A Guide to Sailing in the Italian Riviera

Vernazza, in the Cinque Terre, is a fishing village that draws plenty of visitors
Vernazza, in the Cinque Terre, is a fishing village that draws plenty of visitors | © Giulio Ercolani / Alamy
Photo of Carl Pettit
3 November 2021
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The Italian Riviera, also known as the Ligurian Riviera, runs from Capo Corvo near the Tuscany border up to the Cote d’Azur in France, passing through La Spezia, the fishing villages of Cinque Terre, Portofino and Genoa. Tuck into fresh seafood, quaff wine and marvel at the luminous bays. Here’s what to expect when sailing along this jaw-dropping coastline.

Enjoy the sights along the Italian coast when you book a day trip aboard a SamBoat.

What to see and do

Start in La Spezia, one of the busiest ports in Liguria. While it might not seem like a tourist destination, at first sight, the naval base (Italy’s largest), maritime history, plus strolls down the old town streets all make this an excellent first port of call.

The delightful village of Porto Venere, just south of La Spezia on a small peninsula, makes for a particularly picturesque spot with the Castello Doria perched atop a cliff topping things off. If you’re after a little glamour, make a beeline for Portofino near Genoa. This gorgeous fishing village is where the rich and famous flock, arriving, of course, by superyacht.

Portofino has long been a vacation resort that attracts celebrity and artistic visitors | © Anton Ivanov / Alamy

Swap people watching for bird watching over at the Cinque Terre National Park. This nature reserve is home to an abundance of wildlife including pilgrim eagles and buzzards, as well as boars, badgers, and lizards. It also includes a group of five picturesque seaside villages. This area is particularly difficult to reach by car, so sailing is one of the best ways to explore.

Best mooring locations

If you kick off your coastline crawl from La Spezia, the nearby top marinas include Porto Mirabello (VHF channel 73), which has 407 berths with 100 able to accommodate superyachts up to 140m (459ft) in length, or you could opt for the more relaxed Portido Marina.

Yachts are a common fixture in the harbour of Marina di Loano | © REDA &CO srl / Alamy

Another option is starting from Marina di Loano (VHF channel 9), which is conveniently located in the heart of West Liguria and an hour’s drive from Nice and Genoa airports. It also has a helipad, if you fancy arriving in style. The modern harbour has 997 berths in total for yachts up to 77m (253ft).

Meanwhile, inside the Cinque Terre Marine Protected Area, anchorage spots exist inside designated zones, but you’ll need prior authorisation to use them. Sestri Levante, slightly to the northwest of Cinque Terre, offers better marina services and mooring infrastructure, not to mention more wind protection.

The public beach of Sestri Levante in summer | © Olena Serditova / Alamy

Where to eat and drink

There’s plenty of fresh seafood along the Italian Riviera. Staple hauls include anchovies, squid, sardines and tuna. One of the region’s culinary inventions is pesto alla Genovese, made with local basil, extra virgin olive oil and two types of cheese. If you fancy pushing the boat out, book the Ristorante La Terrazza in Portofino. This spot, inside the plush Belmond hotel, offers spectacular views over a neighbouring bay and a mouthwatering menu featuring everything from Ligurian-style cod to spaghetti alla Elizabeth Taylor. For something more low-key, the coastline is dotted with dozens of price-friendly trattorias.

The Belmond Hotel Splendido sits perched on the Portofino coast | © Liam Bunce / Alamy

Best charter options

There’s a wide range of charters available so you can sail the Italian Riviera in style. SamBoat offers a great selection of vessels available to rent from La Spezia. When you book a Dream Yacht Charter many come with their own skipper, which means you don’t need any sailing experience. Just lounge on the deck and enjoy the ride.

A view of the Gulf of Poets near Portovenere | © mauritius images GmbH / Alamy

Where to get groceries

If you start your voyage from the Porto Mirabello marina in La Spezia, there are lots of options when it comes to stocking up on supplies. Order goods through La Spezia Yacht Food Supplies and get them delivered directly to the dock, or there is an expansive Coop just a five-minute drive away. Over at Marina di Loano, there’s a hotchpotch of independent grocery stores within walking distance.

Climate and weather

Due to the mild, pleasant climate of the Ligurian coast, the sailing season in the Italian Riviera lasts all year long. Although, if you have to choose, late May to late September is the best time to go weather-wise. Springtime sees wind speeds picking up, with breezes blowing in from the south, southeast (typical in the Gulf of La Spezia) and northwest, with these dying down during the summer months. The coldest month is usually January whilst the hottest month is July.

The rocky coastline around the Gulf of La Spezia attracts sailors year-round | © Alberto Masnovo / Alamy

How to get there

Pisa International Airport is the closest airport to La Spezia, which will likely be your first stop before setting sail along the Italian Riviera. If travelling by car, hop on the A12 autostrada, drive along the coast from Genoa and La Spezia, down to Livorno. Cinque Terre is accessible by train, and of course, sailboat. If you opt to start from Marina di Loano, it is an hour’s drive from Nice and Genoa airports or there is a helipad for the ultimate touchdown.
Soak up the scenic Italian coast when you book a Dream Yacht Charter.
Sadie Whitelocks contributed additional reporting.

The port of La Spezia is for many the first stop on a sailing trip along the Italian Riviera | © SFL Travel / Alamy

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