Three overlooked (yacht-friendly) destinations that will have you fall in love with the Mediterranean all over again.
BY STEPHEN CORBY
ATTRACTING HUNDREDS OF millions of visitors each year, there isn’t an island in the Mediterranean Sea that hasn’t been discovered and overrun by every sunburned Englishman and his dog.
While it’s true no part of the Mediterranean remains untouched, there are several sparkling gems that don’t attract the attention they deserve. Here, we take a look at three isles where your superyacht is unlikely to get caught in a fleet, so you can enjoy the pristine beaches and famously translucent water like it’s your very first time in the Med.
If you’re after peace, quiet and solitude, Chrysi (or Chrisi, meaning “golden”) should be your first port of call. Also known as Gaidouronisi – which translates to the far less exotic-sounding “donkey island” – Chrysi is an uninhabited paradise located approximately 15 kilometres south of Crete, the largest island in Greece, with a population of more than 600,000.
While Chrysi isn’t the sort of place you’d cast anchor if you were after fine dining and plentiful company, this lush, verdant island has much to offer, including stunning sea views. (Unsurprisingly for an island famed for its privacy, there’s also a nudist beach on the north coast.)
As for sightseeing, there’s a small church on the north-western coast, known as Ekklisia Agios Nikolaos; the chapel of Saint Nicholas on the island’s western side; Minoan ruins dating from between 1800 and 1500 BCE; a Roman cemetery; a lighthouse; and an old port.
But its greatest features are Belegrina, Hatzivolakas and Kataprosopo bays, where the water is ideal for snorkelling and diving.
Part of the Pontine Islands (which includes Zannone, Gavi, Ventotene, Santo Stefano and, the largest in the group, Ponza), Palmarola is another mostly uninhabited hidden gem – albeit a more craggy gem than Chrysi.
Located off the coast of mainland Italy, between Napoli and Rome, about 10 kilometres west of Ponza, Palmarola houses a nature reserve that’s resplendent with small beaches, natural grottos and dramatic cliffs.
No less an authority than the famed French explorer and oceanographer Jacques-Yves Cousteau described Palmarola as “the most beautiful island in the Mediterranean Sea”. It’s mostly visited by Italians, with international travellers yet to discover its riches.
That said, it does have a dark past. It’s believed that Pope Silverius was exiled to Palmarola and died there from starvation in 538 CE. Legend has it that when fishermen in a small boat were caught in a nasty storm, they called on Silverius (also known as Saint Silverio) for help. An apparition of the former pope appeared and ushered them to the safety of Palmarola, an incident that helped make Silverius a venerated saint.
In addition to the island’s San Silverio Shrine, there’s the stunning Cave Mazzella to explore, plus a plethora of snorkelling sites.
Those who are after a slightly more populated island experience would do well to consider Croatia’s Susak (called Sansego in Italian, which derives from sansegus, the Greek word for oregano, which grows in abundance on the small island).
One of several isles in Kvamer Bay on the northern Adriatic coast, Susak is just three kilometres long and 1.5 kilometres wide, covering a total area of approximately four square kilometres. It has one town, with only 200 or so residents (largely due to an exodus at the end of World War II, when locals migrated to the United States).
Known as “the yellow island”, thanks to its distinctive yellow sand, there are two very good reasons why Susak has not become overrun with tourists: firstly, it’s not particularly easy to get to without a yacht, and secondly, accommodation is limited.
But those who are willing to make the trek are rewarded with striking scenery unlike anything else found in these parts. And with its old stone houses and slow, car-free way of life, Susak gives visitors that pleasant sense of having stepped back in time.
The warm water, sandy beaches (rare in these parts) and family-friendly shallows are major drawcards, as is Susak’s unique cuisine – combining elements of Croatian, Italian, Austrian and Mediterranean cooking – and the locally produced wines: a red called pleskunac and a dry rose called trojiscina.
A tip for the pros? Susak is at its best outside peak tourist season (July and August), when the island’s population balloons to about 1,500 people.