This beautiful Italian town is bustling with visitors and frequented by the rich and famous, but we stride right on through the centre of it and head uphill beside the police station, getting our directions confirmed by a friendly poliziotto as we pass.
We are on a mission to walk to a neighbouring cove called San Fruttuoso. I had stumbled upon it while googling "walks from Portofino" before we left home. It's a serious walk - harder than I expected - on a steep and often rough track, which takes nearly two hours.
The reward is a pebble beach lapped by deep crystal blue water, and a foreshore taken up entirely by a 13th-century abbey and church. There is no road access. A local ferry calls in occasionally and a tiny cafe is open sporadically.
If you encounter one of the handful of local residents, ask them about the statue of Jesus submerged out in the bay.
We manage to get a water taxi back to Portofino, avoiding the hard slog back up the cliff and over the hill.
The richest little country in the world and the people-watching is second to none. We walk uphill from the cruise wharf and watch the changing of the guard at the Royal Palace. It's more Disneyland than dignity, but a laugh. On the side of the cliff is Oceanographique de Monaco, the aquarium of Jacques Cousteau and perhaps the best of its kind in the world.
Then we pretend to be James Bond and head to the Casino de Monte-Carlo. The plan here - for those who don't mind paying through the nose - is to sit outside the Cafe de Paris and watch the flash cars and fabulous people go by.
The guidebooks don't always mention it but on the waterfront below the casino is a peaceful Japanese Garden, an ideal place to eat a takeaway baguette and drink an Evian. Perfect for people like us who don't fancy a €9 ($14) beer or a €20 ($32) cocktail at the Cafe de Paris.
Of course, you must see the architectural masterpieces of Gaudi - definitely his cathedral, La Sagrada Familia, and Park Guell - and probably the main tourist thoroughfare, Las Ramblas. But on this stopover, we skip out of the city and to tour the Freixenet winery - the biggest producer of sparkling wine in the world.
Spanish sparkling wine is called cava (only the Champagne region of France can use the name champagne), and Freixenet makes 200 million bottles of cava a year.
A mere drop in the ocean, 48,000 bottles, are exported to be sold in New Zealand. Here, there are regular tours and tastings. A highlight is chugging by underground train through the enormous storage caves.
At Freixenet, they speak highly of New Zealand vineyard practices, and there are educational exchanges of young viticulturalists and winemakers. Freixenet is an hour from the cruise terminal, easy to get to by train or car, but it's important to research the times of tours in advance.
The third-largest city in Spain - after Madrid and Barcelona - Valencia is sometimes the forgotten cousin. We love it (and I had done not a jot of research). There is a welcoming, relaxed vibe and a gentle mix of historic sites and modern attractions. Once you catch a shuttle to the city from the cruise port it's easy to walk everywhere. The Plaza de Virgen is the focal point for several religious landmarks.
The cathedral holds a chalice allegedly used by Christ at the Last Supper.
Valencia is a great city for shopping, and the restaurants are high quality, low-priced and staffed by owners enthusiastically delighted to see and serve you. We are not permitted to leave before drinking our complementary muscatel, the rich and sweet wine of the region.
As an independent traveller you might not bother but many cruise ships stop here. If you do find yourself in Gibraltar for the day, make sure your sense of irony is intact, and then boggle at the sight of Britain thumbing her nose at Spain.
Gibraltar is a little patch of old-fashioned England, somehow stuck on to the bottom of Spain and populated by Brits abroad who seem to have been frozen in the 1950s. Union Jacks, pubs, turf accountants, newsagents, even Marks and Spencer, dot the quaint main street.
Spain wants Gibraltar back - it is after all just a big rock stuck on Spanish land with a road as a border - but the British have been here since 1704 and they are hanging on.
A highlight in the stopover itinerary.
A day in Funchal, Madeira, only serves to make us want to return to explore more of this Portuguese island. Make a well-researched plan in advance as it's not possible to do everything in one day.
We take a cable car to the top of a high hill and come down in a wicker toboggan. It's an historic ride invented to get residents from the village of Monte down to Funchal below.
Some people feel the €30 thrill ride down steep, narrow streets is a tourist trap. We find it exhilarating, and feel fairly safe at 30km/h under the control of two singing men using heavy rubber-soled shoes as brakes.
We do need a glass of the local fortified wine afterwards.
Have a madeira, m'dear.
Further information: Pam Neville made these stopovers on a small cruise ship, Seadream I, sailing from Rome to the Canary Islands. It is one of two vessels owned by Seadream Yacht Club, whose slogan is "It's yachting, not cruising". Seadream sails the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, and this year added an Asian itinerary.