‘Land was created to provide a place for boats to visit’, wrote poet Brooks Atkinson and if you’re planning on visiting any land from the water, I highly recommend exploring the stunning islands that are Corsica and Sardinia.
Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean and plays host to a wealth of bays and marinas, fine restaurants, beaches, cliff top walks and a rich history harking back to the Byzantine era and beyond, which sounds like a magical time full of sieges, battles and conquests. Located along a key trade route, the island provided a safe haven for seafarers, and continues to be a popular stop-over for Mediterranean sailors, although nowadays you’re more likely to see super yachts moored in the harbours than cargo ships.
Porto Cervo is one of the most expensive marinas on the island to moor in. It would be cheaper to wash down your boat with bottles of Evian than the dock water on offer. But the hefty mooring fee buys you access to one of the most picturesque ports in Italy. The Marineras who steer their tiny RIBs with one hand on the tiller and one holding in the bow line are a delight to watch: they are the agile jockeys of the sea.
Super yacht events such as the Swan Cup and the Perini Navi regattas take place in Yacht Club Porto Cervo, and are a thrill for anyone interested in yacht racing or gazing at beautiful boats. Small rocky islands rise out of the sea, and provide a stunning backdrop to the close quarter and navigationally challenging courses. The most notorious area is Bomb Alley – a narrow stretch of water between two archipelagos which the yachts have to make their way through; it’s breath taking to watch the giant super yachts weave their way along it.
The wind in Sardinia is either ‘on’ or ‘off’, and on a windy day you can see in excess of 30kts, meaning that you’re better off staying sheltered in one of the cosy bays which line this island’s coastline.
On the south coast of the island is the old capital, Cagliari, a real cultural hub, which offers the visiting sailor the perfect mix of recreation and exploration. Drop anchor along the five-mile-long Poetto Beach which is among the best city beaches on the Mediterranean or pop in to the neighbouring Marina Piccola for a more comfortable place to spend the night. 13th Century towers still guard the medieval city walls and restaurants and nightlife now inhabit the ancient bastions.
Some of the finest restaurants are located up in the mountains: a swift taxi ride from the water and you can be up among the olive trees and the vineyards where the air is heavy with myrtle and rosemary. The Su Gologone Hotel offers a wonderful experience of fine dining accompanied by incredible local artwork. One of the dishes which Sardinia is most famous for is suckling pig, and here it is expertly roasted on an open fire – well worth the journey inland.
A short day sail from Olbia, North across the Strait of Bonifacio, takes you to one of the oldest towns in the world – Bonifacio – on the island of Corsica, originally a Roman colony and now owned by France, it is laced with history and charm. Homer’s Odyssey describes what some believe to be the narrow entrance to the town as a place ‘where sheer double cliffs with no gaps, encircle the harbour and two headlands squeeze the narrow entrance in their grasp,’ this challenges even the most experienced yachtsman. The dramatic Les Calanches red rock formations rise majestically from the turquoise blue waters and there is little room for manoeuvre. Eventually the entrance opens up in to a stunning harbour surround by the ancient town which climbs its way up the steep sided cliffs.
There are plenty of marinas to moor in, and hundreds of small restaurants to settle in for the evening. This popular harbour is often full and bustling with local activity, fresh fish being hauled ashore and musicians playing along the labyrinth of narrow streets. Enjoy the rich seafood and wonderful Corsican wines. In Corsica the grapes experience a warm climate where the air is softened by the sea breezes, creating fabulous flavours not found on mainland France.
These islands really are best seen from the sea. In the height of summer they can be brimming with tourists, so the sailor can always retire to their vessel for some quiet reflection where they will be gently rocked to sleep by the lap of the waves.