World's best sailing destinations

Anchoring in idyllic bays. Slipping into azure waters for a refreshing dip. Warm breeze filling the sails en...

Posted: Dec 19, 2018 6:29 PM
Updated: Dec 19, 2018 6:29 PM

Anchoring in idyllic bays. Slipping into azure waters for a refreshing dip. Warm breeze filling the sails en route to the next enchanted spot. Drinks and dinner on board under the stars. Gentle lapping to loll you to sleep.

And repeat. Day after blissful day.

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A sailing holiday is a passport to another -- watery -- world where land-based worries are blown away on the breeze.

Those with the right qualifications can charter their own boat. Some prefer the help of a skipper and crew, others like to take charge while sailing into a flotilla for shared experiences.

However one chooses do it, the life aquatic is not to be missed.

First, however, comes the decision on which tip of the planet to drift towards.

Here are some of the finest destinations on the planet for sailing holidays:

Greece

A land lapped by sparkling seas and seemingly more islands than stars in the sky.

With sun-baked beaches, turquoise waters, olive groves, deserted bays, rustic harbors with white-washed houses and spilling bougainvillea, Greece provides the perfect canvas for a sailing odyssey.

The Ionian, with Captain Corelli's Kefalonia in the south and Gerald Durrell's Corfu in the north, offers gentle breezes and easy line-of-sight sailing on Greece's west coast. Charming villages such as Kioni on Ithaca or Fiskardo on Kefalonia are some of the highlights.

The stronger summer meltemi winds of the Cyclades chain to the east of the mainland, with islands such as Mykonos, Ios and the flooded crater of Santorini, offer a challenge to more experienced sailors.

Further east, the Dodecanese islands off the Turkish coast offer a compromise -- not quite as windy but still untamed and authentic. From Rhodes north via Kos, Kalimnos, Lipsi and Patmos, the islands provide a snapshot of traditional Greece and as much life or solitude as you can handle.

Another popular area is the Sporades north of Athens, with islands such as Skiathos and the picturesque, tumbling town of Skopelos, the film set for "Mamma Mia."

Or there is the Saronic Gulf south of Athens, an area of easy sailing and short hops, with highlights such as historic Aegina, romantic Hydra and cosmopolitan Poros.

Getting there: Flights to Preveza for the Ionian; Athens for the Saronic Gulf; Volos for the Sporades; Kos and Rhodes for the Dodecanese; Santorini, Mykonos and a host of local airports for the Cyclades.

Turkey

From isolated, pine-fringed coves to glitzy marinas and jet-set nightlife, the coast of Turkey offers something for every type of sailor. For those who want to truly relax, a traditional wooden gullet crewed by professionals could be the answer.

The epicenter of Turkish sailing is Bodrum, an international resort on the north coast of the Gulf of Gokova. From there easy hops take you to quaint harbors such as Gumusluk, small bays with wooden jetties fronting local restaurants such as Cokertme, or remote inlets such as Amazon Creek with an idyllic, away-from-it-all feel.

The Hisaronu Gulf has charming waterfront towns such as Datca, Selimiye and Bozburun as well as plentiful quiet anchorages. Sailing east past lively Marmaris takes you to the calm waters and gentle sailing in Fethiye Bay, with its scattering of secluded coves, some with a lone, rustic taverna.

At the head of the bay are the bustling towns of Gocek and Fethiye for more restaurants and markets in which to haggle for rugs and local produce.

Getting there: International flights to Bodrum or Dalaman.

Croatia

This Adriatic gem features historic towns, picturesque harbors and smart marinas, isolated anchorages and deserted islands in one neat package in the northern Mediterranean.

Stretching from Pula down to medieval Dubrovnik, Croatia's coastline offers a wealth of sailing opportunities with reliable afternoon winds and more than 1,100 islands to explore.

The remote Kornati National Park is an unspoiled oasis -- so stunning, in fact, it moved author George Bernard Shaw to write that God created the islands "out of tears, stars and breath."

The Dalmatian coast south of Split contains the islands of Brac, Hvar, Vis and Korcula, the birthplace of explorer Marco Polo. There's everything from quiet coves and gentle towns to buzzy cosmopolitan Hvar and Dubrovnik-light Korcula.

Beyond the forested island of Mljet lies the jewel in Croatia's crown: Romantic Dubrovnik, a UNESCO heritage site, with its charming Old Town. It's also must visit for sailing fans of "Game of Thrones," much of which was filmed here.

Getting there: International flights to Dubrovnik, Split, Pula, Zadar.

Sicily, Italy

Lying off Sicily's northeast coast like a bejeweled pendant are the awe-inspiring Aeolian IsIands.

This rugged volcanic chain, named after Greek wind god Aeolus, features seven spectacular islands.

Jutting out of emerald seas, each has its own personality, from the active cone and black sands of Stromboli and the hot springs of Vulcano, to vibrant Lipari and chic Panarea, to verdant Salina and car-free Alicudi and Stromboli. Lastly, Filicudi was nicknamed "Bone Island" because of the pirates who died there after long sieges.

From historic Tropea on the Italian mainland, sailors can access the beautiful beaches and swimming spots, quiet anchorages and sleepy waterfront towns in which to savor authentic Sicilian cooking.

For those with more time, or flying into the capital Palermo, the enchanting Egadi Islands off Sicily's northwest tip offer an equally isolated escape. Pretty Favignana is known as the tuna capital of the Mediterranean, while remote Marettimo provides solitude in a stunning setting.

How to get there: Flights to Lamezia Terme Airport or Palermo.

The British Virgin Islands (BVIs), Caribbean

A sailor's paradise of warm winds, deep blue seas, blissful beaches and waterside shacks for eating, drinking and soaking up the island vibe. Hurricane Irma caused widespread damage in the region, but yachting and tourism is already bouncing back and the sailing is as good as ever.

Tortola is the main island and the starting point for exploring the host of outlying islands and cays, with spectacular scenery, sheltered anchorages and superb snorkeling.

There's Virgin Gorda, with its dramatic rock formations at The Baths; Jost van Dyke, the smallest of the four main islands, with famous joints such as Foxy's and the Soggy Dollar Bar; the coral atoll of Anegada with sunken shipwrecks and spectacular sea life; and Norman Island, said to be the inspiration for the novel "Treasure Island."

Soggy Dollar Bar, White Bay, Jost van Dyke, British Virgin Islands; +1 284 495 9888

Foxy's, Great Harbour, Jost van Dyke, BVI; +1 284 442 3074

How to get there: Flights to Beef Island Airport, Tortola or to St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands and take a ferry to Road Town.

Antigua, Caribbean

Antigua is reputed to have 365 beaches, one for every day of the year, so what better way to explore them all than by boat? The warm, gentle trade winds, turquoise waters and oh-so picturesque anchorages make it a sailor's idyll at the heart of the Leeward Islands.

Ashore, historic Nelson's Dockyard in English Harbour is the throbbing heart, but further afield you'll find waterside dining for all budgets and lively rum bars, perfect for a famous "jump up" -- a dance session to the rhythm of steel drums.

Sister island Barbuda -- 40 miles to the north -- has more birds than people and offers a gentler pace with pink sands and coral reefs perfect for snorkeling.

The famous Antigua Sailing Week regatta is a melting pot for sailors looking for competitive racing and punishing partying.

How to get there: Flights to VC Bird International Airport, Antigua.

Windward Islands, Caribbean

Take a deep breath and inhale the exotic scent of spices drifting on the breeze. With reliable winds and blue-water passages, white-sand beaches and dazzling reefs, colorful towns and verdant hillsides, the Windward Islands will reward sailors looking for a true Caribbean adventure.

From pretty St George's on lush Grenada, known as the "Spice Isle," at the southern end of chain, you can easily hop to Carriacou, Petite Martinique and Petit St. Vincent.

The prevailing winds during the sailing season blow from the north east so many opt for a one-way passage south from St Lucia, starting at lively Rodney Bay before sampling the beaches and pointy Pitons of the verdant island.

Cruising further south, there's Saint Vincent, the popular Admiralty Bay on the S-shaped Bequia (pronounced bekway), upmarket Canouan, tiny Mayreau lapped by aquamarine waters, and the spectacular reefs of the Tobago Cays Marine Park.

Tobago Cays Marine Park, Clifton Union Island, St Vincent and the Grenadines; +784 485 8191

How to get there: Flights to St Lucia or Grenada.

Bahamas

More than 700 coral cays stretch like a necklace into azure seas from the southeast coast of Florida. Gentle trade winds, sheltered waters and myriad marine life make the Bahamas an ideal destination for families and the less experienced.

The Abacos are the epicenter of Bahamian sailing with the lively Marsh Harbour as the base from which to explore the 120-mile chain of islands.

One day you can anchor off a pristine beach with crystal clear water such as Treasure Cay, the next moor up in one of the small colonial-era towns such Hope Town on Elbow Cay and New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay.

Further afield the pink sand beaches on Eleuthera or the 365 cays of the Exuma group offer endless opportunities for exploring and relaxation.

The big-game fishing, and diving at sites such as Dean's Blue Hole, the Abacos Train Wreck and the USS Adirondack is also spectacular.

How to get there: Flights to Marsh Harbour, Treasure Cay or Nassau.

Thailand

White-sand beaches backed by swaying palms and jungle, sheer limestone towers jutting out of jade-colored seas and exotic flora and fauna are just some of the treats on offer on a sailing trip to Thailand.

From thumping Phuket, yachts push east into Phang Nga Bay and the Andaman Sea to explore this mostly undeveloped region dotted by technicolor coral reefs, remote fishing villages and world-famous beaches and honey pots such as Maya Bay, the location for the film "The Beach," James Bond Island and the world-renowned Phi Phi islands.

Add in friendly locals -- Thailand is the "Land of Smiles" after all -- and fragrant cuisine and you have the ingredients for zesty Asian adventure.

How to get there: International flights to Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport or Phuket.

Seychelles

The ultimate Instagram boast, Seychelles is a sailor's paradise in the Indian Ocean.

Lying 1,000 miles off the East African coast, the archipelago offers the full castaway experience among 115 isolated islands dotted across aquamarine seas. The main yacht charter area is focused on the inner islands around the forested Mahe, Praslin and La Digue.

Decent winds, warm water, snow-white beaches, kaleidoscopic coral and exotic wildlife, such as giant tortoises, coconut crabs and whale sharks, make the Seychelles a Shangri-la for sailors.

From the main island of Mahe, yachties can island hop from one idyllic bay to another, mooring off brochure-worthy beaches such as Anse Source d'Argent, Anse Lazio and Anse Georgette before a peaceful night at anchor under the stars.

How to get there: Flights to Seychelles International Airport on Mahe.

Tahiti, French Polynesia

Just the words French Polynesia are enough to conjure images of swaying palms, crystal-clear lagoons, blissful beaches and fringing reefs teeming with marine life.

The islands of Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Huahine, Tahaa and swooned-over Bora Bora and are just the highlights of this exotic 118-island chain in the South Pacific.

With balmy trade winds, a consistent climate and a combination of sheltered waters behind the reefs and more exciting open-water passages between islands, French Polynesia is a watery world like no other.

Everyone from the artist Paul Gauguin to sailors, divers, snorkelers, sun-bathers and canoodlers are enchanted by the contrasts of turquoise seas, emerald mountains and cobalt skies of the Tahiti region.

How to get there: International flights to Papeete-Tahiti, hop to Raiatea.

Tonga, South Pacific

This Polynesian kingdom of more than 170 palm-covered islands is a sailing gem in the South Pacific.

Fewer than half of the islands are inhabited, meaning a voyage into the blue offers a true get-away-from-it-all experience.

Picturesque Vava'u, with myriad islets, lagoons and coral reefs, is the starting point, either for quick hops or longer open-water passages to deserted tropical beaches and idyllic anchorages.

Itineraries might take in beautiful Hunga Lagoon, a sunken volcanic crater, or unspoiled Port Maurelle Bay on Kapa, or friendly Lape where the locals are inclined to lavish you with a traditional Tongan feast.

It's the stuff of quintessential South Pacific dreams, with world-class diving and snorkeling, sport fishing and humpback whale watching thrown in as standard.

How to get there: International flights to Fua'amotu Airport on Tongatapu followed by domestic shuttle 150 miles north to Lupepau'u Airport on Vava'u. Or via Nadi on Fiji.

Whitsundays, Australia:

Between the coast of Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef snuggles Australia's very own chain of 74 tropical islands.

There's the famous Whitehaven Beach, a jaw-dropping curve of powder-white sand, world-class resorts on Hamilton and Hayman Islands and reefs teeming with life.

Hamilton lsland, Queensland, Australia; +61 29007 0009

Hayman Island, +61 7 4940 1234

From Shute Harbour near bouncing Airlie Beach, you can disappear into a blissful bubble of exhilarating sailing, remote beaches, sublime snorkeling and snug anchorages in jungle-backed bays perfect for evening sundowners on deck.

For those just after a quick taste of paradise, plenty of ex-America's Cup and former racing yachts take tourists and backpackers on short overnight cruises to sample the silica sands of Whitehaven, the sublime views from Hill Inlet and possibly spot some whales migrating along the east coast of Australia.

How to get there: International flights to Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, domestic flights to Proserpine or Hamilton Island.

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