Sailing in southern Italy – what’s it like? What are the sailing conditions like? Where can you anchor or find a marina. Where should you go, what should you see? Read this article and watch our videos to determine if southern Italy is a place for you to venture.
The areas we vistited included Reggio, Vibo, Cetraro, Sapri, Salerno and Capri.
Before reading my write-up, I created a 2-part video on YouTube that goes with this post. Both part one and part two are around 10 minutes long. The first part is mainly about sailing along the southwest coast of Italy so you’ll see quite a few water shots/videos and the second part is mainly about being on land and exploring Salerno, Pompeii, and the other archaeological site of Ercolano. Part 2 ends with us in Capri, Italy on the boat but like I said, for the most part, the pictures/videos are of land-based items.
For much more information on the ports we stopped in and the experiences along the way, please read the article after watching the videos. Enjoy!
Sailing Southern Italy Video – Part 1
Sailing Southern Italy Video – Part 2
After sailing from Gibraltar to Malta, then to Sicily over to Greece then to Turkey and then back to Sicily for a 6-month winter stay, we sailed back to Greece for a refit (boat repairs), Malta to sort out our VAT, Sicily to pick up goods and then Greece to spend a summer month with friends.
After 4000+ nautical miles and 16 months sailing around the eastern Mediterranean, it was time to start heading west for our imminent Atlantic crossing set for November.
The ultimate plan is to eventually circumnavigate the world so although we could spend a lifetime in the Mediterranean, we decided to push on.
To appease the part of me that doesn’t like change, I keep thinking that we’ll end up back in the Mediterranean eventually and when we do, we can hit all the wonderful spots that we missed the first time.
I’ve met a handful of cruisers that set out to sail around the world and 10 years later they’re still in the Mediterranean and I don’t blame them. The Med has everything. Furthermore, after a bit of time and experience, it feels very comfortable. If it wasn’t for the fact that we already paid to cross the Atlantic with the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) I think we would have extended our stay.
The day came when we had to leave known waters, long-term cruisers, local friends and push past our stupid, but always present, nagging comfort zone.
My husband, Simon, and our daughter left our safe space in Taormina, Sicily – our last comfort spot – and headed for the unknown. Our sights were on Salerno so to see Pompeii before carrying on west. We said good-bye to friends and wished the Ionian Sea well as we slipped into the Messina Strait (waterway between Sicily and mainland Italy) and eased over to the Tyrrhenian Sea. It was time for sailing southern Italy!
As fate would have it, and the amazing ‘go with the flow’ lifestyle of sailing, we actually arrived at our first destination welcomed by friends.
I kid you not – there’s something very weird about being a full-time cruiser. If you don’t make friends within a couple of hours of being moored up, you’re most likely going to bump into someone you know anyway.
Our first stop was Reggio, Calabria. We received word that Simon’s friend, Mick Flynn (Britians most decorated front-line soldier and author of Bullet Magnet) was there. A couple of years back, Simon met Mick aboard a sailboat on the British Solent to complete the practical Ocean Masters qualification.
Mick sails a lovely 30-year-old Ketch. Within an hour of mooring up in the marina, we were aboard Mick’s boat meeting his beautiful wife, two very handsome sons, and their gorgeous girlfriends. And of course, a drink turned into a few drinks and then we all went for dinner. The night ended around 1 am or 2 am. We had a brilliant time and although we were out of our stomping ground, life felt comfortable.
After we left Reggio, Calabria, Simon, Sienna, and I were on our own.
It felt strange sailing to an unknown port but what felt even stranger was the fact that it was just the three of us. During the first year we rarely sailed alone – we always had at least one friend with us – sometimes many. And if we didn’t have friends on board, we were near other boatie friends.
From Reggio, Calabria we made our way out of the Messina Strait and up the Italian coast to Vibo – we stayed in Marina del Sud. The lower western Italian coast doesn’t have any marked anchorages and there are very few marinas.
Furthermore, the marinas are not cheap.
In Vibo, we had to pay €200, and boy did that hurt. I couldn’t help but think of the inexpensive cost of Greece where a town quay is €7 (if anyone ever comes to collect the money) or the €0 cost of anchoring.
However, for the first time in our sailing adventures, upon entrance to the marina, one of the three attendants on an adjacent boat and said, ‘Do I have your permission to get on your boat and help you?’ Sailing Southern Italy was different from the places we’d been before.
I was bowled over! Usually, I’m throwing the lines, picking up the slime line, running to the front of the boat, and securing the boat while Simon keeps Britican steady in the waters.
Through all the commotion I usually trip on something inevitably embarrassing myself, stub one toe, forget to breathe and end the process hyperventilating.
A mixture of stress, bad footing, and low fitness cause my many issues!
Arriving in Marina del Sud in Vibo, Italy was different. I barely had to do a thing. A lovely Italian boy secured the front of the boat while I merely threw the back lines and secured them back on the boat. I didn’t have to move more than 4’ the whole time.
Here I am worrying that it’s just Simon and I handling the boat and that we’re in a new destination and in the end, there was nothing to worry about (as usual). Mooring and sailing southern Italy was a breeze.
While Simon parked the boat, we heard drums in the distance. The attendants explained that we arrived during a festival – there are loads of entertainment, music, and fireworks.
It was one of those pinch-me moments – how amazing can life be?
We had no clue where we were or what to expect. To our surprise, we arrived at a wonderful weekend festival. The attendants at the marina were excellent. The town was alive with activities and we thoroughly took in the sights and smells of southern Italy.
As we enjoyed our first ice cream/beer/wine Sienna, Simon, and I were privileged to see a procession pass with these most amazing 12’ tall figures. They were paper-mâché bodies that people put on top of their shoulders. The two figures paraded around the town for the full weekend asking for loose change.
And the night before we left, one of the marina attendants came to our boat with three candles to be placed in the water when the Virgin Mary was brought around the harbor by boat. Unfortunately, it was a bit too windy so many of the hundreds of candles blew out but just the same it was an impressive show!
Before leaving Vibo, I secured a few sausages and ground beef in addition to vitals such as milk, bread, and water. We were fortunate that the shops opened for a half-day during the festival – usually, everything shuts down for the entire duration and it’s hard to get provisions.
The town of Vibo itself is well-kept, clean and offers a range of cute little shops.
There’s one small grocery store, a few butchers, bakers and fruit shops. One shop offers meat and cheese and the selection is impressive.
After a couple of nights in Vibo, we went back out sailing southern Italy and headed north to the town of Cetraro, Italy.
Following 12 hours of bad wind, we eventually made it to Cetraro. Again, the cost of the marina was eye-watering but we didn’t have many options – it was Pompeii or bust!
Between Vibo and Cetraro there is nothing.
We moored up with the boat tied down along the side. There were four attendants this time and I didn’t have to do anything other than throwing the ropes. So – one massive benefit of sailing southern Italy is the assistance you receive. It’s the best we’ve experienced to date.
Upon arrival, the boat in front of us was trying to pull a very ripped front sail out of the mast (furling unit). The whole genoa was ripped to shreds. Over the past couple of days the winds were gusting and the storms were terrible. By luck, we managed to avoid the bad weather.
Within 45 minutes Simon met a lovely British couple with their daughter.
They were sailing the exact same boat that we had previously to Britican – a 346 Moody. As you can imagine, the common bond caused a discussion that led to an arrangement to meet for drinks at dusk.
Simon, Sienna, and I met the family for a drink and then enjoyed one of the best meals we’ve had in Italy. The restaurant was on the main road and looked like it was about to fall apart but the food was home-cooked and delicious. I don’t know how the Italians make their sauce so irresistibly good. I think they add a certain amount of sugar or perhaps some kind of drug…you just can’t get enough of it.
We wanted to stay in Cetraro as there’s an old town, museum and a Lidl!
But…the clock was ticking and our mission had to stay set on Pompeii.
The marina area in Cetraro is very quiet – there’s a tourist information shop open for a couple of hours each night, a few restaurants and bars but there’s no grocery store. You can get some bread and fruit at a small shop that set’s up an outdoor fruit stand but otherwise, you’ll have to take a taxi or quite a hike to the ‘marina’ area for about 2km to a Lidl or other shop. There are marinas in Italy and then there are boat marinas. The first is simply an area of water that’s developed for visitors – often there’s no physical marina.
Don’t be caught out by a map saying ‘marina’ in Italy – confirm it’s a boat marina!
Back to Pompeii…Gosh, ever since I was a child and heard about the magically preserved Roman city I felt the need to see the archaeological site myself. I watched all the History Channel documentaries on Pompeii, read about it in books, and studied it at University. Simon felt the same about it – we just had to see it considering it was so close.
Furthermore, I’m always up for seeing another Volcano! Mount Vesuvius is located next to Pompeii so we could kill two birds with one stone.
So, we left Cetraro sailing southern Italy to Sapari, Italy – one step closer to Pompeii.
I can’t tell you much about the bay in Sapari other than the fact that they love to blast English/American music across the bay that’s so loud our boat was vibrating to the base.
Perhaps it was a special night or maybe the DJ was drunk?
And it got worse. Around 11 pm the music not only got louder but the DJ decided to sing or talk over most of the lyrics. I couldn’t believe that I was in Italy listening to a man sing to Disney’s Frozen, ‘Let it go’ (the dance remix version).
While drifting off to sleep I couldn’t figure out where I was – I certainly didn’t think I was in Italy!
Interestingly, however, we anchored outside the marina due to the high fees…And after an hour of anchoring an attendant came out to us and asked us to come in. We asked, ‘How much?’ and our first quote was €100. Simon said, ‘no thank you.’ The attendant then said, ‘How about €50?’
If we weren’t leaving the anchorage at 4 am we might have taken up the offer to go into the marina…but nothing would have protected us from the loud music and the mentally disturbed DJ so we stayed at anchor.
Early in the morning, we set off for Sorrento.
Later I was to discover that Simon thought Sorrento was Salerno so, ultimately, we ended up in Salerno (that story is coming soon…)
We went sailing southern Italy for another 12 hours. Each day we were pushing on to the next suitable mooring. For the most part, the three of us read books, watched movies, prepared and ate food in addition to absorbing the lovely views of the Italian landscape.
Both Simon and I were surprised to see the area so full of mountains. For some reason, we thought the south of Italy was flatter. That being said, I had no idea that Italy had so many volcanoes before touring the beautiful country so what did we know?
Eventually, we could see Salerno and I could taste Pompeii…As we entered the harbor there were black clouds, thunder, lightning, and gusting winds.
I couldn’t help but feel scared, nervous, and anxious.
In my head I kept saying, ‘Be calm, think happy thoughts…it’s okay!’ Needless to say, my body felt knotted up. It’s not nice to enter a new destination with a monsoon about to hit! Furthermore, we saw ripped sails all over the place so our concern about strong winds was at the forefront of our mind.
To make matters worse, we couldn’t get in touch with anyone at any marina that spoke English. We finally found a new marina that quoted us €145/night but we wanted something less expensive knowing we’d be staying a few days.
Simon called someone else (by mobile as no one would answer the VHF) and it was the most ridiculous conversation. Simon was speaking English, terrible Italian, and then threw some German in for the heck of it. Neither party could understand each other but in the end, Simon said, it’s €100 and we’re going here (pointing to the marina on the map).
That’s when I looked in the pilot book and said, ‘Simon – that’s not Sorrento! We’re in Salerno.’
As you can imagine we then wondered if we were in the correct place or if Simon was talking to a marina in a totally different location. A few moments of panic ensued and then Simon announced, ‘I’m sure we’re going to the right marina.’
Between the storm and communication malfunction, I was a bit anxious…
In the end, we made it into the harbor, the storm quickly passed over us and we moored up with very minimal effort. Again, someone jumped on our boat and tied up the bow while I simply through the ropes over to the jetty. It was so easy.
After so many hours of sailing and being at anchor the night before, I was eager to get off the boat and explore. The three of us set out to see a bit of Salerno. Unfortunately, I read all about Sorrento and was eager to find some Lemonchello and other delights of the region, but what can you do?!
After a small walk, we entered the Salerno old town and were amazed by the sights. The whole city is carved into the side of a hill. The old town has narrow cobbled streets darkened by the beautiful buildings stretching high on either side. There are Mother Marry and Saints alters installed into the sides of homes, elaborate fountains, and loads of old stuff. Did you know that the Apostle Mathew was buried in Salerno!
The city felt like yet another dark, dirty yet mysterious place.
I feel terrible to say dark and dirty but Italy is not a clean place. There’s graffiti everywhere, rubbish pushed into corners, and very creepy abandoned properties.
Many areas of improvement never became improved so there are loads of old work sites and you wouldn’t believe how many ‘new’ roads I’ve seen that are 4’ from being finished – those projects have been abandoned too.
If I had to sum up the parts of Italy I’ve seen I’d have to say that people seem to have given up on their country. I’m a foreigner and I have no clue what’s going on but I can’t help but feel like it’s a massive shame to see such a naturally beautiful country scuffed up so bad by its inhabitants. It’s as if they don’t care or can’t care for one reason or another.
Salerno, however, was the best of a bad bunch – the city was much cleaner than the ones I visited in Sicily but that’s not saying much.
(Side note) – if you sail from Sicily to Salerno you’ll probably love the city as the cleanliness is far improved. If, however, you sail from Sardinia (or the east Med) and cross over to Salerno you’ll have issues with the dirt. Italy as a whole is not very clean. There are trash and graffiti everywhere…so this is just a note to prepare you.
Another important note – the dirt of Italy is not a deal-breaker. After a while, you become desensitized by it and accept it. I suppose I’m writing this to warn you so you’re not as disappointed as I was.
Let me get back on track…
So – the night we arrived in Salerno we enjoyed a wonderful stroll through the city. Upon walking back to the boat we stopped at a British restaurant due to the beer selection (for Simon). Not only did they have a beer we haven’t seen in over a year but they had Buffalo Chicken Wings. (I’m from Rochester – next to Buffalo, New York and I was raised on Buffalo Wings!)
Of course, I’m totally into eating the foods of each country but after 9 months of being in Italy (cumulative) I was ecstatic to see something from my hometown. I ordered the chicken wings and loved them.
The following day was Pompeii Day!
Simon, Sienna, and I loaded up a backpack of water and goodies and headed to the train station. After a moderate walk down the coast path and up to the station, we easily secured tickets directly to Pompeii.
The train ride was fantastic – we climbed to high heights, experienced majestic sea views (including the Amalfi Coast), and got a feel for the rural backcountry towns as we made our way North. While on the train I got my first glimpse of Vesuvius – like seeing dolphins, I think I’ll also never tire from seeing volcanoes.
After 45 minutes, we arrived in Pompeii. We left the station and followed the signs to the ‘Archeological Site.’ Before reaching the site, we spent a few minutes taking in some of the architecture in the more modern section of Pompeii.
To my surprise, I discovered a tribute to America for the 911 bombings (in the video).
A piece of the twin towers was standing with a dedication plaque. It was the first time my heart sunk that day – the first of many for that day. It’s not what I expected when we decided sailing southern Italy was on the cards.
My daughter, Sienna, asked me why I felt upset. I wasn’t sure if I should tell a five-year-old about the events that transpired during 9/11 but I did. I explained how upset I was and she yelled out, ‘Oh mummy, give me a hug.’
We then walked down another road and found the entrance to Pompeii.
There was a line for tickets but it went rather quickly. Once we entered the gate a tour guide offered her services and we agreed to a 1-hour tour for €60. We thought that Sienna wouldn’t last for two hours so settled on the 1-hour.
The guide was well worth the money – our guide showed us all the important spots and then afterward we were free to explore on our own. The tickets were €22 each for Simon and me but that was for several historical sites – not just Pompeii. Sienna, at the age of 5, was free.
Overall, seeing Pompeii was a dream come true.
Simon and I were in awe the whole time we walked around. The ruins were so well preserved. For the first time ever I really got a sense of what it was like to live in those times. We just kept walking and walking and saying, ‘wow’ over and over. The photos in the video (part 2) I’ve provided won’t do Pompeii justice. If you like Roman history, I highly suggest Pompeii is at the top of your list.
A few tips for Pompeii
- Go early as it gets hotter and hotter as the day progresses. Also – wear a hat or bring an umbrella. There’s not a massive amount of shade at Pompeii.
- Use the bathroom before you enter as there’s only one at the entrance (and I mean one toilet) and then there’s one at a snack bar on the other side of the site with a bathroom.
- Bring water. You only need one bottle as there are water fountains throughout the site that you can fill it up with.
- Bring snacks/food with you unless you want to pay a fortune at the one and only snack bar. Wear sneakers/trainers/good walking shoes.
- Get a guide – the site is so massive that unless you have a guide you’ll probably waste your time walking around missing things.
- Expect herds of people.
Eventually, our legs couldn’t walk anymore and Sienna wanted to move on. We left Pompeii, headed to the station and found a seat next to the rails while waiting for the train. An elderly Italian gentleman sat on the seat and encouraged Simon to have a chat with him. His English was great and his stories were captivating. He spoke of wars, the land, and Italy in general.
Before we left the station we realized that the gentleman sat there every day speaking to travelers. He never took a train anywhere…he just sat at the station for social engagement. Kind of cool – isn’t it?
Once we were back in Salerno, we grabbed a bite to eat, headed to the boat and slept like logs.
The following day, we woke, and instead of sailing southern Italy, we walked to the train station, and this time we headed for Erocolano – another archeological site.
When Mount Vesuvius erupted, it destroyed Pompeii with falling volcanic stones and dust. The whole city was quickly covered and the inhabitants (that didn’t escape) died from affiliation. Ercolano was different – those that failed to flee died from being burnt up. A volcanic cloud descended on the city and burnt everything it touched.
Interestingly, Ercolano is buried very deep – too deep for archeologists to get to. They’ve excavated 20% of the city but the remainder is under the new city and impossible to dig up. Furthermore, the cost associated with digging so deep is massive. Scientists found Erocolano first but once Pompeii was discovered, all attention went to Pompeii. It was more practical and feasible to dig up Pompeii.
If I was an archeologist I’d be so annoyed about Erocolano – there’s a whole city there waiting to be discovered but it can’t be touched!
You take the same train from Salerno that you do for Pompeii but you go further towards Naples.
Once you exit the station there’s nothing around to help you figure out how to get to Ercolano. We crossed the street and saw a bus sign so I thought that might be a good place to stop. A couple of Italians were there and we said, ‘Ercolano?’ The husband and wife started pointing, talking, and more pointing.
Regardless of our efforts to say ‘we don’t speak Italian,’ they kept speaking to us in Italian, but louder. Hehehehe.
Within a couple of minutes, a white van came along. The Italian couple asked the driver something and before we knew it, we were pushed into the van and on our way to somewhere. The roads were the bumpiest we’ve ever been on. The town was extremely poor. (You’ll see how bumpy they were in the video – part 2)
After ten to fifteen minutes and payment of €2 we arrived at the entranced to Ercolano. Unlike Pompeii, you can see the sea from Ercolano.
We walked under the entrance arches, covered in graffiti (as usual), and were absolutely blown away with the view below us.
The city was covered by 60’ or 20m of debris, therefore the archeologists had to dig that deep to uncover it.
We walked along a walkway with Erocolano below us – it was Amazing.
Full homes, baths, and shops were still intact. The paintings on the walls and ceilings were still there! Even one home still had a wooden sliding door. Pompeii was amazing for its size. Ercolano was incredible for the number of items preserved. Within the home walls, you could still see the timber (as seen in part 2 of my video).
Simon and I paid for an adult audio guide and purchased a child version for Sienna. The child version was the same as an adult but reduced in length. If you don’t have a guide, definitely get the audio tour – it’s brilliant.
We walked around taking in the sights, listening to the audio tour and commenting to each other about what we learned. I was surprised to see Sienna (age 5) so interested in the audio. By the time we finished – 3 hours later- both Sienna and I gave up on the audio and searched for shade.
Simon could have stayed there all night!
Everyone says that you have to see both Pompeii and Ercolano as they’re so different. Do I agree?
Yes. We thoroughly enjoyed the two archeological sites and are very pleased we did them over, perhaps, seeing another city or going to the Amalfi Coast. That being noted, we live on a boat and we see lots of cities and lots of gorgeous coasts.
If you have limited time while sailing southern Italy, I’d recommend doing Pompeii for its size, findings, and overall awesomeness.
That evening, we arrived back to Salerno and managed to secure a massive platter of sushi! I know most travel writers talk about the local food but my family and I are so tired of pasta and pizza. We’ve had enough for a lifetime. And it Italy, it’s very hard to find an ethnic restaurant (Chinese, Indian, etc.) unless you’re in a city.
When I saw a sushi restaurant I couldn’t pass it by.
Simon purchased a round tray of sashimi, California rolls, and a variety of other offerings to bring back to the boat. It was divine!
With tired legs and a full tummy, we all slept like logs and prepared ourselves to start heading west.
There’s a Carrefour Express (grocery store) near the marina so Simon got up early, went to get provisions and after his return, we set off to sail along the Amalfi coast and check out the island of Capri. The grocery store drove Simon back to the marina and helped walk the food down the pontoons to the boat.
We left Salerno with all of us saying, ‘Good-bye Salerno. Thank you for having us. We appreciate you taking care of us!’
It’s a ritual that we have – Simon, Sienna, and I do it every time we leave a mooring. Once again, we were sailing southern Italy.
Once our ropes were pulled in, the fenders were stowed away and our cushions were set up in the cockpit, Simon and I enjoyed the coastal views. Whenever we enter a city we feel excited anticipation. And interestingly, after a couple of days, when we leave a city we often feel freedom and relief. It’s great to arrive and it’s great to leave.
As we washed the city off our boat and bodies, the expanse of the world once again opened up to the big blue Tyrrhenian Sea. Simon and I debated on staying in Capri or making the most of a weather window to get to Sardinia.
We decided to anchor in Capri, eat dinner, and then make a decision.
I would have loved to have found a secure mooring and spend time on the incredible island. The next time we sail around Italy, I’ll make sure to stop in Capri.
Around 8 pm Simon said, ‘let’s make a move.’ Sim had itchy feet.
We cleaned up, pulled the anchor up, and set a heading for Sardinia – a 36-hour sail. The first quarter of the journey was motoring. The second quarter was champagne sailing – perfect wind and a level sea. We did 8 to 9 knots and the boat was level.
The second half of our trip from Italy to Sardinia was hell.
We had 30 knots of wind and a 3m swell hitting the side of the boat. It was more than being in a washing machine. It felt like one of those contraptions NASA has to prepare astronauts for space flight (perhaps?). The first night I did my night watch. The second night, I had my head to the bed and dreamed of seeing land.
The motion was so bad that although I could lay in a starfish position, my skin moved around my bones at such a high rate, it was impossible to sleep. I wanted to find our hammock to hook it up to the ceiling to reduce the movement between my body and the boat below my body. Life sucked.
In the back of my head I thought, ‘if the Atlantic crossing is like this, I’ll never survive.’
With sailing southern Italy behind us, we arrived in Sardinia with the sun coming up and ‘bam’ I immediately liked living on a sailboat again. For me, sailing in bad weather is like child labor – somehow you manage to forget how bad it really is.
So that concludes my experience of sailing southern Italy.
Check Out Some Other Areas In Sicily & The Mediterranian
If you’d like a good summary of our time in Sicily, read Visiting Sicily. And if you’d like a breakdown of all the places we’ve visited while sailing the Mediterranean please read our destination overview: Sailing The Mediterranean. Otherwise, check out more posts about our time spent in Sicily.