10 Things to Buy on a Mediterranean Cruise

by Fran Golden

10 Things to Buy on a Mediterranean Cruise

by Fran Golden

The next time you sail to countries such as France, Spain, Italy, and Greece, save room in your luggage for 10 of our favorite things to buy on a Mediterranean cruise. And with the U.S. dollar strong against the Euro, shoppers can get a lot of bang for their buck.

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Colorful pottery in Santorini / iStock.com / Nirad
Chocolate in Barcelona's La Boqueria market
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1. Chocolate

Christopher Columbus brought cocoa beans back to Europe from the New World, and the French, Spanish, and Italians have been doing amazing things with this product ever since. Even chocolate bars sold at corner stores are delicious, while handmade treats from upscale chocolatiers are usually outstanding. While you’re at it, pick up some rich cocoa powder to take home with you.

Where to Go: Spain was was the first of European nation to discover chocolate (Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes brought back the original recipe from the Aztecs in the 16th century), and Barcelona has carried on that tradition with its artisanal chocolatiers. At Cacao Sampaka, you can pick up a bags of the cocoa powder used to make an amazing drinking chocolate.

Christopher Columbus brought cocoa beans back to Europe from the New World, and the French, Spanish, and Italians have been doing amazing things with this product ever since. Even chocolate bars sold at corner stores are delicious, while handmade treats from upscale chocolatiers are usually outstanding. While you’re at it, pick up some rich cocoa powder to take home with you.

Where to Go: Spain was was the first of European nation to discover chocolate (Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes brought back the original recipe from the Aztecs in the 16th century), and Barcelona has carried on that tradition with its artisanal chocolatiers. At Cacao Sampaka, you can pick up a bags of the cocoa powder used to make an amazing drinking chocolate.

Display of gold bangles
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2. Jewelry

You can find plenty of bargains on silver and gold in Italy and Spain, while there are lots of amazing (and affordable) costume pieces on offer in France, in addition to fancier jewels. Go for the gold in Greece, where you can choose from patterns dating back to ancient times. Turkey is home to beautiful silver work including creations that feature the evil eye.

Where to Go: Gold jewelry is known to be a bargain in Athens, particularly at the shops around the Plaka neighborhood, where you can purchase coins, pendants, necklaces, and other handcrafted treasures in a variety of designs. Be sure to comparison shop, get ready to bargain, and be aware that all that glimmers may not be authentic gold.

You can find plenty of bargains on silver and gold in Italy and Spain, while there are lots of amazing (and affordable) costume pieces on offer in France, in addition to fancier jewels. Go for the gold in Greece, where you can choose from patterns dating back to ancient times. Turkey is home to beautiful silver work including creations that feature the evil eye.

Where to Go: Gold jewelry is known to be a bargain in Athens, particularly at the shops around the Plaka neighborhood, where you can purchase coins, pendants, necklaces, and other handcrafted treasures in a variety of designs. Be sure to comparison shop, get ready to bargain, and be aware that all that glimmers may not be authentic gold.

Selection of salts from the Mediterranean
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3. Salt and pepper

Stock up on light and delicate Mediterranean sea salt, or spring for the grey-tinged fleur de sel from Brittany or flor de sal from Portugal or Spain. There's also flavored sea salt: In Provence, salt is infused with herbs as well as roses. The French also sell great combinations of red, white, and black peppercorns.

Where to Go: After disembarking at Marseilles, make your way to Aix-en-Provence and shop the local markets (they take place daily in several locations about town). Here you can find large- and fine-grain salts for sale, including the famous fleur de sel de Camargues, harvested in salt pans an hour and a half east of Aix-en-Provence.

Stock up on light and delicate Mediterranean sea salt, or spring for the grey-tinged fleur de sel from Brittany or flor de sal from Portugal or Spain. There's also flavored sea salt: In Provence, salt is infused with herbs as well as roses. The French also sell great combinations of red, white, and black peppercorns.

Where to Go: After disembarking at Marseilles, make your way to Aix-en-Provence and shop the local markets (they take place daily in several locations about town). Here you can find large- and fine-grain salts for sale, including the famous fleur de sel de Camargues, harvested in salt pans an hour and a half east of Aix-en-Provence.

Colorful Italian pasta
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4. Pasta

Food-lovers cruising around Italy should focus on artisanal pasta, which is easy to find and hassle-free to transport. (Keep it in a carry-on bag to avoid breakage.) The best deals are at small (non-tourist) shops or supermarkets. Don't overpay at the airport.

Where to Go: Sure, you can buy a box of spaghetti at home, but you won't get the same shapes, colors and flavors of pasta as you do in Rome. Stop by a gourmet store such as Volpetti for bags of the artisanal staple.

Food-lovers cruising around Italy should focus on artisanal pasta, which is easy to find and hassle-free to transport. (Keep it in a carry-on bag to avoid breakage.) The best deals are at small (non-tourist) shops or supermarkets. Don't overpay at the airport.

Where to Go: Sure, you can buy a box of spaghetti at home, but you won't get the same shapes, colors and flavors of pasta as you do in Rome. Stop by a gourmet store such as Volpetti for bags of the artisanal staple.

Display of French olive oils
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5. Oil and vinegar

Bring some large, sealable plastic bags so you can pack your checked luggage with extra-virgin olive oil from Italy, Greece, or Spain (all offer excellent products) without having to worry about spillage. Olive oil soap is also a lovely and easy gift idea. And don't forget about Italian balsamic vinegar.

Where to Go: Provence, which you can access via Marseilles, is surrounded by olive oil mills and lush groves. If you're not up for a tour of the producers, you can stop by a market or specialty store at the nearby Aix-en-Provence or in Marseilles itself. At Places des Huiles, you can sample (and buy) 19 different varieties.

Bring some large, sealable plastic bags so you can pack your checked luggage with extra-virgin olive oil from Italy, Greece, or Spain (all offer excellent products) without having to worry about spillage. Olive oil soap is also a lovely and easy gift idea. And don't forget about Italian balsamic vinegar.

Where to Go: Provence, which you can access via Marseilles, is surrounded by olive oil mills and lush groves. If you're not up for a tour of the producers, you can stop by a market or specialty store at the nearby Aix-en-Provence or in Marseilles itself. At Places des Huiles, you can sample (and buy) 19 different varieties.

Leather bags
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6. Leather goods

You'll find great deals on shoes, boots, and handbags in Spain and Italy. Sandals from Capri or Greece make a nice, practical souvenir; we also love the soft leather gloves made in Florence (which are easy to pack). You might score a reasonably priced leather jacket in Greece or Turkey — or just splurge on fine Italian leather.

Where to Go: In Capri, the traditional leather-soled sandals can be custom-cut to the size of your feet and can be handmade and ready by the time that you leave port. When you head to a store such as Canfora, you can also choose the straps and beading.

You'll find great deals on shoes, boots, and handbags in Spain and Italy. Sandals from Capri or Greece make a nice, practical souvenir; we also love the soft leather gloves made in Florence (which are easy to pack). You might score a reasonably priced leather jacket in Greece or Turkey — or just splurge on fine Italian leather.

Where to Go: In Capri, the traditional leather-soled sandals can be custom-cut to the size of your feet and can be handmade and ready by the time that you leave port. When you head to a store such as Canfora, you can also choose the straps and beading.

Limoncello in Italy
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7. Liquor

Keep in mind that customs officers will allow one liter of alcohol per adult (and there are weight restrictions for luggage), so if you’re picking up limoncello from Italy, pastis from France, ouzo from Greece, or any alcoholic beverage made by monks, pack your checked bags accordingly.

Where to Go: Limoncello is produced in several regions in Italy, but the best is made along the Amalfi Coast with Sorrento lemons, a fragrant and juicy citrus variety grown in volcanic soil. Some shops in Sorrento will even ship bottles to your home. 

Keep in mind that customs officers will allow one liter of alcohol per adult (and there are weight restrictions for luggage), so if you’re picking up limoncello from Italy, pastis from France, ouzo from Greece, or any alcoholic beverage made by monks, pack your checked bags accordingly.

Where to Go: Limoncello is produced in several regions in Italy, but the best is made along the Amalfi Coast with Sorrento lemons, a fragrant and juicy citrus variety grown in volcanic soil. Some shops in Sorrento will even ship bottles to your home. 

Sicilian ceramics
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8. Ceramics

When in Italy, France (especially Provence), Spain, Greece, and Turkey, look for colorful, hand-painted ceramics — including tiles, which make excellent trivets. For ease of packing, choose small olive trays and other items that lie flat.

Where to Go: Sicily has an age-old tradition of glazed pottery-making, particularly of the Caltagirone region. For unique gifts, wander around Taormina's Corso Umberto and its surrounding alleyways for shops with colorful wares.

When in Italy, France (especially Provence), Spain, Greece, and Turkey, look for colorful, hand-painted ceramics — including tiles, which make excellent trivets. For ease of packing, choose small olive trays and other items that lie flat.

Where to Go: Sicily has an age-old tradition of glazed pottery-making, particularly of the Caltagirone region. For unique gifts, wander around Taormina's Corso Umberto and its surrounding alleyways for shops with colorful wares.

Florentine stationery
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9. Paper goods

Calendars, diaries, handmade stationery, and vibrant paper napkins are among our favorites to bring back, as they don't add much weight to luggage. In Italy, be sure to seek out the exquisite Florentine stationery.

Where to go: Parchment and marbled paper are among Florence's exquisite artisanal crafts. Fourth-generation Alberto Cozzi (Via del Parione 35r) has been an institution since 1908 or you can swing by a location of the chain Papiro. Be sure to check if the products were made in Italy (that may not be the case for some of the cheaper stuff).

Calendars, diaries, handmade stationery, and vibrant paper napkins are among our favorites to bring back, as they don't add much weight to luggage. In Italy, be sure to seek out the exquisite Florentine stationery.

Where to go: Parchment and marbled paper are among Florence's exquisite artisanal crafts. Fourth-generation Alberto Cozzi (Via del Parione 35r) has been an institution since 1908 or you can swing by a location of the chain Papiro. Be sure to check if the products were made in Italy (that may not be the case for some of the cheaper stuff).

Sunglasses on display
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10. Clothes and accessories

You'll encounter deals when you dock in the lands of Prada, Gucci, Chanel, and Hermès — French brands cost less in France, and Italian brands cheaper in Italy. Sunglasses and bags are some of our favorite items to snatch up. If designer goods don't fit into your budget, check out reasonably priced Spanish brands including Zara, Mango, and Max & Company (Max Mara's more affordable brand) when in Italy.

Where to Go: One hour from the port of Genoa, Serravalle McArthurGlen is amongst the largest fashion outlets in Italy with more than 170 stores. It carries labels such as Gucci, Prada, and Dolce & Gabbana, which are discounted at up to 70 percent off year-round.

You'll encounter deals when you dock in the lands of Prada, Gucci, Chanel, and Hermès — French brands cost less in France, and Italian brands cheaper in Italy. Sunglasses and bags are some of our favorite items to snatch up. If designer goods don't fit into your budget, check out reasonably priced Spanish brands including Zara, Mango, and Max & Company (Max Mara's more affordable brand) when in Italy.

Where to Go: One hour from the port of Genoa, Serravalle McArthurGlen is amongst the largest fashion outlets in Italy with more than 170 stores. It carries labels such as Gucci, Prada, and Dolce & Gabbana, which are discounted at up to 70 percent off year-round.

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