The main cruising area of the Italian coast is the west coast. The east coast in the Adriatic has very little to offer the cruising yachtsman. The west coast however is full of treasures and gems that can keep the cruising sailor happy for a long time. To explore it all properly would take several summers. Many people will start up in the Ligurian sea as we did and then head south down towards sicily on their way to Greece and the Ionion sea.
There are two options really if coming from the French Italian border. You can either go around the top or my preferred route is to cut straight across to Elba. You will only have a single overnight sail and then will be in a great mini cruising area the Tuscan Islands. If you do head straight across the best point to aim for is Portoferraio on the north shore of Elba. The large natural harbour has some of the best all round natural protection that you will find in the med. Once there you can relax and know you can now just do short hops around the Tuscan and explore its beauty. On Elba Porto Azzuro and the two large bays on the southern side of the island are well worth stopping at.
You cant stop at Pianosa or Montecristo. So the next in the Tuscan islands is Giglio. Now made famous by a particular cruise ship running agroung almost in its main harbour, After Giglio though make sure you make a stop at the island og Giannutri. This island is small just a horse shoe shaped island odviously just part of the rim of an ancient volcano. To anchor you have to get very close to the shore and probably will still be in about 50f of water. So anchoring stern to a rock is quite a good idea here. Ashore though is a real delight. You can walk from one end to the other in just a couple of hours. With no cars aloud on the island this is a real treat. You can walk up to Nero,s mothers ruined villa as we did just remember to take plenty of water with you as you may be walking for several hours altogether.
Once you drop off the bottom of the Tuscan islands your mind is automatically going to turn to Rome. To be honest there is not that much to draw the cruising sailor between the Tuscan islands and Rome. You can anchor up the river at Fiumicino the best option though is to go in to the marina. The marina at Rome has great all round shelter and is a great place to leave your boat for side excursions. Knowing that your boat is safe and secure in the marina. It will take you days to explore Rome and it will be hot. An amazing place that needs to be savoured. Once you are all ancient monumented out though you have the delights of the Pontene islands to look forward to only a little way further south. Anzio is a good stop off half way to the Pontenes.
The main island here is Ponza mush larger than the other islands in the chain. We found the main town and anchorages here very busy and very noisy and full of Italian macho man. we did however find on the NW corner of the island a small inlet that is absolutely idealic. we spent 3 days here swimming through caves. Eating great local food and getting well and truly in to the chill out zone. We then stopped at the island of Ventotene unfortunatly i cannot tell you much about Ventotene as we gat blown out of the anchorage the first night and used the wind to sail down to Ischia. we had the best fishing in all the med in this area especially between Ischia and Gaeta. One of my favourite places to stop on the Italian mainland. When you first anchor up at Gaeta you are anchored right next to an American naval base and get really good protection from a huge floating pontoon they have all around their base. The town is low key and Italian. There is a nice little surf wave on the opposite side of the headland and there is a great pizza place right near the anchorage owned by an 80 year old man who is a right charmer. Really hope he is still going.
The island of Ischia has many delightful anchorages and shelter can be found from any wind direction. Right next to Ischia is the island of Procida. You can anchor out as a day stop. Nowhere really on the island though as an over night stop. Go ashore and explore though Procida is spot on.
Now you have the Bay of Naples and in my opinion most of it can be bypassed as it is very busy very polluted and brash. The main reason for stopping in the bay of naples for us was to get on the train and visit Pompeii which is a must for everyone. We loved Pompeii and would go back tomorrow. We did find a couple of nice places to stop though in the Bay of Naples. Baia was our first a pleasent anchorage with a couple of large wrecks to swim around and explore. we found a confused dolphin here stuck in the marina and managed to coax it back out to sea before to many people saw it so it did not get to spooked. We then stopped at Nisida where we met some great people A colonel in nato called Craig his wife Lynne and their kids who we sailed almost down to Sicily with. On the southern tip of the Bay of Naples you have the island of Capri. To be honest not the best island for the cruising sailor. There is no real overnight anchorages. The main marina is really expensive and in my opinion a dangerous place to leave your boat the ferries cause terrible washg and you could easily pull a cleat out of the deck or worse.
So once out of the Bay of Naples you dont have to go far to find one of the most famous places on the Italian coast that is Amalfi. Amalfi is literally built on the side of the hills and is tiring to walk around walk around you must though. We anchored off here for the night as the weather was fair. There is though no shelter here from any wind from the south. So if the wind is not from the north then the harbour is the best place to be. You then have another decision to make do you go down the coast or drop off to the Aoelian islands.
We dropped off and went straight down to the island of Stromboli. As Stromboli has been erupting gently for hundreds of years it has been used as a natural lighthouse for eons. There are no real over night anchorages. There is though some shallow water on the north east corner of the island. Which can be used in fine weather. We spent a couple of nights here and it was fine if a bit rolly. You have to stop at Stromboli though and watch it give you a display all night. The main island in the chain is Lipari our favourite by far though was the island of Vulcano. Vulcano is an island that has mud baths hot springs and you get the smell of wrotten eggs the whole time you are on the island. Due to the sulpha that is continuously being exhaled from the ground. You can anchor on the north side of the island in two horse shoe bays choosing the best one for the best protectiondepending on the wind direction. We spent several days here sitting in hot springs that were bubbling out of the shallows. Experiencing pheraputic mud baths and generally chilling out.
Just off the bottom of the Aoelian islands you have Sicily. Sicily has a lot to offer however the marinas are very expensive so stay at anchor if you can. You will save a lot of euros. We went through the straights of Messina which is a real experience. Sword fish boats everywhere. Pick your time with the tides to go through we had the wind behind us. we were a bit late getting to the straights and new we were going to face some fowl tide. We thought though with the wind behind us it would be a doddle. Wrong while passing the mainland port that supplies Messina we were down to 1kn with the wind behind the genoa full and the engine doing 2000rpm. You can stop at Reggio we did once that will probably how many times most people stop. Nothing really going for it. A much better idea is to get to Taormina a lovely anchorage and a great place to spend the night. Then down towards the south east corner of Sicily you have Syracusa. Another amazing natural harbour. The old town is a must for every cruising sailor for a break ashore. We had one of our best Gelato,s in Italy here. The southern coast of Sicily is an underated and under used cruising area of Sicily. We cruised the south coast before jumping back off for Sardinia. While cruising the south coast of Sicily you have to visit Agrigento and you can also anchor up and walk to an ancient city right on the edge of the sea and walk around long before it opens to the public. Then leave as the other tourists arrive.
If you are going up in to the Adriatic and Croatia. Or you just want a long day sail from the heel of Italy to Corfu then you will be sailing along the southern coast of Italy. There are not that many stops. So long day sails are the name of the game. There is also a large bay to be aware of which i will talk more about in a minute. Whether leaving Reggio on the mainland coast or leaving from Sicily your first real stop going east is Rocella Ionica. A long day sail you are rewarded with though a free marina for up to 5 days. It is a fair walk in to town good for provisioning though. This is where we met a boat we nick named the Mayflower. The boat was not much more than a wreck. The owner said though they were going to the Indian ocean and never coming back. She is probably still tied to the sea wall now. Next you have the joy of crossing the Golfe de squillance. We got what we called squillaced here. Our friends Dave and Cal that we sailed a lot of the med with made t shirts up to commenerate this fact along with others. The Golfe de Squillance is about 30m across and is mountainous at each end and if there is any wind in the tyrrhenian sea it gets funnelled through the two sets of mountains and blasts its way out across the Goilfe de Squillance. We left Rocella ionica with no wind had a good 30kn for most of the way across the bay and then got to the other end and moored up at Crotone with no wind again. Some experiences you will never forget and this is one none of us will ever forget. One more long day sail across the gulf of Toranto and you are at the heel of Italy and the marina of Santa Maria de Leuca. A place i never want to see again. The first time we stopped here our engine dropped a valve and we had costly engine repairs. Which turned out to be badly repaired. The second time we were here we were heading left and half way across the golfe of Toranto our back stay parted and we nearly got de masted and had to limp back to de leuca for more costly repairs.
Santa maria de Leuca is the jumping off point for the Adriatic or the Ionion. So the next port of call is either Croatia or Greece.