Spotlight on overnight stays in Europe

Rebecca Barnes drops anchor for three different European overnights

Santorini, Greece

Variety Cruises

Greek family line Variety Cruises’ fleet includes traditional sailing ships and sleek, contemporary yachts. I’m travelling on the 49-passenger, three-masted ship Galileo, on the popular Jewels of the Cyclades itinerary, which offers a flexible half-board arrangement, with breakfast and lunches or dinners on the ship.

While there’s plenty of choice for food on board, when ashore, guests can enjoy leisurely meals and make the most of the ship staying in most ports until the early hours, and even in to the next day. As any seasoned cruiser knows, Santorini is a very popular island for cruise ships, and our VIP pass there includes docking in a prime position in Fira old port – while larger ships have to drop anchor further out, as is the norm in the caldera.

We spend the evening wandering the maze of streets in Fira old town, drinking and dining in a prime spot while the sun drops dramatically out of the high summer sky. We descend in the cable car just before midnight, and stumble on a laidback local bar frequented by captains and crew of the few (mainly private) ships still in port, including Galileo’s captain, Orpheas.

While the drinks aren’t the cheapest on Santorini, there are some moments that money can’t buy – and this is one of them.

Book it: An eight-day Jewels of the Cyclades sailing on Galileo in a double or twin cabin costs from €2,250, departing April 21. Price includes a buffet breakfast and one other meal daily, plus tea, coffee, Captain’s Dinner and use of snorkelling equipment.


Utrecht, Netherlands

A-Rosa River Cruises

There’s nothing more deflating than falling in love with a destination but running out of time to really get under its skin. That’s no problem with the 23-hour overnight stop we make in Utrecht on a Christmas markets cruise on impressive eco ship A-Rosa Sena.

And what an unexpected gem the Netherlands’ fourth-largest city is – offering the same canalside vibe and postcard-worthy scenery as Amsterdam but in a more quaint, low-key way. We stroll the pretty waterways without having to dodge throngs of sightseers, and grab lunch in a friendly local cafe without having to wait.

If you’re travelling in a group of four, it’s possible to book a private city walking or driving tour through A-Rosa, but we prefer to see where the night takes us, and the highlight of our evening ashore is discovering the city’s artistic light installation, Trajectum Lumen, which comes to life when the sun sets. But the winter chill bites, so we duck into one of the many cosy wharf cellars by the water for a late dinner and drinks.

Whichever angle you view Utrecht from, it’s very easy on the eye.

Book it: A five-night Rhine Christmas Market City Experience departing on 18 December costs from £1,549, based on two sharing a balcony cabin. Price includes return flights, private car transfers and five nights premium all-inclusive accommodation.


Zadar, Croatia

APT Travelmarvel

An intimate vibe is now seen as a bonus by many cruisers, and calling in at up-and-coming destinations, such as the Croatian city Zadar, is sure to appeal to a whole new client base.

We sail in on the sleek boutique ship Princess Eleganza, one afternoon in September, with the evening already planned, and nearly 24 hours ahead of us in this ancient port city, which at one stage rivalled Venice as the most influential city on the Adriatic Coast.

We dock a few steps from the Sea Organ, an imaginative art installation that uses the ebb and flow of the sea to make a soothing melody; the yacht is also moored close to countless restaurants and bars, so the only hassle is deciding where to go.

We dine on mussels in the fantastic Restoran Bruschetta, before sinking a few in an old town bar with a couple of shipmates – the nightlife in Zadar can be lively thanks to the large student population.

The following morning, we soak up the views of the ancient city over breakfast, before stepping ashore for an included walking tour with a local guide. We see the city in a whole new light, stopping at the circular Church of St Donat, and the 13th-century Romanesque cathedral, before setting sail just in time for lunch.

Book it: Travelmarvel’s eight-day Adriatic Coast & Dalmatian Islands itinerary costs from £1,995, departing on April 21, including flights, transfers, tea and coffee, soft drinks, beer and local wine during lunch and dinner.

Pictures: Shutterstock/Icemanphotos; 27studio; Marc Venema

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