A beginner’s guide to chartering in Greece, Croatia, Montenegro, Eastern Italy and charter holidays in Turkey
The eastern Mediterranean rightly remains the world’s favourite sailing destination. It was here where chartering truly began, taking off in Ionian Greece some 40 years ago with the advent of affordable air travel to the region. The charter sector has grown exponentially over the decades, spreading out into neighbouring countries, and the sheer number of boats keeps prices competitive.
Just a few hours’ flight sees the visitor land in a warm climate – with an equally warm welcome – and many western Europeans find the boaty lifestyle so much to their liking that they stay to set up their own charter companies.
Most prices quoted for charter holidays are per bareboat (and don’t include flights) so the more people aboard the less each pays – while flotilla or cabin packages are usually inclusive of flights and per person.
Flights booked through the charter company may have insurance protection, but don’t forget add-ons such as end-of-hire cleaning, harbour fees and fuel – you may see your final bill creep up again!
Chartering in Greece
With 8,500 miles of coastline to consider, and thousands of islands grouped in loose clusters across its seas, let’s look at Greece’s major chartering regions individually.
Bordered by southern Italy to the west and the Adriatic at its north, the Ionian Sea is a seismic hotspot – and the islands that spill into its eastern side from the Greek mainland were devastated by an earthquake little more than 50 years ago. But although Lefkas, Zante and Kefalonia have been largely rebuilt in the tourism era, the sailor mainly encounters the still-charming villages and harbours which play host to visiting yachts. Corfu – further north and close to Albania at its uppermost tip – is better preserved and still frequented by the elite, boasting Greece’s first privately-owned marina at Gouvia. One-week charter holidays tend to focus on either the northern or southern island groups with plenty to enjoy in both. The islands are green (for Greece), the winds generally light and navigation of the easy-eyeball kind, so it’s ideal for novices and families. Main charter bases are at Corfu, Lefkas and Preveza on the mainland.
In the verdant Sporades, scattered just east of the mainland region of Thessaly, only four islands are much inhabited, and while (mainly) Skiathos and Skopelos have their tourist traps, their relative remoteness ensures the Sporades stay nothing like as ‘mass’ as many parts of Greece. It’s a similar story with sailing, and even the Mamma Mia effect, where devotees of the popular film converge on its local landmarks, is diluted by the crystal-clear water.
The nearness of Athens Airport is key to the ease of sailing in the Saronic; flights run year round and their frequency keeps them cheap. But that isn’t the sole reason for the region’s popularity: the calm waters of the Gulf are rimmed by interesting mainland harbours, and it’s a quick hop to the relaxed islands of Aegina or Poros, although berthing can be a tight squeeze on high season weekends. Longer cruises take you out around the mainland Peloponnese, the islands of Hydra or Spetses or even into the Argolic Gulf.
Longer passages and often more challenging conditions make the southern half of the Aegean the perfect playground for the more confident sailor.
The 200-odd Cyclades islands, strewn south-east of the mainland, are peaks of a submerged mountain range, the volcanic remnants of which are visible in Milos and Santorini. These, along with Naxos and Mykonos, probably have the best facilities for cruisers, although choice anchorages can be found just about anywhere. Here you’ll find the typical cubic dwellings and barren hills, carved by north- eastern exposure to the Meltemi – summer winds can reach Force 7 or more, so on fresher days charterers can eat up the miles between the distant islands with invigorating speed.
The Dodecanese – a dozen large and some 150 small islands – lie east of the Cyclades and run down the western coast of Turkey then back towards Crete. The main charter bases are on Kos (nearest to Turkey and a good springboard for a two-country option) and Rhodes – and prevailing winds make a one-way charter that way a sound bet. The largely arid islands still show much evidence of their multicultural history, and Rhodes Old Town is a World Heritage Site.
Chartering in Croatia
The Adriatic Sea lines the entire south-west border of Croatia, though the far south is interrupted by Bosnia and Herzegovina’s 16-mile strip of coastline. The clean, clear sea boasts more than a thousand islands and many nature reserves, including the famed Kornati National Park, while numerous marinas have more than 16,000 berths. Chartering is well catered for – marine tourism is one of the reborn nation’s strongest industries. The influence of Venetian, Austro-Hungarian and Byzantine empires contribute to the culture and architecture which make the shorelines so picturesque – be sure to visit the walled medieval cities of Hvar, Korcula and Dubrovnik. Croatia is increasingly expensive, but good deals on charters can still be found.
Chartering in Montenegro
Still relatively unknown, Montenegro is a recent charter destination, yet raved about by those in the know.
Backed by forested mountains the coast is studded with beaches, coves and medieval cities. Eighty miles from Dubrovnik, Old Kotor is a World Heritage Site, its bay said to be the loveliest fjord in the Med.
While taking your boat ‘next- door’ from Croatia is tricky, chartering out of Montenegro itself is more straightforward.
Chartering in Eastern Italy
Lying right at the top of the Adriatic, just inside Italy, is the port of Grado – already a major maritime centre before Venice was even thought of. An ideal launch pad for exploring the rich culture of this historic region, Grado is only 13 miles across the Gulf of Trieste from the northern tip of Croatia, and little more than 50 miles east of the shallow lagoon of Venice: this architectural wonder spans an archipelago of 117 islands, linked by hundreds of canals and bridges, and as the largest urban car-free area in Europe is the perfect city stopover for sailing visitors.
Chartering in Turkey
Spanning Asia and Europe, a trip to Turkey will transport you into another world. This is one of the oldest continually inhabited regions on the planet and its spectacular coastline offers aeons of history and a dazzlingly different culture.
Turkey’s clear waters wash into backwater anchorages below green mountains, while wooden jetties lead to local outdoor restaurants, and ancient cities overflow with exotic markets.
UK charterers are mainly lured to major hubs in the south. The port city of Marmaris is totally geared for sailing (a prime overwintering centre for boats), while the island-dotted Gulf of Göcek is well-equipped with marinas and renowned for pine-wrapped, picture-postcard beaches. Both Med bases are served by Dalaman Airport, while Aegean-nudging Bodrum, with its sheltered modern marina and lively nightlife, has its own airport.
Flotillas take well-established routes – the Lycian, between Marmaris and Göcek, and the Carian, from Göcek to Bodrum, are popular – while bareboats allow independent discovery of this varied, beautiful coastline. But for a real taste of Turkey, the traditional wooden two-masted gulet, or Bodrum-type schooner, is favoured in its home nation as a larger charter vessel. Though many now are fully-engined, lacking the rigging for proper sailing, you can still find the real deal if you look.
Words by Elizabeth Paine
First published in Practical Boat Owner, February 2012