European yacht charter destinations on the Atlantic and Baltic offer a wide variety of scenery and remoteness. The best time of year for yacht charter in Northern Europe is from May to October.
While the Mediterranean rightfully gets a lot of coverage when the subject is yacht chartering in Europe, it only scratches the surface of unique and varied coastlines, from the Algarve in Portugal to the west, past Scotland’s western islands to the north, all the way east to the archipelagos of Scandinavia in the Baltic.
Enter walled cities on the coast of France on the tide, pass through Germany's Kiel Canal from the North Sea to the Baltic, and cruise to a rocky island in Sweden in June, navigating by the midnight sun. Europe's geography, history and cultures offer a change of pace at every turn.
Whether you are looking for a day charter, a weekend charter or a week or more the Solent has plenty to offer with dozens of harbours and anchorages to choose from. Many choose to head for Cowes on the Isle of Wight, the “home of yachting” and the famous Cowes Week held every summer which attracts thousands of yachtsmen from around the globe. East Cowes gives easy access to Osborne House, home of Queen Victoria and open to the public throughout the year. Once you have explored the house yourself you can anchor up in Osborne bay for a spot of lunch at the bottom of her garden! Carrying on past Cowes up the Medina River your will find the Folly Inn, a popular haunt for those arriving by boat.
At the eastern end of the Solent, Portsmouth harbour has been the home of the British Navy since Tudor times. The historic dockyard is home to the famous navel ships HMS Victory, HMS Warrior and The Mary Rose and will fascinate any visitor with salt in their veins.
Centrally positioned in the Solent, the River Hamble is one of the world’s premier yachting destinations with world class marinas, famous yacht clubs and every conceivable facility for the visiting yachtsman.
Heading west, the Beaulieu River is a picturesque anchorage that delivers you in to the heart of the New Forest. Pick up a visitor’s mooring or go to the marina at Bucklers Hard, where the “wooden walls” of Nelson’s Navy were built and the village has been preserved much as it was in those times.
On the northern shore of the Isle of Wight, Newtown Creek is a haven of peace and tranquillity. A sheltered nature reserve and wildlife sanctuary managed by the National Trust you can pick up a mooring or anchor here and relax on board or take the dinghy ashore and walk along the creek to Shalfleet and the famous New Inn.
At the western entrance to the Solent, the harbours of Lymington, (on the mainland) and Yarmouth (on the Isle of Wight) are both charming overnight stops with an abundance of character and history and a good selection of pubs and restaurants.
Throughout the Solent, companies offer RYA training courses on both power boats and sailing yachts to hone your skills, boost your confidence and increase your experience.
Wherever you go in the Solent you will always be near a safe anchorage, a cosy pub and a warm welcome.
The Saronic Islands are one of the most sheltered areas to sail in Greece. For charters of short duration, anywhere from three to seven days, the Saronics and Peloponnese are ideal choices. Not only are they more easily accessible from most charter bases near Athens than the Cyclades, but the islands and coastal villages themselves are much closer together, allowing a more leisurely pace. Daily stops for lunch, swimming, and snorkeling are easy to include before an afternoon sail to the final destination.
Thanks to the sheltered location, Saronic/Peloponnese sailing is usually quite pleasant. Even during the sometimes fierce, summer north winds called meltemi, seas are much flatter than in the central Aegean.
The Saronics are lush and green compared to other Greek islands. Seawater temperatures are warmer too, and many places seem to have been influenced by other European cultures in architecture and atmosphere.
Athens to Poros
A weeklong Saronics charter generally starts with a sail to the island of Poros, about 22 miles from greater Athens. Separated from the Peloponnese by only a narrow channel, Poros is the closest Greek island to the mainland. The approach by sea is one of the most beautiful in Greece, framed by the lush, mountainous Peloponnese on one side and lovely Poros Town, with its many-hued buildings and distinctive clock tower, on the other. Poros is a bustling harbor filled with good tavernas and innumerable cafes and bars. Nightlife is good here, if one is so inclined, and there’s a good swimming beach a short walk from the harbor. There are shops selling everything from souvenirs to designer clothing, and ferries come and go from the mainland and other islands with frequency.
Poros to Spetses
From Poros, the next day’s sail is often to Spetses, a pine-covered, upscale island known for its traditional boatbuilding. Most yachts dock in Baltiza Creek, which is a fair distance from town, but the hike or horse-and-buggy ride into town is worth it. Spetses was one of the first islands in Greece to revolt against the Turks in the War of Independence, led by local heroine Bouboulina – Greece’s first female admiral. Her home is now a museum, well worth seeing.
Strolling to or through the town, the artistic mosaic walkways for which the island is renowned are a highlight. Near the anchorage, a pine-scented park offers spectacular coastal walks and sculptures by local artists. You’ll work up an appetite for Spetses’ signature dish: a baked white-fish casserole topped with a delicious sauce of tomatoes, green peppers, spices, and cheese called Fish a la Spetsiota.
Spetses to Plaka
Many Saronics itineraries next include the quintessential Greek fishing village of Plaka (Leonidion) on the Peloponnese coast, a 14-mile sail from Spetses. Although most people have never heard of Plaka, it’s generally the hands-down favorite among those who choose to stop there. From the harbor, a trip by taxi to the Elonas Monastery is worthwhile, as is simply lazing on the beautiful adjacent beach or enjoying a meal in one of three good tavernas overlooking the harbor. Each year in August, the village (dubbed “the Eggplant Capital of Europe” by the European Economic Community) hosts its annual eggplant festival, with festivities and food-tasting galore.
Plaka to Hydra
From here, many yachts sail on to Hydra, about 25 miles, one of the most beautiful islands in Greece. Its only harbor is tiny and hence crowded, but the surrounding 18th-century sea captain’s homes, cobbled streets, working donkeys, and scenic walkways are well worth it. There are no motorized vehicles here except a garbage truck, fire truck, ambulance, and an occasional working truck – transport is by donkey, water taxi, or simply by feet!
The island attracts tourists, artists, and glitterati, and galleries abound, as do megayachts carrying sunglassed celebrities. There are good beaches reachable by water taxi, swimming areas off the cliffs near town, a maritime museum, and innumerable cafes, eateries, and shops in which to while away an afternoon. The ambitious can hike along the sea path to the island’s southwest end.
Don’t leave Hydra without catching sunset at Hydronetta café – complete with mood music and one of the most spectacular evening vistas in Greece.
Hydra to Dokos
Dokos, six miles from Hydra, an island inhabited by few souls other than free-range goats and the occasional donkey, is a perfect place to head for a relaxing next day. Yachts anchor off to bask in the peaceful atmosphere or enjoy a vigorous hike, swimming, or snorkeling, followed by a barbecue under a night sky carpeted with stars. Alternatively, there’s the 30-plus mile sail to Epidhavros, site of Greece’s famous ancient theater and healing center, which is a 30-minute taxi ride from the harbor. The theater, famous for its astounding acoustics, is part of the grounds of the healing center and hospital, with a museum showcasing ancient medicinal instruments and cures. There’s a spiritual aura here that’s palpable; this fascinating site is well worth a visit.
Dokos to Aegina
For the final day before returning to the charter base, Aegina is the usual destination. There are two harbors here; one, the bustling Aegina Town on the island’s northwest side; the other, the village of Perdika, on the southwest.
Aegina Town is busy, with lots to do, such as exploring the remains of the Temple of Apollo adjacent to the harbor, strolling the many shops and markets; buying fresh produce from the boats lined up along the waterfront, or enjoying a good meal ashore.
In Perdika, the pace is slower and space is scarce, but there’s good swimming near the harbor, a deserted islet beach five minutes away by water taxi, and tavernas and cafes quayside. From either place, taking a taxi or bus to the Temple of Aphaia, goddess of fertility, is a must. The circa 500 B.C. temple, perched high on a peaceful hillside surrounded by woods, forms a perfect equilateral triangle with the Parthenon in Athens and the Temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounion. Aegina is famous for its pistachios – grown in abundance on the island – so don’t leave without stocking up on nuts, candies, jams, or any one of the many pistachio-based products for sale here.
For longer charters, this itinerary can easily be expanded to include places such as Napflion, a former capital of Greece, to the north, or Monemvasia, a fortified Byzantine village, to the south. With less than a week, it’s easy to do an abbreviated version of a weeklong itinerary. Whichever you choose, the Saronics are worth it!
The closest of the Cyclades to Athens is the island of Kea (also called “Tzia”). About 40 miles from Athens, it’s the first stop for most charters. The charming village of Vourkari (in Aghiou Nicolaou Bay) on the island’s northwest side is the harbor of choice; as is the custom everywhere in Greece, visiting yachts dock stern-to the town quay on a first-come, first-served basis. Vourkari’s waterfront is lined with good tavernas; often proprietors will wait on the quay to take your lines, hoping to lure you back for a meal later in the evening. Often, that meal is a taste of Kea’s culinary specialty -- lobster spaghetti.
Above the harbor, the beautiful hilltop village or “Chóra” is visible, and it is well worth the bus ride. Another site that shouldn’t be missed is Kea’s famous Lion, a short walk from the town along a wooded path. The immense stone sculpture seems to stand guard over the village. Steeped in local legend, it’s most often attributed to an itinerant sculptor circa 600 B.C.
The 25-mile sail to Syros island – the capital of the Cyclades -- is usually the next stop. Most yachts choose the village of Finikas, on the island’s southwest end – a peaceful place with good beaches and tavernas within walking distance, and only a short bus ride from the bustling 18th-century town of Ermoupolis. The fortified upper town, historic churches, nightlife, excellent eateries, incredible outdoor market, and even a casino provide plenty to see and do. Visitors shouldn’t leave the market without sampling the island’s specialty – the taffy-like sweet known as loukoumia, or Turkish Delight.
Mykonos and Delos, a 20-mile reach from Syros in prevailing winds, is next on a short Cyclades itinerary. This deserves two days – one to explore the crowded-but-delightful Mykonos Town and perhaps rent a car or motorbike to visit some of the islands renowned beaches; the other to take a day boat to Delos (where anchoring off in yachts is currently prohibited). Its incredibly preserved ancient ruins and mosaics are often compared to Pompeii. At this reputed birthplace of Apollo, there is magic both in the air and on the ground, and even the darting lizards are said to be the souls of ancient denizens.
Next, the 27-mile sail from Mykonos to Paros will bring you to a popular tourist island, but one with many hidden facets. The old town, near the yacht harbor of Paroikia, is one of the best remaining Cycladic villages; it can be crowded, but its charm is undeniable. The 6th-century Church of a Hundred Doors lies within it, as does the Archaeological Museum, which houses a section of the famous Parian Marbles chronicling years of Greek history as well as finds from the Temple of Apollo. Renting a car or bike to explore the smaller villages or to visit the spectacular cave on nearby Antiparos (a natural wonder more amazing than any Spielberg set, and where Lord Byron left his mark) is a must. Paros produces excellent local wines, widely available at shops and tavernas. Sampling is encouraged!
The final island stop on a one week Cyclades cruise will likely be Kithnos, where there is a choice of harbor. The village of Loutra on the island’s northeast side has natural hot mineral springs that are said to cure everything from gout to women’s woes. Other options are the deserted bays and beaches of Kolona (also with a small hot spring) and Fikiadha on the island’s southwest side; or the bustling-but-charming village of Merikha, with its excellent tavernas steps away from the docks. Don’t leave Kithnos without a taste of the island’s special soft, spicy cheese – a Kithnian delicacy.
With only a week, and beginning and ending in Athens, it’s not possible to venture much farther than this. If you can spare 10 or 14 days, new vistas will open up, including the famous Santorini, and the “hidden Cyclades” – Amorgos, Folegandros, Milos, and others. The other worthy Cycladic stops like Naxos, Sifnos, and Serifos, will await exploration.
The Liparian archipelago is shaped like a “T”. To the west are the islands of Alicudi and Filicudi. In the centre there are three islands on a north/south line: Salina, Lipari and Vulcano. To the east are Panarea and Stromboli.
We chartered a Bavaria 40 from Helm Yachting, the Sicilian subsidiary of the charter company, Kiriacoulis, to visit five of the seven islands. Helm Yachting is based in Sant’Agata is on the north coast of Sicily, 170 kilometres east of Palermo and 25 nautical miles south-southeast of Vulcano Island. Because the charter week generally starts on Saturday afternoon at 5 pm, it is safer to spend the first night at the S’Agata marina because an evening start would mean a midnight arrival on Vulcano. There is a very good and friendly fish restaurant on the S’Agata beach called Trattoria Za Pippina.
After a swim we arrived in the early evening and took a mooring in the Vulcano Levante bay, which cost 35€. The island’s name comes from the volcano which covers half of the island. White smoke permanently escapes from the crater, which is quite easy to climb. On the beach of Levante Bay you can have a bath in bubbling seawater as gas from the volcano escapes through the stones. There is an excellent restaurant in the main street, “Il Cratere”, with a nice terrace overlooking the sea.
The straits between Vulcano and Lipari have two big rocks near the Lipari shore.
We reached the Salina marina in late afternoon. It is very safe and well-organized but expensive, 95€ for the boat and 10€ for power and water. The village has not yet been invaded by too many tourist shops. The view from the top of the village is fantastic, looking east toward the Islands of Stromboli and Panarea. It’s on this island where the most important shots of the movie “Il Postino” were taken.
Stromboli is an active volcano with the nickname “Lighthouse of the Mediterranean.” For millennia it has shown the entrance of Messina Strait to boats coming from north; Ulysses certainly used it as a navigation mark. It is permanently active and every hour and a half or so a small eruption occurs. At night you can see from afar the red glimmers of the lava in the crater illuminating the dark sky.
After rounding the eastern point of the island you will find the village and a good mooring spot. The beach consists of very fine black sand; all the island soil is black. Even the famous “risotto de sepia” you will find in the restaurants of the village is black! If you are in good physical shape you can climb the up volcano to the crater (900m).
At lunchtime we moored behind Milanese point in a beautiful bay and near the remains of a Stone Age village, and then went on to Panarea village in the afternoon. Panarea is the most sophisticated village of the archipelago. Have a drink at the splendid terrace of the Raia restaurant overlooking the harbour. If the weather is calm, try to avoid this mooring at night; cargo ship and fresh water tankers came alongside the pier during the night and make a horrible noise.
We made a midday stop at Canetto beach on the east coast. The sand is super white and the sea was at 29.7° centigrade. The island has one of the biggest pumice stone quarries in Europe; you can catch some of the pumice stones that float around and bring them back for your bathroom.
We stayed the night at Pignato marina (50€ for the night including water and power) situated at the north end of Lipari Bay. It’s far enough from the ferry pier to be a very good and quiet night. Lipari town is the capital city of the archipelago. The main street remains the same as it was thirty years ago. In the middle is a bar that covers both side of the pavement and is a great place for a drink and to watch the local life.
During the 6 days we covered 116 nautical miles and used about 70 litres of fuel.
Editor's Note: This itinerary was submitted by Michel Villeneau. Photos courtesy Phillipe Comu.