The Mediterranean has many cruising options. The most popular destinations include those with the following universal characteristics: protected waters, a number of interesting islands to visit, small villages on the water with ports with anchorages or docks large enough to accommodate a yacht, interesting things to see (and eat) while ashore and “visitor-friendly” locals.
The most important insider tip to yachting in the Greek Islands is your timing. September is the best month, with the least crowds, minimal wind and warm weather.
Within these general principals, the following destinations meet the requirements from West to East:
a) Spain and the Balearics. pros are good food and friendly locals, cons are that yachts need a special Spanish cruising license to pick up and drop-off paying guests thus making it difficuly for non-Spanish yachts to do business there. Some of the commercially licensed vessels are exempt from this requirement but most part-time charter vessels do not have this certificate and this drives the price up.
Also the distance between the Balearic Islands of Majorca, Menorca and Ibiza and the mainland is quite large and that takes time and fuel. This destination would normally be a “stand-alone” destination since it is pretty far away from the French Riviera, for example.
b) The French Riviera and Monaco are a favorite yachting retreat for the rich and famous. The yacht rates and the dockage in this area reflect this. Notwithstanding, if you have the wallet, I have the time and there are plenty of yachts available and it’s marvellous to plan an itinerary starting in Hyeres or St Tropez, for example and finishing up in Monaco.
A larger motor yacht could also include some destinations on the Italian Riviera on the same trip so instead of finishing up in Monaco you could end your charter in San Remo or even Genoa, for example.
c) The Northern Italian Coast: charters generally start in Genoa or Portofino, Santa Margharita Ligure or La Spezia. This itinerary would include the Cinque-Terre region and all the little ports and villages on the coast. You can choose to disembark in Civittavecchia (Rome) or Naples (Napoli).
d) The Southern Italian (Amalfi) Coast is a favorite for charterers, yachts generally pick up in Napoli and cruise the Amalfi and the islands of Ischia and Capri all the way to Salerno. If it is a larger faster yacht you can include Sicily in this equation although this is usually a stand-alone charter destination.
e) Sicily and the Aeolian Islands are another favorite destination. Yacht will usually pick up in either Napoli, or Reggio di Calabria which has an airport close by and of course on Sicily proper in Palermo. Sicily is delightful with quaint little villages scattered all around the coast.
Good food, nice people. The Aeolian Islands include Stromboli with its famous volcano, other than that the Aeolian is quite dry and uninteresting except for Lipari.
f) Croatia, a relatively new destination for charter yachts, has some beautiful islands and of course the historic city of Dubrovnik. Very popular with the “bareboat” crowd. You can board in Split and disembark in Dubrovnik, both of which have good airports.<g) The Greek Islands: This will take a little longer so bear with me here: Greece and Turkey are some of our favorite places and we offer the following tips for first time charterers. Most people relate Greek Islands cruising to the classic destinations of Mykonos and Santorini.
The truth is that there are more than 700 islands in Greece and every one offers a fantastic and different cultural and gastronomical experience. The easiest way to think about the Greek islands is to classify them into groups.
Greek island Groups
2. The Saronic (Sah-ron-ik) Gulf and Peloponnese Islands that include Aegina, Poros, Spetses and Hydra.
3. The Ionian (Eye-ohn-yan) Group of Islands, on the West coast of the Greek mainland that include Corfu and Cephalonia (home of “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin” fame).
4. The Dodecanese (Doh-dek-ahn-ease) Group, is in the far Eastern waters of the Greek Archipielago that border with Turkey. These include Samos, Kos, Kalimnos and Rhodes. Cruising these waters can give you a wonderful experience of both Greek and Turkish cultures and foods and include a visit to Ephesus, famous for its ancient Biblical history, architecture and monuments.
5. The Sporades (Spor-ah-des) Group, North of Athens are quite different and very green and agricultural. Generally calmer waters and less wind, a favorite for fair weather sailors.
6. You can also add the island of Crete to these Groups, Crete is a unique place and a bit off the beaten track and should be a “stand-alone” destination.
When you fly into Athens, you can start your yacht charter at the Port closest to Athens which is Piraeus or Alimos. From Piraeus you have three choices: East to the Cyclades, South to the Saronic and the islands of Aegina, Poros, Hydra and Spetses OR West, through the Corinth canal to the Gulf of Corinth and to the Ionian islands of Cephalonia and Corfu. This latter is a longer trip more suitable for 2 week charters.
If you choose the Dodecanese, you should fly on a local airline (Aegean Air is very good) to either Samos or to Rhodes and pick up your yacht in either location. In June July and August which are “Meltemi” wind months, the Meltemi blows from the NorthWest, It’s better to fly in to Samos, pick up the yacht there, and travel SouthEast with the wind behind you making for a smoother ride and a more pleasant trip.
Another thing to bear in mind is that you can use a Turkish yacht, maybe even a Turkish Gulet which are marvellous, comfortable and well-maintained boats, made entirely by hand out of wood grown in the Turkish highlands, that can be chartered from Samos, Rhodes or even better, from Bodrum or Marmaris on the Turkish side.
The Turkish Lira has a much more favorable exchange rate with the US$ than the Euro so everything, including hotels and restaurants, is relatively less expensive.
If you are a first time Mediterranean charterer and planning for fall sail then we would suggest The Greek Dodecanese Islands with a Samos pick-up OR The Cyclades with an Athens rendezvous.