Italy offers one of the best experiences one can have aboard a yacht or catamaran in the Western Mediterranean and sailing is a wonderful way to discover the country’s many scenic destinations. Italy’s striking charm, warm hospitality, diverse culture and long history attract countless visitors for cruising holidays and romantic yachting getaways every year.
The best sailing areas in Italy are the Tuscan Islands, Naples and the Amalfi Coast, Sicily with the Aeolian Islands, and Sardinia. The country’s many anchorages also often serve as starting points in sailing itineraries that include other popular Mediterranean destinations. Charters departing from the western coast of Italy take travellers to Spain, Corsica and coastal France, while the eastern coast serves as a homeport for boating adventures in Croatia, Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.
The sailing season in Italy lasts from early May to late October. The best time of year to charter a boat is summer as the months of July and August have the hottest weather and lightest winds. The weather is also good in spring and autumn, when there are fewer boats around. The Tyrrhenian Coast has light southwestern winds in the summer and the Bay of Naples often has no wind at all for several days at a time. Stormy weather is not infrequent in early spring and autumn, with winds occasionally blowing at gale force.
The Ionian coast, which extends from the Straits of Messina to the ‘heel’ of Italy, has light to moderate winds blowing from the southeast or southwest in the summer and more northerly winds which can suddenly reach gale force in spring and autumn. Strong southerly winds are best avoided because they can cause trouble at sea and harbours are more widely spaced in this area.
The Adriatic region also has light to moderate sea breezes in the summer and more northern winds in spring and autumn. In the northern Adriatic, strong bora wind is common in the winter and occasional thunderstorms are to be expected in spring and autumn. In the southern Adriatic, the scirocco is more common, which usually builds in strength over a couple of days and can sometimes reach gale force.
Italy has several sailing regions that stretch along its western, southern and eastern coast: the Ligurian Coast (NW), Tuscan Coast and Tuscan Archipelago (W), Tyrrhenian Coast (W), Ionian Coast (S), Adriatic Coast (E) and the Gulf of Venice (NE). Sicily and Sardinia, the largest Mediterranean islands, are among Italy’s most popular sailing areas and both have numerous harbours and anchorages along their entire coastlines.
The Ligurian Coast, which stretches from San Remo to Livorno, gets fewer cruising yachts than other areas despite being an attractive cruising ground. The big ports are located at Genoa and La Spezia and other major marinas and anchorages include those at the ports of San Remo, Andora, Savona, Chiavari, Lavagna and Cinque Terre.
The Tuscan Coast and Tuscan Archipelago draw considerably larger numbers of yachts during the sailing season. The major ports and marinas along the coast are located at Livorno, Carrara, Viareggio, Pisa, Rosignano, San Vicenzo, Salivoli, Talamone, Santo Stefano, Punta Ala, Ercole, Cala Galera and Grosseto.
Of the seven major Tuscan Islands, only four are accessible to sailors: Capraia, Elba, Giglio and Giannutri. Elba, the largest island in the group, has several major harbours – Portoferraio, Porto Azzurro and Marciana Marina – as well as a number of smaller ports, marinas, yacht clubs, and other safe anchorages. Capraia and Giglio have only one harbour each, Porto Capraia and Porto Giglio, with about 60 and 80 berths respectively.
The Tyrrhenian Coast is home to Rome and Naples and numerous marinas and harbours associated with these and other cities in the region. These include the marina Riva di Triano just southeast of the port of Civitavecchia, the harbor of Fiumicino, where sailors berth their yachts when they visit Rome, Fiumara Grande, the mouth of the River Tiber, which hosts countless yachts throughout the year, Porto Turistico di Roma, the largest marina near Rome, and the large Marina di Nettuno near Anzio.
The major harbours in the Bay of Naples are Baia, Marina di Maglietta in Pozzuoli, Nisida, Sannazzaro Marina (Porto di Mergellina), Marina Santa Lucia, Marina Vigliena and Torre del Greco. Other ports and marinas are located at Salerno, Agropoli, Maratea, and Vibo Valentia and Tropea on the Calabrian Coast.
The Amalfi Coast, located between the Gulf of Naples and the Gulf of Salerno, has numerous anchorages that attract some of the world’s largest superyachts. The best known of these is the Pontile Coppola marina in the town of Amalfi.
The Bay of Naples is the starting point for boating trips to Capri, Procida and the Pontine Islands (Ponza, Ventotene and Ischia). The main port of Capri, Marina Grande, sits on the north side of the island and Marina Piccola, situated on the south side, is one of Italy’s most beautiful anchorages, famed as the spot where the Sirens seduced Odysseus in Greek mythology.
The Ionian coast, which stretches from the Straits of Messina to Santa Maria de Leuca, the southern tip of Italy’s heel, marks the spot where the Ionian and Adriatic seas meet and where sailors encounter some of the strongest tidal streams in the Mediterranean. The main anchorages are situated at Scilla, a tiny settlement named after the mythical monster, Reggio di Calabria, the main port in the Strait of Messina, the Rocella Ionica marina, Le Castella harbour, Crotone harbour, Ciro Marina, Cariati Marina, the bay of Porto Cesareo, the large Marina Laghi di Sibari, Marina di Policoro, Porto degli Argonauti, and the port of Taranto, one of Italy’s largest ports. The ancient town of Gallipoli has several mooring options and the port of Santa Maria di Leuca is a popular stop for boats passing through the Golfo di Taranto while sailing to Sicily or Greece.
Italy’s Adriatic Coast is far less crowded than the other regions, but offers an fine sailing ground nonetheless, with major ports at Otranto, Brindisi, Mola di Bari, Bari, Trani, Vieste, Ancona, Pesaro, Rimini, Ravenna, and the Po Delta. Bari, Trani and Vieste are popular ports of call for yachts sailing to Croatia.
The Gulf of Venice, stretching from the Po Delta to the ports of Venice and Trieste, is home to more ports and marinas per mile than any other part of Italy. The main ones include the Venetian Lagoon, Chioggia, Venice Central, Portegrandi, Piave Vecchia, the large Porto Santa Margherita, Marina Punta Faro in Lignano, Laguna di Marano, and Porto San Rocco, a large marina and leisure complex near Trieste. Trieste itself has numerous berthing options, most of which are found in the Marina San Giusto and the basin of Bacino Sacchetta.
Italy is a sailor’s paradise, with ever changing landscapes and tourist havens found along its long, diverse coastline. Sailing itineraries most frequently include destinations in Tuscany, the Bay of Naples and the Amalfi Coast, and the country’s two large islands, Sicily and Sardinia. These are also the top destinations for those looking to discover the country’s unique culinary delights in an authentic Italian setting. From the best kept gastronomic secrets of Sicily and Sardinia to the feast of local food and wine on the Amalfi Coast, Italy offers a range of regional specialties that have proven its title as the world’s top culinary mecca for centuries.
All sailing regions in Italy have their charms. The city of Genoa on the Ligurian Coast is known for its UNESCO World Heritage Sites consisting of Renaissance and Baroque palaces built in the 16th and 17th centuries. Another popular UNESCO-protected area in Liguria comprises Portovenere, Cinque Terre and the islands Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto, notable for their exceptionally scenic coastline with small towns built on a steep terrain.
The Tuscan Coast and Tuscan Islands offer a variety of options for cruising itineraries, which typically include both destinations on the coast – Livorno, Castiglioncello, Castiglioncello and Follonica – and some of the islands. Elba, the largest of the Tuscan Islands, and the smaller Giglio, Giannutri and Capraia are accessible to boats and never fail to amaze visitors with some of the most natural and best preserved landscapes in Italy. The islands are under the protection of the Arcipelago Toscano National Park, Europe’s largest protected marine area.
Sardinia draws visitors with its scenic anchorages, short passages, quiet, picturesque towns and some of the world’s most beautiful beaches. Known as the island of flavours, it offers a rich culinary experience with numerous traditional seafood dishes, breads and antipasti, pulses, beans, pasta, cheese, sweet pastries and wine, all best enjoyed while taking in the island’s unique, peculiar landscape.
Sardinia is home to the archaeological site of Su Nuraxi, the world’s most complete nuraghe settlement, dating back to the 2nd millennium BC. While there, sailors can also enjoy the unspoiled turquoise lagoons of the La Maddalena islands, a deserted archipelago just off the Costa Smeralda, a 20-kilometer long stretch of some of the world’s most beautiful beaches, found on Sardinia’s northern coast.
Sicily is home to a number of World Heritage Sites, including the historic city of Syracuse, the Necropolis of Pantalica, Mount Etna, Europe’s tallest volcano outside the Caucasus, and Val di Noto, a province in the southeastern part of the island that contains eight towns rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake, representing the culmination of Baroque art in Europe.
The UNESCO-protected 12th century Arab-Norman Palermo and the Cathedral Churches of Cefalú and Monreale in the Province of Palermo and Valle dei Templi, ancient Greek archaeological remains in Agrigento, are also a must-see.
The unspoiled natural wonders of the nearby Aeolian Islands, listed as a World Heritage Site in 2017, attract both visitors and volcanologists with stunning landscapes and fascinating ongoing volcanic phenomena. The islands of Lipari, Stromboli, Panarea and Salina are exceptionally diverse and among the region’s hottest destinations in the summer.
The Bay of Naples is a hotbed of culture and one of the most alluring parts of Italy’s coast. The historic centre of Naples, one of Europe’s most ancient cities, is a World Heritage Site, containing numerous monuments and churches that testify to various cultures that left their footprint in the region over the centuries. The Province of Naples is also home to the archaeological remains of the ancient towns of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata, all buried by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.
The Amalfi Coast, just to the southeast of the Gulf of Naples, is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an outstanding example of a Mediterranean landscape. With colorful towns emerging from towering hills, many snorkeling and diving options, and some of Italy’s best traditional cuisine, the region has attracted visitors for centuries. The larger ports of Salerno and Naples and the town of Tropea all make wonderful starting points for exploring both the coastal area and the offshore islands of Capri, Procida and Ischia.
Capri is one of the most glamorous destinations in Italy, drawing visitors both with its stunning limestone cliffs and sea caves and dining and shopping options. The famous Grotta Azzurra (Blue Grotto), Gardens of Augustus and Monte Solaro, the island’s highest point, are some of the most visited attractions.
In contrast to Capri, the volcanic island of Ischia offers a more authentic, rugged, rustic kind of charm. Visitors can relax in more than a hundred thermal springs and therapeutic muds, explore numerous hiking paths and visit Castello Aragonese, a medieval castle perched on a rock near the island.
Procida, the smallest island in the Bay of Naples, offers visitors plenty of opportunities to explore authentic island living in a picturesque setting that remains largely untouched by mass tourism.
The Pontine Islands – Ponza, Palmarola, Zannone, Gavi, Ventotene and Santo Stefano – are known for their clear blue waters, many beach bars, amazing seafood and impressive landscapes. The volcanic archipelago offers spectacular views, great food and lots of authentic local atmosphere. Visitors can also explore numerous Roman ruins and cave-tombs.
To the east of the Amalfi Coast, the Province of Salerno attracts tourists with the UNESCO-protected Parco Nazionale del Cilento, Vallo di Diano e Alburni, an exceptional cultural landscape that includes the remains of two large towns from classical times.
Venice, the highlight of Italy’s eastern coast, is a must for those sailing to the Adriatic region. With 118 small islands, countless architectural masterpieces, and world-famous spectacle of bridges, canals, water taxis and gondolas, the Renaissance city is best explored on a yacht. The numerous marinas and anchorages in the Venetian Lagoon provide easy access to the city’s most captivating sights, inviting sailors to take in the Venetian splendor before setting sail to Trieste and onward to any of the spectacular yachting destinations in the Eastern Mediterranean.