On her second summer Mediterranean cruise stop, Johanna Payton samples shopping, history and tapas in Cartagena, Spain.
Cartagena (pronounced Cart-a-hen-ya, if you want to avoid embarrassing yourself) may be the perfect stop for a cruise ship. Upon docking, the smart and funky town in the Murcia region of Spain is just a five minute stroll along the marina away, so you don’t waste any time on transfers.
After the tourist crush of Gibraltar, Cartagena moves at a positively more civilised – and typically Spanish – pace. As we wandered into town mid-morning, the shops were cool and quiet and there were many ice cream parlours and cafes open for a relaxed brunch or morning coffee and cake.
With its shiny stone main street (Calle Mayor) and hip high street boutiques, Cartagena is a chic little spot for a spend. The boys I’m travelling with raided the sales at Springfield and I bought leather shoes galore at Gioseppo. The Superdrug-style pharmacies are huge and very keenly priced if you want to stock up on popular brands like Garnier and L’Oreal, and there are branches of Guess, Zara and Pronovious (perfect for some wedding dress ideas if your partner popped the question when you set sail).
Away from the shops, there is a nice park at the top of town (Parque Maestranza Artilleria) and a square where you can enjoy a soda or have dinner at the intimate A La Brasa, which sits beside a lovely water feature and offers a gourmet take on Spanish classics. We tried a taperia half way up the main street in the same group of restaurants: La Tartana does a delicious set tapas menu (€12 per person including a drink) for lunch with a brilliant selection of breads, cured meats, baked chicken, cheese, tortilla and a signature dish with salmon and artichoke. You can eat outside, soaking up the bustle of the high street, but do explore the shady interior where you can see the cured meats and succulent olives on display.
After lunch there is still time to explore some of Cartagena’s rich history and culture. On a day trip, you can easily visit the Museo Nacional de Arqueologia Subacuatica (near the cruise terminal, and you’ll only need an hour or so out of your day to see the galleries), or if you want to combine the sights with some action, take a segway tour of the town. We plumped for the beautiful Roman Theatre Museum where, after viewing a short exhibit, you can see the impressive remains of a 7,000 seat cavea that has been painstakingly restored over the last 25 years.
Desperate to escape the mid-afternoon heat, we retreated to the Yellow Submarine to revel in some (very loosely) Beatles-themed refreshment. On Plaza Ayuntamiento, the bar is opposite the site of Cartagena’s July music festival, so you can enjoy free concerts in the evening and sample specialist beers from around the world. I was just happy to be sitting at a George Harrison table with the air conditioning on full and a bottle of alcohol-free Estrella, brewed in the region, at my disposal.
Next stop: Rome, Italy
How to get to Cartagena, Spain without flying:
Johanna took a no-fly 14 night Mediterranean Italian cruise with Royal Caribbean, departing from and returning to Southampton.
Words: Johanna Payton for Feet on the Ground
Images: Johanna Payton