The Mediterranean Sea is a sailing mecca. There’s no doubt about that. Turquoise-blue waters meet resplendent islands from the French Riviera to the archipelagos of Greece in these parts, plus chic port towns and hidden sand runs where you can find yourself totally alone. But where are the best places to sail in the Mediterranean?
Now that’s a tricky one. There’s just so much to choose from. This guide’s given a good fist of it, though, whittling down all those world-famous boating spots to just a handful of options for would-be captains.
It’s certainly got a good mix. From the glitzy Cote d’Azur and its celeb-stalked promenades to the moussaka-scented isles of the Cyclades, the rugged coves of Malta to the sun-scorched rocks of central Croatia, we think there’s plenty to animate the budding seadogs out there. So, here goes: The best places to sail in the Mediterranean…
Majorca reigns as one of the best places to sail in the Mediterranean because it’s both easy to get to, riddled with marinas, and has some of the best charter infrastructure in Spain. It’s also a downright beautiful island, with soaring mountains on one side and idyllic coves cutting through a wooded coast on the other, not to mention towns and cities brimming with medieval churches, chic cocktail bars, and stylo villas.
The main sailing season lasts from May to October, at which time you can bulge the sail with the south-westerly Embat winds to gather speeds of up to 20 knots come late afternoon. But there’s tacking to be done most of the year here, with even the months of December and January open to more experienced captains.
It’s stunning stuff, too. The route up the western half of the island along the Sierra de Tramuntana is one you’ll never forget. It starts with a skirting of the jet-setter harbors of Portals Nous and Peguera, followed by the lonely coves around Cala Estellencs and Banyalbufar, all before capping out at the blustery headland of Pollenca. And that’s just one option!
Saronic Gulf, Greece
We’d say that the Saronic Gulf is the most accessible sailing mecca in the whole of the Med. It begins right on the doorstep of the Greek capital. You can charter your ride from the sprawling port in Piraeus and be out on the water just hours after wondering up at the mighty Acropolis and the relics of the ancient Athenian Agora.
The whole region, which is actually a northern extension of the Aegean Sea, spans roughly 30 miles from east to west, bridging the gap between Attica and the edges of the Peloponnese. That means you cansail the whole length of it in a single day if you wanted and if the wind was with you. But that would be a shame since there’s so much to get through.
Yep, there’s a whole island-hopping itinerary worth of pitstops to make in this corner of the land of feta and filo pastry. First up: Aegina. This arrowhead-shaped isle has ancient olive groves and the striking Temple of Aphaia on its east coast. Next: Poros – a bustling port island with secret beaches like Monastiri and Love Bay. The finale: Hydra; car-free, arty Hydra where you can see beefy mountains and snorkel in uber-clear bays.
Cyclades Islands, Greece
Talking of island-hopping meccas…there’s arguably nowhere on the planet that can top the Cyclades region of Greece. Welcome to the beating heart of the Aegean Sea. A speckling of 220 landmasses that spread through 125 miles of water, they have risen and risen to become arguably the most tempting and alluring places to set sail in the whole world, let alone just Europe.
The reason? We could give you 20 (or even 220!). Let’s start with Santorini. There’s really nothing that can compare to swinging the catamaran into the wide caldera underneath this rugged isle, gazing up as you drift towards the whitewashed villages of Fira and Oia. Then there’s Mykonos, a buzzy party island where you can sail straight into DJ-led EDM parties on Paradise Beach. Or there’s Milos, a place of rock stacks and travertine-rimmed inlets filled with turquoise seas.
Lots of people still rely on public ferries to string together their island-hopping jaunts through the Cyclades but there’s really nothing that can compare to having your own yacht. That gives you the power to seek out the secret beaches on the less-trodden halves of islands (and there always is a less-trodden half) or to head to hidden members of the Cyclades chain that aren’t well-served by the tourist boats.
Malta is a sailing mecca in its own right, with fantastic cross-Med winds that blow all summer and really pick up in the winter. However, it’s the next-door island of Gozo that draws our interest because it’s an altogether wilder and more rugged affair, with beaches that will haunt and cliffscapes you’ll never forget.
Just eight miles across and four miles wide, the island is nowhere near the challenge that sailing in Majorca or across whole Greek archipelagos represents. It’s a bite-sized bout of sea grottos and rock stacks that hit wonderous zeniths at locations like the Ta Cenc Cliffs and red-tinted Ramla Beach. Oh, and you’ll be able to tack out to Comino Island, the smaller member of the chain that has the famous Blue Lagoon swimming spot.
There’s one main harbor on Gozo, which you might find you return to time and time again. That’s Mgarr on the western coast. From there, you can easily head inland to the enthralling island capital of Victoria for the evenings. It’s a place where exquisite medieval churches combine with Moorish relics, while prehistoric finds dating back tens of thousands of years await in the museums.
Dalmatia is the king of all the sailing locations of the Adriatic. The region sits smack dab midway up the Croatian coast, stretching from the isles north of Dubrovnik in the south to the start of the Kvarner Gulf in the north. That’s a hefty cut-out of saltwater territory to get stuck into if you’ve got a 40-footer behind you, and there’s some serious fun to be had along the way.
Most people focus on the part of Dalmatia that spans south of Split. The city itself is a doozy of a start point. It’s abuzz with people and festivals in the summer months, but also has a UNESCO World Heritage Site of a core, which wedges Roman palaces next to Byzantine basilicas. The trip from the there to Brac island is just a quick hop of 30 minutes, opening up stupendous beaches like the Golden Horn. Keep going and you get to Hvar, where the summertime parties basically never end.
There are sailing itineraries in Dalmatia that can take you off the beaten track, too. The erstwhile Yugoslav naval fortress of Vis is a case in point. Head there to discover quaint towns like Komiza tucked between pine-clad coves. There’s also the National Park Kornati, a world of white-sand bays under scrub hills. Or there are the Zadar Islands, which are lots less busy than their Split compadres.
Amalfi Coast, Italy
If you’re keen to crank up the romance on your sailing adventure this year, then you might just want to consider sailing down the eye-wateringly wonderful Amalfi Coast. A UNESCO site from top to bottom, it spans what’s arguably the most breathtaking stretch of shoreline on the planet. Yep, move over Big Sur, because this one’s all about cascading lemon groves and pastel-painted towns that roll down to meet a sky-blue sea.
The sailing is, naturally, second-to-none. Start in the ports of Sorrento and move around the end of the peninsula to find small port villages like Massa Lubrense and Marciano. The more famous pitstops of Positano and Amalfi town are the grand finales of it all further south.
Sailors on the Amalfi Coast will often throw in additional adventures out to both the island of Capri and the Bay of Naples. The first is a jet-setter haven of Michelin-worthy eateries, amazing sea caves, and ancient Roman pleasure palaces. The latter is the home of pizza – see why it’s worth the detour?
Cote d’Azur, France
The Cote d’Azur has been a playground for sailors and yachters since ancient times – the seafaring Phoenician Greeks are said to have founded the venerable city of Marseille here some 2,600 years ago! More recently, in no small part thanks to towns of San Tropez and Cannes, it’s risen to become a major A-list holiday place, which has brought multi-million-dollar yachts to the waters.
Now, you don’t need one of those to enjoy it, but we’re sure it helps. Either way, sailing trips along this 130-mile run of uber-famous shoreline are sure to be a doozy. One moment you’ll be snorkeling alone in a secret calanque, the next you’ll be strutting your stuff between the marketplaces sampling fine wines and French cheeses.
The highlights are many but if we had to pick out a few, we’d say…Don’t miss the Iles d’Hyeres. Also known as Porquerolles, it’s oft-hailed as the home of the best beaches in France. There’s also slick Antibes, where medieval forts keep watch over a fantastic summer jazz fest. And there’s Nice, with its lovely urban pebble beach and rich art galleries dedicated to a certain Matisse.
The best places to sail in the Mediterranean – our conclusion
The best places to sail in the Mediterranean that we’ve showcased on this list run the gamut from the well-known to the more off the beaten track. Island groups like the Dalmatian chain of Croatia and the Cyclades of Greece are ever-popular hotspots for sailors in the summer months, promising endless sun and itineraries that fuse together a diverse range of destinations. Then there’s Majorca and the Cote d’Azur, which offer well-developed sailing industries. Finally, you have lesser-known places like Gozo in Malta, which is for those keen to sail a bite-sized isle that’s wild and rugged and raw.