Travel Review: From Rio to Venice

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Chris Hutchinson sailed from South America’s Brazil to exciting countries in Europe, enjoying both the summer and spring sunshine.

Would the thought of starting a holiday in Rio de Janeiro and ending in Venice, two of the greatest cities in the world appeal to you? It did me.

Plus the Costa cruise itinerary included six places in Brazil then to Europe for visits to five more countries. This had all the ingredients of day-dreams but the attractive offer from Thomas Cook turned it into reality.

We joined the Costa Fortuna in Santos, heading north; first stop Rio, sailing into this magnificent city sets your pulse racing in anticipation. Well planned tours take you to Sugar Loaf Mountain by cable car and then by train to the top of Corcovado to the imposing monument of Christ the Redeemer embracing the city and the emblem of Brazil. The panoramic views are simply breathtaking.

From there we headed to Copacabana beach, walked down its famous black and white walk way and felt its vibrancy. Adjoining is Ipenema beach, sophisticated and scenic. We walked through Ipenema village to the lake which offers you different views of Christ’s statue from ground level.

A day of indelible memories.

The next sunny day at sea we explored the ship; it was obvious that Costa Fortuna was a liner of refined surroundings and amenities to suit everyone.

In contrast to Rio, Ilheus has a number of waterways which dissect this quietly sophisticated city. A 20 minute drive on its narrow coast road gives you the environmental privilege of golden sand, mango swamps and rain forest all within a 200 yard width.

You pass miles of deserted pristine beaches and arrive at Batuba beach, a natural cove where tiny tributaries from the rain forest weave their pattern across the sand. Pure white surf and gently swaying palm trees made me hum Coldplay’s Para, Para Paradise.

In the centre of Ilheus is its enchanting square with the imposing Sao Sebastiao Cathedral and the bar Vezuvio the most famous in Brazil because of its story links with bestselling author Jorge Amado.

Sipping a cold beer costing just 70 pence and listening to local musicians ended a perfect day.

“The place where you breathe the history, soul and essence of Brazil” are the words inscribed when you arrive at Salvador. Women in traditional dress and samba bands playing, intoxicate you into a cultural and vibrant atmosphere. The combinations of African and Portuguese history intertwine in the way of life and architecture.

We meandered around the Terreio De Jesus, Salvador’s main square, marvelling at beautiful buildings and buying hand-made leather shoes at bargain prices.

We were now experiencing “Cruising Italian Style” with Costa Fortuna providing excellent food and evening theatre shows of a high standard. Top Brazilian artists entertained us along with the ship’s resident dancers. It was then we met lovely American and Australian people who became friends.

Sailing further north; Maceio has beautiful promenades, beaches and excellent shopping. Local traders offer an abundance of choice, at low prices. My wife certainly added to her leather shoe and handbag collection. I bought a £2 tie!

Next stop was Recife and the real jewel here is historical Olinda a UNESCO world heritage site. Founded in 1535 this is a must to visit, cobbled streets support old Colonial houses and churches which are perched on a hill with sub tropical surroundings.

Our final port Fortaleza, a major attraction is a three level indoor market. We were astounded by the choice of merchandise and guess what, I know someone who bought more shoes and handbags. My relief was how low they cost.

Our journey from south to northern Brazil came to an end. We did not want to leave this country.

The next stage was to sail the mighty Atlantic Ocean. The weather was glorious; Costa Fortuna seemed to glide over the water. Crossing the equator was fun and every day there was activity to suit all needs or just relax and enjoy the wide open space. Early sunset in the deck’s jacuzzi was something I could get used to.

Back on dry land it was sunny spring in Santa Cruz, Tenerife. Our tour included a stroll round La Laguna a world heritage site, a drive through the luxuriant nature of the Orotaua valley with the imposing Mount Teide volcano as a backdrop. La Orotaua is a small town and a visit to a typical Canarian aristocratic house built in 1632 offers you exclusive hand made products, I bought my wife an Olivine ring, this is a semi precious green stone found in the Canary Islands and I’m told a bargain at just over £20.

Final stop, Icod d los Vinos; a tiny village which boasts a 3000 year old tree. Oh yes, and the calamari for lunch was the best I’ve tasted, only six euros for a large portion.

A beautiful day’s sea journey gave us time to enjoy Costa Fortuna’s hospitality. Berthing in Malaga, Spain, we revisited the village of Mijas which nestles in the mountainside of the Sierra de Mijas. Here you can discover its narrow streets lined with lemon and orange trees and traditional white houses.

Quality leather goods is a speciality and again handbags were the order of the day, ‘herself’ bought four, saying ‘they only cost eight euros each’. I bought a leather belt for three euros!

Two beautiful relaxing days at sea were enjoyed by sailing ‘Italian style’.

Entering La Valletta Malta is an experience in itself; its imposing fortified harbour immediately tells you this is a place of unique history. A 15 minute drive through the countryside and you arrive at Madina a former capital perched on a hill. You get lost in its atmosphere of a bygone age. Back in Valletta you stroll through its centre absorbing places of interest. It is said Ulysses stopped off here on his epic journey, I can understand why.

Corfu, for us was deja vu and Paleokastritsa with its wooded hills, crystal clear bays has hardly changed. On the hill road is a small vineyard where George the owner treated us to sample his wine and olives and our friends from Australia and America said they had never tasted better.

Corfu town is a labyrinth of small alleyways and I guess you know another handbag was bought, and yes my second leather belt for just 2 euros!

Evenings in the ships’ theatre is a highlight, being entertained by top European artists.

It is exciting to enter Dubrovnik, Croatia; this charming port is set in front of a picturesque hillside. A walking tour is enlightening, including cobbled streets, fountains, churches, museums and its Venetian heritage engulfs you. You are involved in its charm. A delightful local brandy is just three euros.

When you sail into Venice at sunrise and pass a deserted St Mark’s square you know you are in a special place in the world.

This Costa Cruise itinerary leaves indelible memories of a wonderful adventure sailing from a sunny Brazilian summer to a sunny spring in Europe.

Travel details.

2012/13 Cruises to and from South America are available with 19 day fly and cruise from £1539 pp.

Costa cruises also offer itineraries in the Mediterranean, Dubai, Far East and Caribbean.

Contact Costa Cruises on 0845 3510552, www.costacruises.co.uk or book through your local Travel agent.