Once the cradle of ancient civilization, the Eastern Mediterranean still bustles: Centuries- and millennia-old monuments embed modern-day cities; mosques and markets stand on grounds that sultans once ruled; and further afield, crumbling ruins command cliffs, and whitewashed villas cascade down to sandy beaches.
The Eastern Mediterranean stretches from the Adriatic Sea — east of Italy to Croatia —southeastward to the Greek Isles and Turkey, and into the Holy Land and Egypt. Though the Western Mediterranean has traditionally been recommended for first-time cruisers, passenger numbers have been growing on this route.
Despite the fact that some of the region's sights attract throngs of camera-bearing tourists, the Eastern Med harbors off-the-grid hideaways if you delve further inland or anchor at whispered-about ports.
Touring the Eastern Mediterranean by ship is also convenient and efficient. You won’t have to deal with inter-island ferries in Greece or brave high-season traffic on Croatia’s coastal roads.
The ports serve a wide variety of interests: History buffs can explore the colonnaded library and well-preserved temples at Ephesus or revel in the ruins of stadiums at Olympia. The beautiful churches, palaces, and fountains of 13th-century sea-power Dubrovnik have justifiably been registered in the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The more adventurous travelers have plenty of terrain to explore, too. Ride a four-by-four on Corfu’s stony roads through olive groves, or mount a quad vehicle and traverse the dusty hills of Cyprus.
Relaxation is an option here as well. Though itineraries can be jam-packed with sights, you can choose to take things at a slower pace: Lounge on gorgeous beaches, poke around sleepy village shops, or sip a glass of wine from a vineyard.
Foodies will also find something to write home about. The region has an abundance of fertile farmland and fruit groves. The results are delectable, and famous local specialties (think grilled octopus, spit-roasted lamb, spinach burek) taste better here than anywhere else.