traveled extensively throughout Europe, yet this was my first visit to Albania and Croatia. I quickly discovered that the natural beauty, cultural and historical attractions, and warm hospitality of the inhabitants of these Adriatic destinations may even surpass their more familiar Mediterranean counterparts.
In April, and again in September, of 2003, our Mediterranean Under Sail expeditions offer you the opportunity to experience the area's unmatched cultural and artistic marvels on voyages that include a total of seven World Heritage Sites. Each departure consists of two separate itineraries: Crete to Venice, then Venice to Nice. You may take the voyages either separately or in sequence, as we will be not repeating any landings.
Our visits to Albania and along Croatia's Dalmatian Coast are a special highlight of our expedition. The coastline of eroded karst provided building materials for the beautiful ancient stone cities. These walled fortresses, castles, and towns bearing Illyrian, Roman, Venetian, and Ottoman influences sit amid an island landscape of lush vineyards and wildflowers backed by the rugged peaks of the Dinaric Alps.
Upon our arrival in picturesque Saranda harbor, it will become immediately apparent why Albania is one of the best-kept secrets of the Adriatic. This bustling seaside village sits only 50 kilometers from the Greek border and just a 20-minute ferry ride from Corfu. However, its location at the base of an almost impassable mountain range and Albania's only recently ended political isolation have combined to keep Saranda and the Albanian coastline free from the madding crowds of the better-known resort towns of the Mediterranean.
A half-hour drive from Saranda lies the Castle of Butrint, with a commanding view of the coast. Now a World Heritage Site, Butrint served as a Roman naval outpost during the time of Julius and Augustus Caesar and also as an Ottoman stronghold. In unique Albanian style, the amphitheater, basilica, and acropolis have been excavated, but the surrounding forest left intact and the paths between the ruins cleared just enough for passage. There is a delightful sensation of discovery as, walking along a woodland path, you come suddenly across the beautiful mosaic floor of the basilica among the tall grass and wildflowers.
From Saranda, it's just a short sail to hidden Palermo harbor and the abandoned Fortress of the Ali Pasha. The Pasha, an Ottoman general, ruled Albania from the late 18th to early 19th centuries. We'll come ashore by Zodiac, landing at the base of this abandoned fortress. A short walk up a woodland path brings us to the main gate, and we'll explore inside before climbing to the ramparts for a stunning view of the harbor illuminated by the setting sun.
When we sail into Croatia, you'll begin to compare this country, which has felt so much of the vibrant Italian influence, with Albania, virtually cut off from the outside world for centuries. These two countries are in such proximity, yet so extremely different in their political history and culture.
Dubrovnik has been an important seaport since the 13th century. Thick stone walls surround Dubrovnik's Old Town, named a World Heritage Site in 1979. We'll explore its Gothic, Romanesque, and Baroque churches; view Renaissance paintings; or enjoy the superb views from the city walls.
During the 1991 war, Serbian artillery shelled Dubrovnik for eight months; more than half the city lay in ruins. With help from UNESCO, restoration began as soon as hostilities ceased. Artisans using traditional techniques and materials were able to restore Dubrovnik to its prewar splendor in an unprecedented short span of time. Our ship will remain docked in the harbor until midnight, giving us time to sample Dubrovnik's vibrant nightlife.
Other notable destinations on our route include Albania's Kruja Fortress; Korcula Island, which claims to be Marco Polo's early home; Sibenik, home to St. James Cathedral, famous for its fusion of Gothic and Renaissance architecture; the 4th-century Palace of Diocletian at Split; and Kotor Fjord in Montenegro.
Mediterranean Under Sail also explores fabled cities and famous archeological sites: Heraklion and the Palace of Knossos on Crete; Olympia on Greece's Peloponnesus; Mount Etna, Europe's highest active volcano, on Sicily; and immortal Venice.
And what better way to travel along the coasts and among the islands of the Mediterranean than by sail, just as the Illyrians and Venetians did so long ago. Once again, we have chartered Le Ponant, an elegant three-masted sailing ship that carries only 56 passengers. Le Ponant is one of my favorite ships. The European officers and crew will spoil you with their service and amaze you with their nautical expertise.
From the first evening you join me, our team of experts and lecturers, and your fellow travelers on the top deck, I promise you will be hooked on the Mediterranean Under Sail.