The yachting°com Sailing Guide to Italy
Why sail in Italy?
- variety of sailing locations - for beginners and adrenaline lovers
- diverse coastline, beautiful bays and deserted islands
sandy beaches that do not match those of the Caribbean, and wild steep cliffs
- picturesque medieval village with magical harbors
- You will find antique and Romanesque monuments from Rome to Sicily in such abundance that you have no chance of visiting them all.
- local cuisine from the highest quality and freshest local ingredients
Yachting areas in Italy
The regions of Italian waters are defined as follows: the Ligurian coastline around Genoa; the Tuscan Islands and adjacent mainland; the Pontine Islands; the Amalfi and Cilento area; northern and southern Sardinia; Sicily and the Aeolian islands; Calabria and the Adriatic in the region around Venice
Sardinia is so large, varied and rich that it is impossible to get to know it over the course of one fortnight's sailing holiday. If you sail from northeastern Olbia, a tour of frequently uninhabited, wild islands awaits you in the La Maddalena National Park, with many beautiful sandy beaches and well-sheltered bays. From here, you can sail your yacht through the Strait of Bonifacio and visit the island of Corsica with the beautiful Bonifacio extending from the rocks high above the sea. You will also discover a copious amounts of out-of-the-way bays, fjords, and cosy beaches along the southern coastline of Sardinia. Other beautiful places are the area of Costa Rei to the southeast of the island or the coastline west of Cagliari, from where you can set out on your travels. If you want to spice up your trip with fishing or diving, anchor by the islands of Sant'Antioco or San Pietro. The south of Sardinia also offers many ancient remains of the island’s colourful past.
The most famous and most luxurious tourist zone on Sardinia is without a doubt the Emerald Coast—Costa Smeralda—located in the northeastern part of Sardinia, north of Olbia.
The Tuscan Islands and adjacent mainland
The best yachting location in this area is undoubtedly Elba—the site of Napoleon’s exile, but above all a beautiful island which you can explore over and over again. There are many safe anchorages with wonderful, sandy beaches, a cable car to the highest peak offering a wonderful view, romantic medieval towns (top of the list being Portoferraio), or modern millionaire’s enclaves where people such as Roman Abramovich anchor with their modest barges.
The Tuscan yachting area is bordered in the north by the River Magra and in the south by the town of Civitavecchia. It also includes the island of Capraia, a former penal colony and now a great place for diving. Also Piatnosa, Giglio, which is infamous for the grounding of the Costa Concordia, or for Montecristo—the setting for The Count of Montecristo by Alexander Dumas that makes up part of the Parco Nazionale Arcipelago Toscano national park. Other than a few exceptions, these are rocky islands rising sharply from the sea, whereas mainland Tuscany is made up of fertile pastures, orchards, and vineyards. It is in exactly this picturesque area where you can be amazed by the Leaning Tower of Pisa, a stone’s throw from the marina, or enjoy some homemade saffron ravioli in one of the authentic Tuscan restaurants.
Sicily and the Aeolian Island
Sicily is a world of its very own. The east, which is dominated by Etna, the most active volcano in Europe, is separated from Italy by the Strait of Messina. This captivating island is largely comprised of mountains, but the rest is abundant with citrus groves, vineyards and olive trees. Palermo will enchant you with its characteristic charm. You will very likely be setting sail from its natural harbour. When sailing along the northern coastline, you cannot miss the Appenino Siculo mountain range, which is almost 2 000 m high. From Etna in the direction of Mount Vesuvius, the volcanic belt is complemented by the Lipari Archipelago with the captivating and still active volcano Stromboli. These small islands are made up of active or extinct volcanic cones. Apart from walks past smoking, volcanic chimneys, a great experience is bathing in the hot pools and volcanic mud. The best harbours for sailing to Lipari are the Porto Rosa and Milazzo marinas, the island of Vulcano only being three hours away by boat. The Strait of Messina is a space with regulated entry and transit. For this reason, you must contact the coastguard on channel 10 before entering; otherwise you risk a fine.
Weather and climatic conditions
Thanks to the Alps, which act as a natural barrier in the area against the entry of cold winds, the rule in Italy states that the further south you sail, the hotter you will be. Genoa in August will on average be 25°C, whereas in Palermo, the temperature will be 27°C. The difference in sea temperatures will be similar—23°C in contrast to 26°C. Storms occasionally occur in summer, accompanied by strong winds and rough seas. Storms appear mainly along the coastline, these being typical for the south of Sardinia but usually only last a few hours.
You will hear the following four names in relation to winds and the weather forecast: Mistral, Libeccio, Tramontana, and Bora. The Mistral, which we are well-acquainted with from Croatian waters, mainly blows here in the area of Corsica and northern Sardinia, this being in a N–NW direction. The Libeccio will be less well-known for many. This SW–W wind blows especially in the Ligurian Sea and around Corsica in the northern half of the Tyrrhenian Sea. It regularly blows with a force of 5–8 on the Beaufort scale (BFT) and brings rain, usually lasting 1–4 days. Those who visit the western coastline of Italy in winter or autumn have a good chance of getting acquainted with the Tramontana. This often reaches storm strength, especially near the mountainous coastline, where gusts of wind often occur. This is a NE wind and usually lasts 1–2 days.
You will experience the hot, southerly wind known as Sirocco mainly to the south of Sardinia, Sicily, and the Italian mainland. This can also reach storm strength and lasts for 2–5 days. As it blows from the Sahara, it often contains particles of red sand. The Bora can last up to 22 days and primarily affects the northern Adriatic Sea. It is felt most in the winter and blows from the north.
Other yachting areas in Italy
Despite their great attractiveness, the Pontine Islands are often overlooked by tourists. But you can make amends for this with your sailing yacht and explore the island of Capri, covered with cliffed coastline and whose mountain capital is reachable from the harbour by cable car. Its beautiful caves and deserted bays are only accessible by boat. Or what about the evergreen Ischia with hundreds of thermal springs and the pilgrimage church of sailors Santa Maria del Soccorso? Another very nice island is Ponza, offering many safe and spacious anchorages and Ischia. Rome, which is on the mainland, needs no introduction. But we would still like to mention the busy Naples with Vesuvius and the buried city of Pompeii, are both suitable for a day trip.
Amalfi and Cilento
Believe it or not, Amalfi was a powerful and famous seafaring republic during the Middle Ages, whose destruction only came about when an earthquake struck in the 14th century, with the tremors causing most of the town to fall into the sea. The whole area is characterised by mountains, charming scenery, and small villages built into the cliffs and lining the coastline. It is exactly in the Amalfi area, near the small islands of Li Galli, that sirens lured the mythical Odysseus onto the rocks with their irresistible song. The Cilento area is essentially a huge national park dotted with historical villages where people still live as they did in days gone by. And it is not surprising as the area attracts only a few tourists.
Southern Adriatic Sea
This part of the Italian yachting area is made up of the coastline from the tip of the heel to the harbour town of Brindisi. There are only six harbours here. Similar to its western neighbour, this area is also superb as a "place to stop and rest" for yachts sailing across the Ionian Sea on their way to Croatian, Montenegrin or Greek territorial waters.
The northernmost yachting area spreads out all the way from the border with France to the mouth of the River Magra, the centre being Genoa, the largest Italian harbour. You will either love or hate this place. Its two marinas are situated very nicely right in the centre of the busy city. But don’t expect the sea to be clean here. When sailing in, at your back are the immense peaks of the Alps and ahead in the distance, towards your bow, you will see the outline of the wild island of Corsica shrouded in mist. Wonderful scenery is offered by the Riviera di Levante area to the west of Genoa, where the picturesque countryside blends in with beautiful, medieval towns in Mediterranean pastel shades. The famous La Spezia Bay and mouth of the River Magra is also famous for its natural beauty. Sailing along the dramatic coastline of the Cinque Terre area are five amazing, colourful tiny villages squeezed onto the steep rocks.
The Venetian Lagoon
This large lagoon spreading out around the capital created a kind of shield against attackers in the ancient Roman period thanks to its ruggedness. Today, you can sail around its many diverse little islands where the local Venetians escape from tourists to enjoy a picnic—for example, to the seldom-visited island of Sant' Erasmo, a paradise of vegetable markets and known for its abundant harvest of artichokes and asparagus, or the island of Burano, where you can spice up your time spent eating and resting with a visit to the famous glassworks.
When you steer your sailing yacht towards the Gulf of Taranto and sail beyond the heel of Italy, you will be sailing in the part of Italian waters least frequented by yachtsmen. The Calabrian part of the southern coastline is lined with steep mountains and wild rocks, whereas the Apulian coastline boasts sunny plains and undulating hills. The whole of the Italian Ionian Sea does, however, have one common quality: amazingly long and sandy beaches that remain almost completely deserted. This area is also a very suitable place to stop off when sailing to Croatia, Montenegro or Greece.
If you think you know what a real Margherita pizza tastes like, anchor in Naples for a while and head to the Centro Storico where they will convince you otherwise. The tomatoes here come from the same volcanic soil that buried Pompeii, the local mozzarella is made from buffalo milk and, together with freshly picked basil, forms this most famous Neapolitan dish.
In Sicily, the locals will teach you how superbly prepared fish should taste. Once you try the local salt-baked tuna with anchovies, garnished with pumpkin flowers and stuffed with cheese, you will never want any other. If you prefer to cook something up in the boat’s galley, stop off in the morning in Catania at the famous La Pescheria fish market, where old men will try to convince you of the merits of their respective catch. There is a grocery market only a stone’s throw from there, too.
The Italian coastline and islands offer you such gastronomic attractions like this and much, much more. The differences in individual areas are enormous. This is why detailed information and recommendations for specific restaurants will be dealt with in the articles for individual areas.
When should you sail to Italy for a yachting holiday?
Calm cruising combined with sightseeing is offered by all yachting areas in Italy in the spring and autumn.
Croatia probably has the greatest number of marinas in the world, but Italy is certainly not too far behind. There is no danger of you not finding somewhere to shelter when the weather is bad. Just count on the fact that the price for spending the night is somewhat more expensive—EUR 100 per night for a 12 m sailing yacht is quite the norm here. But it is usually no problem to anchor near the marina and travel into town by dinghy. Some harbours even offer free parking for visitors but these fill up very quickly in high season so you need to book in advance.
Some important information for each and every yachtsman is that the last week in July and the first three weeks in August are a nationwide holiday for the Italians, known as the Ferragosto, and it would be better for you to be somewhere else then Italy. If you think that 20 boats in a bay in Croatia means "full," imagine as many as 50 boats in the bay in Italy during Ferragosto. The bay will be empty in the morning with only a few sailing yachts anchoring there. Boats start sailing in after 10:00 in the morning, especially motor boats. The number of boats peaks at around 14:00 in the afternoon. Boats are continually sailing in and out throughout the day. The Italians picnic on their boat, swim a few strokes and then sail away again. There are so many boats in the bay that you can’t even go for a swim. Around 17:00 in the afternoon, everyone raises anchor and sails off to the harbour to sit in restaurants all evening. Evenings and nights are quiet again, with only a few sailing yachts sitting at anchor.
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