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Sailing in West Mediterranean

This page compares West Europe cruising regions between the Straits of Gibraltar and the Heel of Italy.  Developed coastlines, sophistication, seasonal crowds (and expense!) and a lively café culture summarise the area. And throughout there are excellent fresh food markets and good yacht support.

This contrasts markedly with the undeveloped North Africa coastline, and the lower cost, but less developed economies of Greece and Turkey - with the Adriatic a half way compromise.

Mediterranean - Features Common to all Regions

West Med: The Weather

Weather follows the the general Mediterranean pattern with the exception of two strong wind areas.

Gibraltar Straits. Winds through the straits blow either W (Poniente) or E (Levanter), often days at a time, often at 30 kts. Direction depends on the  pressure difference between east and west.You may have to wait for a change.

Tramontana/Mistral. These strong winds can blow down the valleys of the Rhone (Mistral) and the Ebro (Tramontana), sometimes out of a clear blue sky. They interrupt the settled weather pattern. A well developed Mistral can extend as far as the Bonifacio Strait, where it will give very strong winds, up to force 9 or 10. It can curve northwards to give equally strong winds off Cap Corse or head southeastwards to the south of Sicily.  During winter these winds are a frequent and serious threat to safe sailing, producing large breaking seas. For this reason, winter cruising North of the Balearics or west of Corsica is too limited to be fun.

Marina Berths

The European West Mediterreanean has many marinas. However, long term contracts in popular areas (mainland coasts, Balearics, larger towns) are usually subject to 2 or 3 year waiting lists. Visitor's berths are usually available for wintering afloat, and are often best arranged by personal visit, rather than attempting to book ahead.

The Cruising Regions

SE Spain. From Gibraltar to Denia (jumping off point for the Balearics) is a 350nm coast of passage, including some of the most densely developed tourism complexes in Europe. Marinas are conveniently spaced a short day sail apart, but in peak season frequently fill early, and some are expensive. There are few sheltered anchorages. Larger towns with good flight connections offer less expensive berths and make attractive wintering spots with an exceptionally dry climate. Visits to Cartagena, Seville and Granada are recommended.  Enjoy the tapas and seafood. (more)

NE Spain.  From Denia northwards is a more attractive coast of passage - about 250nm to the French border. Valencia and Barcelona are great cities well worth a visit, attractive for wintering, if slightly soured by the nuisance of petty theft in busy areas, and a shortage of nearby anchorages. Further north, the Costa Brava is attractive, with many small coves, some lovely beaches and a pleasant open air café life. (more)

Balearics.  Mallorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera form a busy holiday playground with some beautiful spots for a cruiser to visit. It's easy to occupy 4 weeks or more working through the islands. Patches are very noisy in season, but around Ibiza and Formentera there are some otherwise sublime anchorages (don't anchor on the grass in the Posidonia reserves, though!). The major town centres are very attractive. Chartering is well developed. Harbours and marinas are crowded in high season, sometimes very expensive. There are plenty of winter layup options, with excellent yacht support around Palma, and year round flights from the airport. Winter cruising is feasible in settled weather, limited by the north quadrant mistral or tramontana winds. (more)

French Mainland. Best thought of as having two halves; east or west of Marseilles/Rhone delta. The coast from the Spanish border to Marseille, blasted by regular northerly mistral winds, is one of windiest parts of the Mediterranean, especially in winter. However, there are good value marinas here suitable for winter layup. East of Marseille the scenery becomes striking, the coast is thoroughly developed, and the winds are lighter. There are enough anchorages (often empty at hight), attractive offshore islets, and some incredibly high value real estate, culminating in in the statelet of Monaco. St Tropez is worth a night in the new marina to see the high fashion and big money on display, and to visit the old town, still real Provencal.  All types of chartering are possible. Motor yachts in high season create uncomfortable lumpy seas in some anchorages. (more)

West Italy. From the French border to La Spezia the Italian coast has a similar style to neighbouring France; smart and busy. South of La Spezia the list of inland 'must visit' places is long; including Florence, Siena, Pisa, Roma, and Napoli. Offshore, small offshore islands from Elba to Capri add interest. Winds are often light. South of Naples, cruising is less crowded, even in high season. Great sites to visit are Pompeii, the crater of Vesuvius and Herculaneum. Add Italian food, and it's easy to see why many motor cruisers choose these coasts, however busy the northern parts are in high season. The lighter winds put some sailboat cruisers off; they prefer brisker sailing around Sardinia and Corsica. (more)

Corsica and Sardinia. Corsica and Sardinia, compared with the Balearics, are lightly populated and thinly developed. Excellent silver sand beaches and some cosy coves offer good day anchorages. West Corsica has some of the most dramatic scenery in the Mediterranean. Smaller towns have developed to serve the holiday trade, but keep a strong local character. The larger towns offer good winter layup options. The wind-swept straits between the two islands are dotted with many islands which create a splendid cruising area, badly over-crowded with yachts and water craft during an expensive six week peak season, and busy at other times. Chartering is possible. The high fashion Costa Smeralda (at the centre of this lot) is a place to gawp at the super-rich in their super yachts.  The east coasts, by contrast, are rather plain, but good value. Allow at least 4 weeks only to skim the best of both islands. 

Sicily, Malta, S Italy.  Many cruisers stage through this area, en route to or from the east Mediterranean. This is a shame, because Sicily, easily circumnavigated in four weeks day sailing, offers some fine highlights. The greatest spots - the Aeolian Islands, the ancient towns and ruins along the east coast, Etna and Taormina - must not be missed, but they are very crowded in high season. Nearby Malta offers excellent yacht support services and is a favourite wintering spot. Those seeking even cheaper wintering costs take a step outside the EU to Tunisia. Southern Italy is thinly populated and has few ports, so is effectively just a coast of passage, often passed at night. (more)


Reviewed Feb 2017


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