If you’re tight for time, a charter holiday in France or Spain is perfect for a long weekend. Short flights mean that, if you judge it well, you can leave work at 5pm and be at your destination for dinner aboard later that evening
The Mediterranean, Britain’s long-time favourite charter destination, still retains its status even in these uncertain times. If you’re tight for time, a charter holiday in France or Spain is perfect for a long weekend. Short flights mean that, if you judge it well, you can leave work at 5pm and be at your destination for dinner aboard later that evening. This option is more realistic when dropping into a (crewed) cabin booking rather than organising a whole yacht, but if you’re looking for a romantic getaway with your other half, this alternative negates the hassle of stocking the bareboat and even means you don’t have to do all the work, for a change!
Chartering in France
Experience totally different worlds almost side-by-side in the South of France, where the solitude of the Îles d’Hyères sits just south of the mainland glitz of the French Riviera. Contrary to received wisdom, the Côtes de Provence and d’Azur aren’t that much more expensive than other parts of the Med – and they are a good deal more accessible.
The region offers everything from mega-luxury at the casino resorts of the super-wealthy to the rustic delights of sailing past the lavender fields of Provence, and you can find stopovers to suit all budgets – even chic St Tropez is actually a pretty town which caters well to families. From spring through autumn sailing conditions are generally calm, although look out for the Mistral wind which could leave you trapped in port for days.
The craggy but lush French island of Corsica, south-east of the Riviera, offers exhilarating cruising, particularly from the port of Calvi and around its wild northern peninsula. From there, eastward legs of less than 30nm will take you to Italian Elba, and beyond it the Tuscany coast.
The Balearics may traditionally be the cheap and cheerful holiday hotspot of Spain, but take a charter there and you’ll feel oceans away from the madding crowds. Though rocky, the main islands of Mallorca, Menorca and Ibiza boast excellent harbours, marinas and superb anchorages along with the inevitable tourist-strewn beaches, and away from the clubs and high-rises there are many quaint fishing villages and fine restaurants to be found. And let’s not forget the knock-out natural beauty that drew visitors in the first place. Frequent flights to the islands remain great value.
But if you want to explore the mainland coast, the buzzing city of Barcelona makes a brilliant charter base. Redeveloped for the 1992 Olympic Games, the old dock area between the city beaches of Icaria and Barceloneta was transformed into a fully-serviced marina and stylish entertainment complex, the ideal base for the yachtsman who wants to enjoy a mix of Spain’s rich cultural heritage and fine sailing. From here you can easily walk the famed Las Ramblas into the vibrant city centre, or reach the beautiful Costa Brava in a few hours by boat and drop anchor at a typically characterful village.
A properly British outpost on Spain’s southernmost tip, the rock is a mix of old colonial traditions, sometimes scorching heat and strong winds, where both the treacherous tides (the only ones ‘in’ the Med) and the shipping superhighway demand local knowledge and sharp skills. Bareboat options are scarce, but a hired skipper can get you into neighbouring Portugal or Spain or across the Strait into Ceuta or even Morocco for a truly multinational experience.
The western side of Italy offers a complete sensory overload – jaw-dropping scenery, fabulous food, beautiful blue bays and spirited sailing, all reached by easy flights to coastal cities. Don’t get straight on the boat, though, as it would be criminal not to spend time on land while you’re here, for this region boasts some of the most glamorous cities and finest archaeological sites on earth.
There is a plethora of sailing options too: from Genoa and the Ligurian Sea in the north, heading south to the island of Elba and back down the mainland to Civitavecchia, port of Rome.
From here, drink in the dizzying Amalfi Coast, perhaps taking in Naples, Sorrento, Pompeii and the legendary islands of Ischia and Capri, even the unspoilt Pontine archipelago. Down south, from the ‘toe’ of Italy, a short hop across the Strait of Messina (where a €6 billion suspension bridge is planned) takes you to the atmospheric island of Sicily, and lacing above the northern coast of this are the Aeolian Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site and a diving mecca simply made for bareboating.
Bounding the western edge of the Tyrrhenian Sea, and around twice the size of French Corsica to its north, is the stunning Italian island of Sardinia.
Costly Costa Smeralda might draw the headlines, but it’s adjoined by less well-known (or pricey) yet just as lovely coastlines ideal for independent cruising. However, if you really want to get away from it all, take your bareboat to the crystalline waters of the Archipelago della Maddalena, a national park since 1994. Its 60 or so idyllic islands lie scattered east of the Strait of Bonifacio between Sardinia and Corsica – a perfect two-nation holiday.
The Maltese Islands sit south of Sicily at the strategic centre of the Mediterranean, and while only three of the islands are (densely) inhabited, the archipelago’s deeply indented coastlines offer numerous harbours and bays ideal for sailors.
A week could do justice to this small island group, allowing you to drink in Malta’s rich history (it has nine UNESCO World Heritage sites), drop anchor for a swim in the Blue Lagoon at Comino, or overnight in the marina at Mgarr Harbour on more rural Gozo.
English is the official second language, winds are generally light and navigation is largely line-of-sight, so your sailing holiday should be relaxed. But if you want more of a challenge take two weeks and make a round-trip to Sicily, 60NM away.
Words by Elizabeth Paine
First published in Practical Boat Owner, January 2012