On an escorted tour, travellers are treated to the best of Singapore, Spain, Italy and France, writes Carol Smith.
Fifteen, 16, 17, 18 ... where's John?
I've counted 19 heads for 22 days on World Journeys' Best of the Med tour and, now, on our last stop in Barcelona, one is missing. Everyone else is gathered outside the Gothic Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, a stunning basilica which consists of one wide nave with more then 20 side chapels and is named after a young virgin who was killed at 13 for refusing to dismiss Jesus as the son of God.
Maria, our Barcelona guide, tells us not to get too distracted by the 13 curious, social white geese (whose ancestors have lived in the beautiful courtyard for centuries), each one representing a year of Santa Eulalia's life.
We have only 15 minutes to look inside as there is a lot to see as we explore Barcelona's charming Gothic Quarter, including a stop at La Boqueria market where eye-popping stalls overflowing with fresh fish, lollies, nuts, cheeses and fruit attract half the city.
When John doesn't return to our meeting point - not far from the geese - it is my job as the escorted tour host to play shepherd to a missing member of the flock. John leads us on a merry chase - despite being the oldest in the group at 82, over the time we have been together his walking and step climbing have put any 50-year-old with a Fitbit to shame.
After finding him - he'd taken the wrong exit out of the basilica and then got lost among the old streets - we are ready to continue, finishing the tour with Antoni Gaudi's magnificent La Sagrada Familia, a feat of light, colour and extraordinary engineering and one of the most revolutionary churches in the world.
Later that night, we eat a traditional Catalonian dinner at a restaurant in Las Arenas centre, formerly a bullring but now a shopping mall with a number of restaurants on its rooftop and offering stunning views across the city. Gazing out we are able to see the Magic Fountain of Montjuic, a spectacle of water, colour, light and music - a must-see for tourists.
As we toast our magical journey, it seems a lifetime ago that we were at our first destination, a stopover in Singapore where we shopped at fashion-conscious Orchard Rd before downing Singapore Slings at the famous Long Bar in Raffles Hotel and chucking peanut shells on the floor (the only place in Singapore where littering is allowed).
We'd followed that with a delicious seafood and barbecue buffet at our hotel. We'd tasted hairy red balls known as rambutan (a tropical fruit related to the lychee) for dessert and the brave among us had sampled the smelly "king of the fruits", durian, which is so stinky you must eat it outside. Most foreigners find it disgusting and those that tried it - I wimped out - likened the odour to smelly gym socks and sewage.
With the aftertaste of durian gone, it is time to tickle our tastebuds with everything our next destination, Italy, has to offer. On our coach ride from Milan to the resplendent Ligurian coast, also known as the Italian Riviera, I decide to perk up our tired travellers with a sugary treat from home. It's hard to beat admiring coastal beauty while chewing on a Pineapple Lump.
It is the first time in Italy for many and it doesn't take long for people to observe that Italians have few health concerns. They refuse to cut down on cigarettes and carbohydrates and take no notice of traffic rules or safety. One night we spot a man tottering around a steep tiled roof hanging little flags without any harness and with a fag hanging out of his mouth.
After three days exploring the Ligurian coast and being wowed by Cinque Terre, Portofino and Santa Margherita, the Italian resort town we stay in, we head to Lake Como's Menaggio, once a walled city but now a popular summer tourist haunt.
At picturesque Como we have two free days to spend either as a group or on our own. We are armed with a ferry pass which includes a trip to the cute little fishing village of Varenna with its waterfront cafes and stunning alleyway views of the lake; beautiful Bellagio, with its cobblestoned staircases and luxury shops - and the off-chance of bumping into George Clooney, who lives in nearby Laglio - and the quieter Cadenabbia, a popular health resort for the British.
After a coach ride to Venice we take a water taxi to our splendid, historic Hotel Palazzo Giovanelli, which overlooks the Grand Canal. Fatigue is forgotten as we navigate Venice's maze of alleyways.
If the idea of camping, wondering where your next hot dinner is coming from and being wet, cold and possibly lost in the woods excites you, stop reading. Our every need is catered for when we step aboard Holland America's Nieuw Amsterdam for our 12-day cruise from Venice to Barcelona.
The group luxuriates in ship life, the quality of the food in the signature restaurants and the ease of not having to pack and unpack suitcases every few days.
By day, ancient cobblestones are pounded and many litres of water downed as we make our way around iconic Italian sights. There are some long, hot days in Naples, Rome and Florence as different ship excursions are sampled. In Naples, some go to Pompeii for a fascinating history lesson on the eruption of Vesuvius in 79AD while a few of us chill out on the Isle of Capri. The 10-hour Highlights of Rome is a big-draw excursion, allowing people to see St Peter's Basilica, the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain in one day. Most people follow Rome with another big day out in Florence.
After some brutal sightseeing a few do not dress for dinner, but room service is but a phone call away.
There isn't time to see everything on the glorious Cote d'Azur, but we manage to view a lot on a bus ride around the corniche to Nice. We walk around the port to the famous Promenade des Anglais, buy incredible patisserie from Le Lac Chocolatier and the creamiest gelato at Fenocchio (which sells flavours such as Violet, Rosemary, Tomato and Basil and Lavender) before returning to Monaco, where our cruise awaits. Sadly, we only have Marseille and Barcelona to visit before returning to real life.
It is hard to believe, as we watch the Magic Fountain show from Las Arenas, that it is our last night. Although we have travelled together, we didn't live in each other's pockets - well, sometimes our tour mascot, Wally the sheep, did.
As well as organised events, there are days when nothing is planned (apart from pre-dinner cocktails) and group members can relax by themselves or join my husband and me as we return to some of our favourite places.
As a group we have had fun together and made many new friends. Of course, in every crowd in life there are glass-half-empty people. Travel is a privilege and some people save up for years to go, so if you're a boring moaner do your host and fellow travellers a favour and stay at home.
Details: World Journeys has two Best of the Med hosted tours next year, beginning June 16 and August 27.
The writer travelled as the escorted tour host for World Journeys' Best of the Med tour.