Travel guidance is ever-changing, but there are no restrictions on planning and dreaming. Kate Lardy picks the planet’s best destinations to visit by yacht when the world reopens for travel.
Dressed in the colours of paradise – turquoise water, green forest and white beaches – it’s the poster-worthy island getaway of our dreams. A 50nm cruise and a far cry from the bustle of Phuket, the 11-island archipelago in the Andaman Sea forms Thailand’s Mu Ko Similan National Park. Above water are dramatic boulders; below is even more spectacular. The colourful underwater landscape, warmed to a sublime 29°C (84°F), is accessible to even novice divers and snorkelers with shallow sites and excellent visibility in winter. The park was nearly a victim of its own success, but thanks to restrictions enacted in 2018, the number of daily visitors is capped at half of previous numbers, giving fish a chance to outnumber divers.
Top season: December to March
Don’t miss: Dive site East of Eden, near Ko Payu, offering an aquarium-like swim with sea turtles, potato cod, leopard sharks and more
Nearest airport with 1,500m/5,000ft runway: Phuket International Airport (VTSP)
The Lau Group
These remote islands populated by Fijians and Tongans will enchant those wishing to distance themselves from mainstream tourism. A decade ago, access to the 60-plus islands on the eastern edge of Fiji was restricted and it still has an intrepid feel about it with very little tourism infrastructure. What it does have is pristine beaches, world-renowned surf breaks, drift dives into lagoons, scenic island walks and friendly villages that retain their traditional culture. At each anchorage, kava roots must be presented to the village chief or his emissary as sevusevu (a gift), to request permission to visit or to fish. Some of the islands receive so few cruising yachts that visitors will be welcomed with the traditional meke dance.
Top season: May to October
Don’t miss: The fast-paced drift dive among turtles and reef sharks in Fulaga Pass
Nearest airport with 1,500m/5,000ft runway: Nadi International Airport (NFFN)
Tucked between the North Shore Mountains and Pacific Ocean, British Columbia’s largest city has a lot going for it. Complementing the winning geography is a healthy living ethos – the compact downtown area is walkable and restaurants cater to every conscious diet. And whatever your interest, this cosmopolitan city seems to have a festival for it: opera, film, jazz, wine and much more. In contrast to the metropolis, a short cruise away are charming villages and artist colonies dotted among the Gulf Islands. The resident orcas will be your cruising companions as you island hop in the Strait of Georgia. Residents here got the “buy local” memo early and the area thrives with fresh markets, local coffee shops and craft breweries.
Top season: May to September
Don’t miss: Stanley Park’s 1,000 acres of hiking trails through old-growth forest just a short walk from downtown marinas
Nearest airport with 1,500m/5,000ft runway: Vancouver International Airport (CYVR)
As gateway to the famed Acadia National Park in Maine, this seaside town on Mount Desert Island has an impressive backdrop. Ancient glaciers carved lakes and valleys and smoothed over mountain peaks. There’s a wild beauty to the island’s edge where the white spruce meets the rocky coastline, and yachts share the waters with lobster boats here. Outdoors-lovers congregate in summer to hike and bike the park’s 200 kilometres of trails. If that seems like too much effort, take in the foliage by horse-drawn carriage on crushed-stone roads built a century ago by philanthropist John D Rockefeller Jr. The town itself is gracious, lined with specialty shops (lobster ice cream, anyone?) while offshore, humpback whales feast and the elusive Atlantic puffin nests.
Top season: July to September
Don’t miss: Sunrise from the summit of Acadia’s 466m (1,530ft) Cadillac Mountain, the first spot in the US that the sun touches in autumn and winter
Nearest airport with 1,500m/5,000ft runway: Hancock County-Bar Harbor Airport (KBHB)
A summer haven since the late 1800s, Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts may attract some of the best-known names in America, but its vibe is decidedly casual. Politicians, musicians and actors flock here, not to be seen, but to embrace the lazy days of summer. Think farmers’ markets, golf, art galleries, even an alpaca petting zoo and Japanese garden. And of course, miles of beaches. This largest of New England’s islands maintains a rural character, fiercely protected by its small year-round population that swells five-fold in July and August. Skip the infamous summer traffic and sail into its picturesque harbours, then explore by bicycle, stopping for quahog chowder at Black Dog Tavern and checking out the many film locations that turned Martha’s Vineyard into Amity Island in the classic Jaws.
Top season: June to September
Don’t miss: The 145-year-old Flying Horses Carousel, the US’s oldest working carousel and a piece of art and history
Nearest airport with 1,500m/5,000ft runway: Martha’s Vineyard Airport (KMVY)
The Danish capital has been on a hot streak lately, undergoing a renaissance that has put it on the world stage. It boasts a new opera house and concert hall and the highest number of bars and restaurants per capita – including 17 with Michelin stars. Progressively eco-friendly, the city has a swim-able harbour, bike-able centre, and is increasingly powered by clean energy. Superyachts can moor next to the Royal Playhouse in the heart of the city, walking distance from attractions like the 19th century amusement park Tivoli Gardens and the 17thcentury Rosenborg Castle, where the Crown Jewels are kept.
Top season: June to August
Don’t miss: Reservations at two-Michelin star Noma – four times named world’s best restaurant by Restaurant magazine
Nearest airport with 1,500m/5,000ft runway: Copenhagen Airport (EKCH)
From ancient cities to quiet fishing villages, wreck diving to cave swimming, megalithic temples to Caravaggio’s masterpieces, this small archipelago has a lot to offer. Situated smack dab in the centre of the Mediterranean, Malta has been at the mercy of many civilisations: Phoenician, Greek, Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab… until 1530 when the Order of the Knights of St John took over. We have them to thank for Valletta, the remarkable capital considered by UNESCO to have the most concentrated historic area in the world. History buffs will be enthralled by the vestiges of these rulers, while those looking for a sunny holiday will be quite content in the super clear anchorages with enticing names like Paradise Bay and Emerald Lagoon.
Top season: June to August
Don’t miss: Traipsing through the fortified medieval town of Mdina, aka the silent city, perched at the top of the island
Nearest airport with 1,500m/5,000ft runway: Malta International Airport (LMML)
There’s something about Saint-Tropez. A half-century before Brigitte Bardot in the 1956 film And God Created Women put the town on the map, renowned impressionist painters were finding inspiration in the sleepy fishing village. Nowadays, yachts have replaced most of the fishing boats in the Vieux Port, and Le Club 55 on Pampelonne Beach – where Bardot’s film crew dined during production – is one of 23 exclusive beach clubs jostling for space on the five-kilometre stretch of beach. This Provençal town is still as alluring as ever. Synonymous with the glamour of the French Riviera, Saint-Tropez has the sophisticated shopping, intense nightlife and haute-cuisine restaurants that attract the international jet-set, including many famous faces.
Top season: June to September
Don’t miss: Nuits du Château de la Moutte, a summer concert series in the chateau’s courtyard featuring the likes of virtuoso pianists, French sopranos and blues singers
Nearest airport with 1,500m/5,000ft runway: Toulon–Hyères Airport (LFTH)
Lying to the east of Nice, Cap Ferrat stretches out into the Mediterranean to form one enviable piece of real estate. It comes second only to neighbour Monaco as the most expensive place in the world to live, according to The Wealth Report by Knight Frank. But unlike Monaco, homes here are predominantly villas – magnificent ones at that – with gardens of greenery, bestowing the cape with natural beauty. Visitors can soak up the rarefied ambiance on a meandering coastal walk overlooking the rocky shoreline and the Med’s inimitable blue. One of the cape’s five beaches, Paloma Beach (named for Pablo Picasso’s daughter) ranks among France’s most beautiful and offers the luxury beach experience that the Cote d’Azur has perfected.
Top season: May to August
Don’t miss: Wandering the gardens and appreciating the art collection at the Villa Ephrussi, bequeathed to the Académie des Beaux-Arts by Beatrice Ephrussi de Rothschild
Nearest airport with 1,500m/5,000ft runway: Nice Côte d'Azur Airport (LFMN)
A boat is the best way to acquaint yourself with this volcanic island in the Aegean Sea, its lava-scarred cliffs rising spectacularly from a sea-filled crater like a mountain with a snow-capped peak. As you sail closer, the “snow” gradually reveals itself to be those picture-perfect whitewashed, blue-roofed buildings that define this quintessential Greek Island. In the 17th century BC a massive eruption created the islands of Santorini that we know today, and highlights of a visit include the archaeological site of Akrotiri, where a remarkably advanced Bronze Age city preserved in volcanic ash is being excavated. Wine aficionados should also plan to sip their way through some of the world’s oldest vineyards, enjoying crisp whites made from the island’s indigenous Assyrtiko grape.
Top season: May to September
Don’t miss: A champagne-infused view of Santorini’s world famous sunset from the lofty vantage point of PK Cocktail Bar in Fira
Nearest airport with 1,500m/5,000ft runway: Santorini (Thira) International Airport (LGSR)
The Turquoise Coast is Turkey’s rendition of the French Riviera and Bodrum sits right in the middle of the action. It has the vibrant social scene typical of Mediterranean resort towns but it’s distinctly Turkish and inseparable from its long, storied past. Concerts are held at a 2,500-year-old amphitheatre and the port is dominated by the Gothic façade of the 15th century Castle of St Peter. Cruising the Aegean here offers clear waters, great snorkelling spots and scenic beaches. And at night the town comes alive, with jazz clubs waking around 10pm and dancing holding off until midnight. July charterers shouldn’t miss the Bodrum Chill-Out Festival, a beach party that attracts artists from around the world.
Top season: April to October
Don’t miss: Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology, inside the castle, where the bounty from shipwreck excavations is displayed
Nearest airport with 1,500m/5,000ft runway: Milas–Bodrum Airport (LTFE)
Most visitors to the Maldives bypass its hub, Malé, but the capital is a fabulous introduction to the islanders’ culture, shaped over 1,400 years of Buddhism prior to nearly 900 years under Islamic rule. Just beyond the busy island city lie more than a thousand idyllic coral islands barely poking out of the Indian Ocean. There are so many that each resort gets its own island, where they provide indulgent spa services. With 99 per cent of the country submerged, hosting 2,000 species of fish, this is a water-lover’s and diver’s paradise. Swim with manta rays, learn to spear tuna like a local, and finish the day on one of the countless sugary sandbanks with a tiki-torch-lit private beach dinner under a canopy of stars.
Top season: December to April
Don’t miss: Sunset yoga at the COMO Shambhala Retreat on COMO Cocoa island, 15nm from Malé
Nearest airport with 1,500m/5,000ft runway: Velana International Airport (VRMM)
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