Petite Wonders: Ideal destinations for small superyachts

Saronic Islands


To island-hop in the Mediterranean’s petite archipelagos, you’ll need a yacht scaled for shallow waters. Tristan Rutherford explores the destinations that owning or chartering a smaller superyacht opens up

1. Saronic Islands, Greece

A weekend bolthole for Athens’ monied elite

Boat captains have long retired to the Saronic Islands, an azure twinkle off the Peloponnese, while minted Athenians sail across for barefoot boho weekends. Each island is a pine-scented, goldfinch- serenaded, squid-for-dinner Elysium, where the only question raised is under which lemon tree to sip one’s thimble of Greek coffee. Even these issues don’t matter on the tiniest island of Dokos (population: 13). Here the northern bay of Skintos offers wind-free anchorage for little yachts in five metres of clear sea, while the sole taverna dishes up shrimp and sardines.

Hydra is the Saronic Islands’ shining star. It specialises in secret chic, best experienced during the summer invasion of collectors – who arrive for the summer art fiesta – and sink ouzo alongside goatherds in the absence of anywhere “trendy” to drink. Cars and bikes are banned on the island, so during the event canvases are lugged around by donkey. Hydra’s port is tiny, but yachts with drafts under five metres can moor on buoys at Mandraki, an irresistibly cute cove. From here it’s a 30-minute stroll to the old town, with sunsets to die for en route. Mandraki also offers protection from all wind directions except choppy easterlies. That’s key, because breeze is a factor across the archipelago.

Cheating the wind is a cinch on Spetses, which offers a fantastic northwest anchorage in Petrokaravo Bay, with sundowner moorings off Zogeria beach. The most telegenic mooring, however, is Baltiza Harbour. Here a phone call to the no-nonsense Port Authority can net sailors a stern-to tie-up aside Spetses old town – for yachts 20 metres and under. Spetses’ larger harbour of Dapia suffers from a commercial location and ocean roll.

Many yacht guests also enjoy the amphitheatres and ruins on the Peloponnese mainland, a 10-minute sail away, as well as paddleboarding in for cocktails at the Aman resort. Other fine-weather anchorages include the sandy bays of Paraskevi and Anargyroi on Spetses’ west coast, plus the bay of Petros near Spetsopoula, privately owned by the Niarchos shipping clan. Each spot perfumes the air with oak, fig and pistachio blossom. But 50-metre yachts after mooring spots, electric hook-ups, Wi-Fi or water? They can look elsewhere.

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Tuscan archipelago


A sparkling constellation nestled between Porto Cervo and Portofino

A sun-drenched necklace of seven islands dangles partway between Corsica and Tuscany. Any owner moored between Antibes and Olbia can meander out in a single day, island-hop at leisure, then cruise home on the same tank of diesel. That’s just as well. Because all the isole sit within the Arcipelago Toscano National Park, sperm whales are more common than marinas. Indeed, there’s only one worth its salt along the 150-kilometre coastline of Elba, the principal island that’s a similar size to Malta or Hvar. And when those 70 berths, including two or three superyacht placements, are t_utto completo_, that’s it.

Considering the archipelago’s plethora of Roman-era harbours, single-boat anchorages and petite bays, as far as yacht size is concerned, less is more. “When small to medium yachts are designed they have the triangle between the French Riviera, Sardinia and La Spezia in mind”, says Riva’s head of sales, Giordano Pellacani. His latest range, the 90’ Argo, was essentially built for the Tuscan archipelago – and that’s about as big as you’d want to go. Last summer Pellacani cast off from Elba’s antique harbour of Portoferraio.“Italians prefer the morning fish market to harbour restaurants,” he explains. “Grab some lobster, amberjack, grouper or whatever is the catch of the day, then slice it into sushi or stir into pasta.”

Sailing anti-clockwise around Elba allows sailors to escape the crowds. At Capo Sant’Andrea, snorkellers can spot starfish, sunfish and rockfish. Just around Elba’s western tip, the submerged Ogliera rocks punctured the 500-tonne freighter Elviscot, creating an aquarium-style wreck dive from three to 12 metres in depth. A short sail south is Fetovaia beach, where whales occasionally give birth in a deserted bay. “When you visit this area on a weekday, when there are only locals, you appreciate how rich you are not to be in the office,” says Pellacani.

If Elba is seldom visited, Capraia, the archipelago’s second-largest island, is a wilderness. That’s because the eight- kilometre isle flipped from being a penal colony to a national park in 1986. Its mouflons, peregrine falcons and 650 plant species are rarely disturbed by a local population that dips to just 80 in winter. There are no roads; only hiking trails lead up from Capraia’s harbour. The dozen tiny beaches require a swim in from a small yacht anchored 100 metres out.

One could conceivably windsurf the 15 nautical miles across from Capraia to Corsica, but that would do a disservice to Pianosa, the next island south. It was a pirate lair, then a prison island, meaning its snorkel-friendly seas have seldom been fished. Anchors must be dropped far offshore to avoid damaging the Poseidon grass, while onshore visitors are limited to 330 per day.

Ancient Romans preferred Giglio. It offers a petite marina with a 20-metre length limit, plus vineyards made famous during Emperor Nero’s reign. Giglio’s little brother island of Giannutri, a mere 10 nautical miles from Porto Santo Stefano, allows RIB access at Cala Maestra, above which sits a Roman villa complete with mosaic floors and thermal baths.

Istrian peninsula


A heart-shaped former segment of Rome in the shimmering Adriatic Sea

Istria was once Roman. At Pula they left a 23,000-capacity amphitheatre where, more recently, Jamiroquai and Placido Domingo sang in the night air. Venetians came next. Their legacy includes campaniles, red-roofed villages and gelateria, plus an addiction to spumante and seafood. Finally, Yugoslavia enclosed the peninsula during the 20th century. The socialists disavowed superyachts and tourism in place of naval emplacements and Leninism along Istria’s 500-kilometre coastline, until Croatia became independent in the 1990s.

“According to my fellow sailors’ advice, any yachtsman dropping anchor on the Western Istrian coast should start in Rovinj,” says skipper Srđan Pantović of the Istrian Tourism Board. The red-roofed town is a little Venice completely surrounded by water. Alas, the small marinas south from here seldom possess the attractions larger yachts are looking for, with necessities as simple as water and power hard to find when moored against an old quay. Draught is another issue for bigger boats, although unlike southern Croatia between Dubrovnik and Split, this area has rarely seen a luxury yacht. “Crveni Otok in the Rovinj archipelago is an established first stop for swimming, birdwatching and much else,” says Pantović, noting a wealth of picture perfect islets, “although larger boats cannot be too careful when navigating between the 20 main islands due to the shallow waters.”

The Brijuni islands, a former presidential retreat where Yugoslav leader Marshal Tito welcomed visitors as diverse as Muammar Gaddafi and Elizabeth Taylor, have similarly crystalline waters. “The port is well protected from winds and offers all the services one might need for yachts up to 35 metres,” continues Pantović. However, the 14 islands are preserved inside a national park, so you will have to tie up in Brijuni’s ancient harbour then hire a golf buggy or local boat.

The rest of Istria is all about topography and clients’ needs. Truffle hunting, e-biking, wreck diving and vineyard visits are all recommended, but searing summer afternoons make them morning activities. Similarly, short distances allow smaller yachts to set sail at dawn, followed by a Croatian breakfast of Dalmatian prosciutto and Italianate frittata in a completely new location.

Eastern Istria has a softer, more fragmented coastline that explodes into caves and tiny islands. “For example, Cape Kamenjak has dozens of caves and is excellent for a paddleboard workout,” says Pantović. “Then the nearby beach bar at Ceja Island is nautical perfection.” On outlying islands like Losinj and Rab, yachts under 20 metres can moor side-to in antique harbours. Both have sandy beaches such as Losinj’s Pržine and Rab’s Sahara, an attribute that sailors won’t find in southern Croatia.

Datça peninsula


Within a RIB ride of Symi and Kos, a million miles from Istanbul

The Aegean is split from the Mediterranean by the Datça peninsula, a 100-kilometre-long forested finger. The promontory rises into 1,000-metre mountains passable only by mule track. This ridge cleaves the coast into sandy northern sections accessible from Bodrum, which are buffeted by afternoon meltemi winds. Indented southern shores, greener and more secluded, are accessible from the pleasure ports of Marmaris and Göcek.

Such tricky topography has served to keep Datça tourist free. A tarmac road only reached the Roman ruins of Knidos at the peninsula’s western tip in the 1990s, where smaller yachts under 20 metres can tie up in front of a well-preserved amphitheatre. Cihan Atik, manager of Bodrum’s Pruva gulet shipyard, can namecheck a dozen boat-only bays on the peninsula. “Domuzbükü has a beautiful turquoise bay and can only be reached by sea,” says Atik. “There is no road for vehicles, only trees, as with so many beaches, like Dirsek Bükü and Bencik.” Atik, who built the Turkish gulet Regina used in Bond movie Skyfall, recommends sailing a smaller yacht that can tuck right into the myriad tiny bays. And with no marinas of note on the entire peninsula, if you want a vodka martini you’d better shake your own. “Gulets are especially useful in Datça – they once used their shallow draughts to navigate around the small Aegean islands. Most are made completely of wood, so you can hear the sea’s voice.”

Better still, “each Datça peninsula port has a different food culture”. Selimiye is a former fishing village where wooden chuggers still unload red shrimp and wild bass, which can be bartered over before you dine in seafront restaurants. A short sail north in Orhaniye, a submerged beach allows guests to walk on water – although it would take a minor miracle to squeeze a yacht longer than 30 metres into the bay. The peninsula’s biggest secret is Ingiliz Limanı, or English bay, where Special Boat Service saboteurs hid before making raids on occupied Greece during the Second World War. Such proximity to Europe – Istanbul is a 12-hour drive away – may help explain why Datça is Turkey’s most liberal enclave. Locals routinely marinade their octopus in raki and preserved lemons before pairing it with a home-grown red wine.

High-end gulets and smaller European yachts use the Datça peninsula as a base for day hops around the Greek islands of Tilos, Symi, Rhodes and Kos. To do so, Atik recommends the sleepy customs desks of Datça town, which has a beguiling old quarter, and Bozburun, a boho-chic bay where gulets have been built since time immemorial. The only hip boating destination is D Maris Bay, midway down the peninsula. Here yachties can eat Japanese izakaya cuisine at a barefoot branch of Zuma.

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