Top Five Mediterranean Cruise Port Hotels

| August 16, 2010

Cruise ships come and go, but hotels are "forever." To make the best of your Med cruise, here are some of the continent's best hotels.

This is a report from our cruise culinary editor Janice Wald Henderson. Janice has been a longtime contributor to many magazines, including Bon Appétit Magazine and Brides. Her articles have appeared in Vogue, Food & Wine, Eating Well, Cooking Light and numerous other publications. Janice is also the Los Angeles editor of the Essential Restaurant Guide at Janice Wald Henderson Cruise Culinary Editor

If you've yet to book a Mediterranean cruise, it's not too late. Such sailings continue into November, often with discounted prices. Pre-and-post-cruise hotels typically drop rates then, too. To save money, book your own accommodations, instead of through the cruise line. Check web sites and call toll-free direct for the best prices. To assist in the selection process, here are five top hotels in popular embarkation ports.


Athenaeum Inter-Continental Athens is the best bet in this strike-prone city for several reasons. First and foremost, it is located away from Constitution Square, where demonstrations usually take place. Security is excellent. And it has the same great Acropolis views of fancier, pricier hotels in the Square area. (Book a room with an Acropolis view; it's worth the cost. I stayed up half the night staring out my window in wonder.) It's also less than 30 minutes from the port.

If possible, book a room on the Executive Club Level. The extra cost here adds tremendous value; separate check-in area, complimentary buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner snacks, cocktails and hors d'oeuvres. The breakfasts, by the way, are hearty and include made-to-order cappuccinos.

The lunch presentation is filling enough for a meal. Plus, Executive Club Level guests have a private concierge; vital to Athens visitors trying to squeeze in every sight with minimal time. But even if you book standard accommodations, you still have concierge access and plenty of room amenities, including a coffeemaker; just the ticket for java-sippers with jetlag.

Dinner at Premiere is unforgettable. The rooftop restaurant has superb views of Athens and the Acropolis; the setting grows magical as daylight dims. (Premiere is also a great spot for picture-taking with the Acropolis backdrop.) Dine outside for maximum delight. The Mediterranean menu, starring local ingredients, is better than it should be. Although pricey, dishes, like red mullet and roasted langoustines on fennel-and-zucchini "spaghetti," are as fresh, modern and edgy as any world-class metropolitan restaurant. Or just enjoy a cocktail at the al fresco bar with the same priceless view. (

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Athens - Rooftop Terrace   Artwork in Reception Area   Premiere Restaurant & Lounge


Hotel Arts Barcelona is a 44-story soaring wonder of glass and steel. It's the tallest building in Spain and prominent in Barcelona's skyline. (Visiting cruise passengers can always find their way back to the hotel.) The 483 guest rooms of this posh Ritz-Carlton property offer dazzling city or blue-Med-and-miles-of-beach views. And the hotel is just seven miles from the airport and near the port.

There's much in Barcelona to explore. Chichi bars, restaurants and shopping venues are an easy walk away. But this hotel is its own special world. It's nearly a museum, hosting an impressive 20th century collection of specially commissioned works by contemporary Catalan and Spanish artists.

The spa, by Six Senses Spas, is on the 43rd floor and offers every restorative treatment imaginable, including many 25-minute treatments for sightseeing cruisers. Even a short scalp, neck and shoulder massage does wonders for tired travelers. When it's mealtime, choose between five restaurants featuring Mediterranean cuisine. Dine poolside, overlooking the port. Opt for more sophisticated Med cuisine at the Michelin one-star Enoteca. Or visit Arola, a tapas-style (small plates) restaurant, featuring such fine fare as octopus and guacamole ceviche, and homemade Iberian ham croquettes.

While you are enjoying this deluxe modern hotel, keep an eye out for celebs. Movie star Penelope Cruz supposedly frequents the place. And Gwyneth Paltrow raves about Hotel Arts Barcelona on her web site, saying it's where she usually unpacks her bags in this exciting city. (

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View Hotel Arts   Lobby Hotel Arts   Barcelona Hotel Arts with Gehry Sculpture


The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul provides an oasis of serenity in a hot, hectic city. The lobby, a majestic blend of European furnishing and Turkish artifacts, offers sweeping Bosporus views. So do many of the 244 guest rooms and suites, tastefully designed in soothing neutral tones with spacious marble baths. Beds are comfy, sheets are silky, AC can go full-blast -- delicious after a day of navigating the heat and noise of Istanbul. Security is first-rate, with airport-like screening at entrances.

The hotel is only minutes from the port. And there's a handy ATM in the lower concourse. Concierges work long hours, patient with guests (like myself) asking endless questions. Recommendations are uniformly excellent, from local restaurants to what time is best for a Bosporus cruise. (First of the day, before lines grow long and the sun goes from warm to broil.)

After a day of whirlwind sightseeing, RC Bar is a lovely retreat, particularly for single-malt Scotch-lovers. This plush lounge claims to have the finest selection in Istanbul. �intemani Restaurant, located off the lobby, is wonderful. The bountiful buffet breakfast (often included in room pricing) features American, European and Turkish offerings. Every morning is an international feast, including exceptional pastries, local cheeses and the ripest fruit. There are a few hotel restaurants I would fly to around the world for breakfast. Çintemani is one of them.

Come dinnertime, the restaurant turns into a Turkish treasure. House-baked pita bread -- puffy and fluffy like pricey pillows -- is accompanied by fat green olives marinated in extra-virgin olive oil and aromatic spices. Next come delicacies like red lentil soup, and carrot fritters with cooling yogurt-pistachio sauce. An impeccably fresh Aegean sea bream may follow. And it's hard to say what's more mesmerizing; the syrupy pistachio desserts, or the centuries-old scene of boats and ferries plying the ancient waters before your eyes. (

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Bosphorus Deluxe Room The Ritz Carlton   G�ney Park Terrace The Ritz Carlton


Even if your cruise departs from Monte Carlo, you may wish to stay in Nice. It's such a sun-splashed, action-passed city (versus the more sterile Monte Carlo), it would be a shame to miss. My recent Silversea cruise departed from Nice, making the Palais de la Méditerranée a perfect choice. Plus, the hotel is a short taxi ride from the Nice Cote d'Azur International Airport and near the pier.

Built in 1929, the Art Deco-designed 188-room hotel has an idyllic locale on the grand Promenade des Anglais (the main boulevard alongside the Med). Renovated in 2004 by Concorde Hotels & Resorts, the hotel is now a glam five-star getaway, offering every high-tech amenity. Vintage photographs line hallways, and bright-hued guest rooms combine modern and Deco sensibilities. Most have a balcony or terrace with stunning sea views. Free WiFi makes it easy to stay connected with loved ones back home. And at 2 a.m. - when your body clock cries dinnertime - round-the-clock room service will tend to the cravings.

Old Nice, teeming with narrow alleyways and quaint shops, is a short walk away. So are tempting cafes, serving South of France specialties such as fish soup and stuffed zucchini blossoms. Museums and luxury stores are also nearby. And the glorious blue sea? Just across the street.

Palais cuisine is as five-star as the hotel. The breakfast buffet offers everything wonderful, including brioche and croissants that perfume the table with a buttery scent. Dine al fresco on the terrace, savoring the sea view. Dinner is a must at the third floor (le 3) restaurant. The chef, Cédric Biron, is obsessed with seasonality and local ingredients. His food isn't froufrou, but rather, bistro chic. Dishes like Mediterranean sea bass with Niçoise vegetables are revelations. Prix fixe menus are generous and reasonably priced. (

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Palais exterior   Lobby   Le Palais de la Mediterranee Pool


Venice has many fancy hotels, but no place comes close to Hotel Cipriani. This Orient-Express property is only a five-minute boat ride from crowded St. Mark's Square - yet it feels 500 miles away. The 82-room hotel, with a country home ambiance, is on an island that was once a refuge for nobility. Stay here and you, too, will feel like a contessa. The staff-to-guest ratio is one-to-one.

Posh double rooms, many recently renovated, have intimate balconies or terraces and perfect lagoon or garden views. Furnishings possess Italian grandeur. Think handmade stuccos, Carrara marble and Byzantine-Venetian-style mosiacs. Bathrooms have every amenity, including, alas, scales.

Hotel Cipriani grounds amaze. Sculpted gardens, erupting in a blaze of colorful blossoms, refresh weary sightseers. An adjacent vineyard adds to the locale's paradisiacal feel. Casanova Wellness Centre, named for the famed lover who once held trysts in what are now the hotel gardens, offers its own form of renewal. Nothing like a bath infused with essential oils and rose petals for rejuvenation.

Rub shoulders with the locals on the terrace of Bar Gabbiano, which faces the pool in modern Italian splendor. Splurge one night at Fortuny Restaurant for a dining experience not soon forgotten. The room, awash in silk and blown glass, is lit by candlelight. Risotto with scampi from the Adriatic Sea with fava beans, and housemade ravioli stuffed with sea bass and fennel, are two of the delights waiting. (

Cipriani New Jr Suite

bar gabbiano day

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