With the exception of the cruising around the Venice/Trieste area, the main sailing in Italy is on the west side of the country.
There are two sailing areas on the west coast of the mainland; Tuscany, including the island of Elba, and the Bay of Naples, including Capri. The sailing here is a little easier than around parts of Sardinia and Sicily, with winds typically F3-4 and less chance of sudden weather changes. The Mistral wind can reach Naples, but with less force than further west.
If you’ve never been to Pisa or Florence these alone are a good reason to head for Tuscany. There is plenty to see around the Naples area too though the city itself is not to everyone’s taste and there are many far prettier places nearby.
There are plenty of marinas which is just as well as there are few tenable anchorages for an overnight stop on the mainland coast, with bays either buoyed off for swimmers, designated as nature reserves, or simply too exposed. There are a few more options around Elba, from where Corsica is within reach (about 35nm) for the more ambitious.
Sardinia can be slightly windier, similar to Corsica with F4-5 not unusual and the risk of occasional strong blows from the west which can become especially concentrated through the Bonifacio Straits between the north of the island and Corsica. It’s easier sailing on the east side than the west.
The most popular cruising areas are the north east and north west coasts from bases including Portisco and Alghero though the popularity of these areas can push marina fees very high in July and August. However, the enchanting La Maddalena islands offer plenty of options for anchoring for those on a budget. There’s also the option to pop in to Corsica.
There are also yachts available in the south of Sardinia which has the advantage of being a little less busy in high season and so generally cheaper. For those that want to avoid moorings fees, Sardinia has plenty of anchorages.
Sicily has similar conditions to Sardinia with again the risk of some unsettled weather increasing in early and late season but otherwise typically F3-5. Most of the cruising is along the north coast, with the option of heading up to the Aeolian Islands.
Where ever you go, marina fees in Italy are highly variable, with varying definitions of high season. In harbours, quays are often operated by “ormeggiatori” – mooring attendants who acquire the concession from the local authorities who seem to charge as they wish. The result is that charges vary widely, from sky high in the busier marinas in high season, to pretty reasonable at other times. So whilst in high season you will sooner or later have an expensive night, at other times it may work out considerably cheaper than Croatia, Majorca or France.
If you fancy sailing in Tuscany, you are well served with daily flights from many UK airports to Nice. The service to Naples is nearly as good though many flights are on weekdays, with Saturday flights available only from Bristol, Gatwick and Stansted.
There are three airports on Sardinia with flights from the UK – Olbia, serving the north east coast, Alghero for the north west coast, and Cagliari for the south. Olbia has daily flights from Gatwick, with Saturday flights also available from Bristol and Leeds/Bradford. Alghero and Cagliari have daily flights from Stansted with Saturday options from Gatwick and East Midlands to Alghero and from Heathrow and Manchester to Cagliari.
Finally, there is a choice of three airports on Sicily; Palermo on the north side, Trapani at the west end, and Catania on the east side. Palermo has daily flights from both Stansted and Gatwick. Trapani has only three flights a week, from Luton, though one is on a Saturday. Catania has daily flights from Gatwick with the only other flights from Manchester and east Midlands, both on Sundays.
So if you don’t want to fly from one of the London airports, Sicily is not a great option. Sardinia and Naples will give you a little more choice of departure point, but for maximum choice of departure points I would suggest heading for Nice and the Tuscany region.
Bareboat and skippered charters are available throughout the areas and there’s the option of a flotilla in the Maddelenas, Sardinia. There are a number of RYA sailing schools with locations including Tuscany, Bay of Naples, Sardinia and Rome.
More details on Italian destinations, including more on the different areas, write ups on lots of possible stops and some suggested routes, will be coming in due course.