7 days on the Italian Riviera on a superyacht

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Viareggio

Rising up from the Tyrrhenian Sea between the mainland of Italy and Corsica, the mountainous Tuscan Islands offer great anchorages close to the coast. For culture vultures, there aren’t many other places to match the extraordinary treasure chest of history, architecture and fine art – which can all be washed down with visits to some of Tuscany’s best wine producers. This is the gourmet and art lover’s idea of heaven.

Day 1: Viareggio

You’ll join the vessel at Viareggio Marina on the mainland; the nearest airport is in Pisa, just 21 kilometres away. You may find your crew has Opera by Giamcomo Puccini crooning from the speakers on your arrival – this is the birthplace of the man who wrote Madame Butterfly, La Boheme and Tosca. Puccini lived and worked in nearby Torre del Lago and his home is open to the public. If you’re a fan, the Puccini Festival runs from June to August.

You may wish to simply settle in on board, but if you have the energy, head for the town – a health and seaside resort since the early 1900s. Italy’s northern wealthy middle class used to swarm in during the summer months and left fabulous art nouveau buildings in their wake. Ten kilometres of beach beckon, or the yacht could set off in the early afternoon for a late lunch in the nearby Forte dei Marmi, either on board or at a local restaurant. You’ll probably head back to Viareggio for the night.

Picture courtesy of Viareggio Giampiccolo

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Viareggio / La Spezia

Before heading for the islands, soak up a bit of the local colour and culture of Tuscany – the birthplace of the Italian language used today. Some of Italy’s most spectacular towns and cities are based nearby, such as the quaint town of Lucca and world renowned Pisa.

Lucca is the only town in Italy entirely surrounded by 16th century ramparts enclosing an impressive collection of Medieval and Renaissance architecture, antique markets and great dining spots.

Alternatively, you may choose to take a car to make a quick visit to the Leaning Tower and the Cathedral bell tower of Pisa, but don’t leave town without discovering the tranquil squares and Romanesque churches that abound. Galileo, born in Pisa, made use of the tower’s inclination in his experiments on the law of gravity.

Over the years, a succession of architects has attempted to correct the tilt, which now measures more than 15 feet. In late afternoon, you’ll depart for La Spezia (two hours away) to spend the evening at Porto Lotti Marina.

Picture courtesy of Doug Schnurr/Shutterstock.com

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La Spezia / Cinque Terre / Portovenere

Porto Lotti Marina, La Spezia, is built smack in the middle of an enchanting stretch of the Ligurian Riviera and is the ideal mooring base for visits to Portovenere and the Cinque Terre. In the morning, make time for some watersports before heading off on afternoon excursions.

The five charming coastal villages of Cinque Terre (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore) form part of a UNESCO World Heritage site. Some villages are only accessible by foot or train by land – so arrival by boat is a distinct advantage…

At the southernmost end of the Riviera di Levante lies Portovenere, another UNESCO World Heritage Site with a harbour lined with tall, vibrantly painted 12th century houses with narrow alleys that lead to the castle. Lord Byron wrote his famous works Childe Harold in Portovenere.

A grotto situated at the base of the cliff is named after him, following his successful swim across the Gulf of La Spezia to reach San Terenzo, where he went to visit his fellow friend and poet, Shelley. Overnight you’ll be whisked across to the island of Elba (150 kilometres away) to arrive in time for breakfast.

Picture courtesy of Sebastien Burel/Shutterstock.com

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Elba

The island of Elba, where Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled in May 1814, is located in the Ligurian Sea and is the largest island in the Tuscan archipelago. With crystal waters, a cliff-fringed coast and superb coves, it is best appreciated from a base on the water.

Portoferraio, Elba’s capital, means ‘iron-port’, a testimony to its deposits of high quality iron ore, which was mined by the Etruscans (of Tuscany) and enabled them to assert their dominance in Italy. Although Bonaparte only spent 10 months here (from May 1814 to February 1815), he didn’t waste time, making his mark with new roads and civic works. His one-time official residence, the Villa dei Molini, stands on the seaward side of the Piazza Napoleone.

Although the emperor died on the island of St. Helena, mass is still said each year in Portoferraio on the anniversary of his death. Relics in the Misericordia Church include a reproduction of Napoleon’s coffin and a bronze cast of his death mask.

Heading about four miles inland from Portoferraio, you’ll come to the Villa San Martino, which served as the emperor’s summer residence. It has charming examples of ‘trompe d’oeil’ art lining the walls. To break up the history lesson, mix the visit with explorations to the numerous gorgeous bays before the yacht departs for the island of Giglio approximately 50 kilometre away.

Picture courtesy of Leonori/Shutterstock.com

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Giglio/Montecristo

Those yearning to relax on golden sands will be satisfied with the pristine shores that line the coast of the Isola del Giglio, poised in splendid isolation in the Tuscan archipelago. The town of Giglio Porto is dominated by a stone watchtower built by the Medicis. Farther west, the small, squat pyramid-shaped island of Montecristo is composed of gray-pink granite.

Ashore at Cala Maestra, it is possible to see the only building of the island, Villa Watson-Taylor, surrounded by the island’s only trees. From here it’s a short cruise to Porto Ercole on the Argentario Peninsula where you’ll spend the night.

Picture courtesy of Matteo Gabrieli/Shutterstock.com

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Porto Ercole (Argentario Peninsula)

Porto Ercole is a small gem of a city anchored in the peninsula of Monte Argentario and is enveloped by a blanket of beautiful sand and rocky beaches. It makes a great base for taking tours the nearby towns of Siena, Tarquinia and San Gimignano.

Long since an old fishing village, Porto Ercole continues to be known for its boating marinas and is a retreat for sailing and watersports. The whole city is dominated by a fortress (la Rocca), which looms over the port and bay designed by Giovanni Camerini. Highlights inside the town’s walls include the 16th century Palazzo Consani and the old parish church of San Erasmo.

If you prefer relaxation over education, take a picnic lunch to the beach. In the afternoon, you’ll leave Porto Ercole and anchor off the small island of Giannutri for the night (approximately 40 kilometres south) before the last stop in Rome.

Picture courtesy of GorillaImages/Shutterstock.com

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Rome

Sprawled across seven legendary hills, Rome was one of the great centres of the ancient world. Its beginning is shrouded in legend and its development is full of intrigue and struggle – Rome is the Eternal City. After tying up in Porto Turistico di Roma Marina, it’s a short jump for you to scour the city for the best in Italian shopping on the tree-lined boulevards dotted with outdoor cafes and fountains. For a treat, book tables at restaurant Quizi e Babrieli for some of Rome’s best seafood or La Posta Vecchia at Palo for authentic charm.

Picture courtesy of Mapics/Shutterstock.com

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