Secret Alternatives to Busy Marinas in the Italian Riviera for Avoiding the Crowds

Vernazza is one of the five colourful cliffside towns that make up the Cinque Terre
Vernazza is one of the five colourful cliffside towns that make up the Cinque Terre | © Elijah Lovkoff / Alamy
Photo of Nicola O'Leary
10 December 2021

Think colourful towns trickling down to the water’s edge, dramatic cliffs, sloping hills carpeted with foliage and the most delicious assortment of food one could imagine and you’ve got the Italian Riviera in one. To soak it all in, a sailing trip is definitely the way to go. However, during peak seasons marinas can get very busy. To save you jostling for space, here we reveal some alternative spots to dock your boat.

Idle along the Italian Riviera by renting a boat with SamBoat for the day, or hire a vessel for a multi-day sailing trip with Dream Yacht Charter.


Architectural Landmark
Inside the ruins of Saint Giles Church in Bussana Vecchia
© Alessandro Cristiano / Alamy
Near the border with France, Sanremo is a delightful coastal town steeped in history. Yachts can moor in the marina, and as most yacht charters start in Genoa, Sanremo is generally quieter than its neighbours. In the heart of the town, the medieval quarter known as La Pigne dates to 1038 and offers history buffs many options to explore. Nearby, Old Bussana is also a great option for those interested in architecture. This town was devastated by an earthquake in 1887 and abandoned. Today, however, it’s home to a thriving arts scene with many international artists based here.

Rada di Poggio, Seborga

Architectural Landmark
Pretty red-roof houses sit on a hillside in Seborga
© Andrew Hasson / Alamy
While visiting the region near Sanremo, leave your yacht anchored at Rada di Poggio and head slightly inland to wander around Seborga. This hilltop village serves as an independent entity – it has its own license plates, passports and even currency (which you can exchange in the Piazza della Liberta in the Old Town). The Italian Riviera can be a hive of activity, but here time has stood still for decades; it’s a wonderful piece of preserved Italian history with few tourists around. Return to your yacht for a spot of swimming – Rada di Poggio is a perfect anchorage for enjoying the blissful waters of the Italian Riviera.

Cannone Bay, Portofino

Architectural Landmark
Boats are moored at the pretty Cannone Bay in Portofino, around which are colourful buildings
© Haidar Harmanani / EyeEm / Getty Images
Portofino is a tried and tested port of call in Italy, and one that shouldn’t be missed on any yacht charter itinerary. Leave your vessel anchored at Cannone Bay and take the tender to see the underwater Christ of the Abyss statue, sunk in 1954 in front of the Abbaye San Fruttuoso. This delightful town is a perfectly preserved study of medieval architecture and an afternoon just meandering the streets is a lesson in Italian history.

Vernazza anchorage, Cinque Terre

Architectural Landmark
A boat and dinghy sit in the water by the Cinque Terre town of Vernazza
© robertharding / Alamy
A Unesco World Heritage site, Cinque Terre offers five cliffside villages only accessible by boat, foot or train – no cars are allowed here. Anchor your yacht nearby in Vernazza and join one of the organised local boat tours, authorised by the Italian tourism board, to visit the villages. Be sure to request a stop at Monterosso and book a table in one of the cliffside restaurants for delicious dishes and incredible views along the craggy coastline.

Golfo Della Lacona, Elba

Natural Feature
A couple of backpackers at Capo Stella gaze over the Golfo della Lacona by Elba
© Dirk Renckhoff / Alamy
Best known as Napoleon’s place of exile, today Elba is a holiday destination popular among wealthy Italians. The topography is interesting and varied – from mountains in the west to a relatively flat interior, all bordered by powdery sand beaches. This island can be tortured by the strong winds from the northwest, but these gusts, along with the balmy climate, make it an ideal spot for windsurfing. Anchor in one of the more secluded bays, such as Golfo Della Lacona, where you will find both public and private sandy beaches only accessible by tender.


Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
A golden light hits the boats in the marina at Viareggio in Tuscany
© imageBROKER / Alamy
The coastal city of Viareggio is only a short drive from Pisa and makes for a great base to head inland and explore the city. Leave your yacht for the day and venture out to snap photos next to the Leaning Tower and indulge in a spread of delicious food. Save time to spend in Viareggio itself – the shopping is wonderful and if you happen to visit in low season, the carnival held at the end of February/March is a great show for the whole family. Yachts can anchor just out of the harbour.

Giglio Campese, Giglio

Natural Feature
A gorgeous view of a bay with a sandy beach on Giglio island
© Giulio Ercolani / Alamy
The small island of Giglio in the Tuscan Archipelago is quite often overlooked for its more popular neighbour, Elba, but this charming place has much to offer. The island has three towns: Giglio Porto, Giglio Castello and Giglio Campese. Porto is a pretty little port town with colourful houses, Castello is a hiker’s paradise with a strenuous uphill walk to a medieval fortification, while Campese is a calm and tranquil setting with a fabulous sandy beach (one of the few on the island). Yachts can anchor off Campese and make use of the calmer waters with fewer boats around.

Explore the Italian Riviera by hiring a yacht for the day with SamBoat. Alternatively, venture further afield by booking a multi-day sailing adventure with Dream Yacht Charter.

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