10 UNESCO World Heritage Sites to visit on a Mediterranean yacht charter

A luxury yacht charter is the ultimate way to visit the great UNESCO World Heritage Sites of the Mediterranean. Disembark by day to wander the villages of Amalfi, hike Sicily’s volcanoes, or walk the walls of Dubrovnik, before returning to your yacht, chatting excitedly about the wonders you’ve seen, dining on deck as the yacht gets underway for the next incredible UNESCO site.

Stunning scenery in Sicily

Here are our 10 top yachting destinations that will astonish with their UNESCO-listed treasures, from ancient temples to modern architecture and landscapes of breathtaking natural beauty.

1. Cinque Terre and Tuscany, Italy

The UNESCO listed Cinque Terre National Park enchants with its five pastel-painted fishing villages strung along the steep coast, green terraces of olives and grapes, and colourful fishing boats bobbing in tiny harbours. Head ashore from your yacht to walk the coastal path between the towns, stopping on a flowery restaurant terrace for a delicious seafood lunch, looking out at the yachts crisscrossing the blue. Just offshore, the islands of Palmaria, Tino and Tinetto make for a lovely detour, while charming Portovenere also graces the UNESCO list for its history and beauty.

CInque Terre, Italy

Those with the time to continue their charter can easily continue down the coast to Tuscany, which has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to UNESCO sites – whether you’re visiting Florence, the Medici Villas and Gardens, Pisa’s Piazza del Duomo, or gorgeous Siena.

Florence, Italy

2. Amalfi Coast, Naples and Pompeii, Italy

The Amalfi Coast was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997 for its combination of dazzling natural beauty, superb architecture, and rich history of human settlement. Colourful towns cling on steep hillsides, grand white villas perch high above cobalt blue sea, and pink bougainvillea scrambles through gardens of lemon and olive trees. Whether you’re floating through Capri’s Blue Grotto, exploring Amalfi’s Arab-Sicilian cathedral, or shopping in Positano’s boutiques, the Amalfi Coast is one of the world’s most breathtaking yacht charter destinations.

The Italian island of Capri

Just across the water, the entire historic district of fascinating, gritty Naples is also a UNESCO listed site,while just beyond the city’s outskirts, the atmospheric ruins of the buried city of Pompeii sit under the ominous shadow of Vesuvius. Wander between the columns, sit quietly in the amphitheatre looking across the ancient city, admire the mosaics and baths of ancient villas, and see the casts of the bodies, frozen in time by the volcano’s shocking heat.

Pompeii, Italy

3. Sicily and Aeolian Islands, Italy

Sicily dazzles with the richness and variety of its UNESCO sites, from the Greek temples scattered across the landscape, to the wild volcanic beauty of the Aeolian Islands chain, declared a UNESCO site in its entirety. Sicily was considered part of ‘Greater Greece’ during the period of classical flowering, meaning it is littered with some of the finest Greek temples existing today, the best of which can be seen at UNESCO site Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples.

Favignana, Sicily

If the Greek temples and spectacular volcanic beauty of Sicily were not enough to lure you to charter a yacht here, there are also some utterly magnificent UNESCO listed cities and towns, including the unique Norman-Arab architecture of Palermo, the cathedrals of Cefalu and Monreale, the late baroque towns of the Valli di Noto, and the gorgeous city of Syracuse with its preserved island district, temples, and cliff necropolis.

Noto, Sicily

You may need a longer charter!

4. Venice and Montenegro, Adriatic Coast

Venice’s breathtaking skyline of golden domes and soaring spires are enough to make a romantic swoon, and there can be no better way to approach this 5th century city than on a luxury yacht at sunset, preferably with a glass of Venetian Prosecco in hand. There’s an astonishing treasure trove of UNESCO highlights to visit, with Venice labelled a city of exceptional universal value for its extraordinary density of architectural and artistic masterpieces. Whether you’re gasping at the wonder of St Mark’s Basilica, admiring Tintoretto canvases at Doge’s Palace, or taking a gondola ride under the Bridge of Sighs, Venice pulls at the heartstrings like few other places.

Venice, Italy

Venice is also an excellent embarkation point for your yacht charter if you’re planning to cruise down the Adriatic Coast to the UNESCO delights of Montenegro, where the city of Kotor impresses with its medieval beauty, stunning natural setting, and glamorous yacht marina at Porto Montenegro. Inland, the Dumitor National Park hides some of the deepest gorges in Europe, glaciers, and a beautiful landscape of pine forest and crystal clear lakes, making the UNESCO list for its exceptional natural value.

Kotor, Montenegro

5. Malta

Malta’s popularity as a superyacht destination is rising fast, due to its crystal clear waters, amazing diving, and incredible UNESCO sites. The entire city of Valletta is a heritage site, with its 320 historic monuments making this grand fortress city one of the most concentrated historic areas in the world. The Cathedral of Saint John stuns with its gold-gilded opulence and the tombs of the Knights of Malta, and is also the home of Caravaggio masterpiece ‘The Beheading of St John the Baptist’. Other highlights include the Palace of the Grand Master, Auberge de Provence, and the Infirmary of the Order.

Valetta, Malta

Just outside Valetta is the spectacular and wildly atmospheric  Ħal Saflieni Hypogeum, a vast underground cemetery spanning three levels and dating back to 3600 BC. Malta is a superb destination for those interested in ancient history, with the seven Megalithic Temples of Malta also earning UNESCO status.

Church in Malta

6. Athens and the Greek Islands

As the cradle of democracy and a birthplace of Western civilisation, it’s little wonder that Athens makes this list. The Acropolis is a must-visit in a lifetime, and it’s difficult not to be awestruck as you wander through the columns and statues of this  hilltop citadel, marvelling at the sheer grandness of the Parthenon and looking out across the city of Athens, where Hadrian’s Arch and the Olympian Temple of Zeus are surrounded by the modern, bustling city.

Parthenon

Returning to your yacht docked in Athens marina, you have the choice of heading to other UNESCO listed sites in the Greek Islands. You might cruise the Cyclades, where you can visit the sacred island of Delos, believed to be the mythical birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. Meanwhile, in the Ionian Chain, Corfu Old Town displays beautiful Venetian and neoclassical architecture, and if you’re cruising the Dodecanese, Rhodes impresses with its gothic Upper town, its Palace of the Masters, Great Hospital, and Street of the Knights.

Greek Islands

7. Dalmatian Coast and Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast offers several spectacular UNESCO listed sites to visit on a week-long charter, as you float along this heartbreakingly beautiful coastline from Dubrovnik to Trogir to Split. Dubrovnik, known as the Pearl of the Adriatic, bewitches with its high city walls, baroque architecture, and white limestone laneways. Further along the coast, the walled island city of Trogir is less well known than Dubrovnik but it is an astonishing place in its own right, with marble streets, seaside promenades, and Romanesque and Renaissance buildings. Moving onto Split, you’ll discover the truly incredible Diocletian’s Palace, now a giant historical district, in a vibrant ancient city framed by mountains and sea.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

From Split, those seeking UNESCO sites of astounding natural beauty, should take the 2.5 hour trip to Plitvice Lakes, where a scattering of small blue green lakes are fed by waterfalls, giving the impression of film-set swimming pools, surrounded by fragrant pine forest and rushing rivers. Breathe deeply.

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

8. Barcelona, Ibiza, and Serra Tarumata

Begin your UNESCO themed yacht charter in Barcelona, where a collection of 9 UNESCO listed sites makes this city the title holder for most in the world. An astonishing seven of the sites are the work of architect Antonio Gaudi, whose unique and colourful modern style transformed the city. The other two UNESCO sites in Barcelona are the Hospital de la Creu i Sant Pau, and the Palau de la Música Catalana concert hall, both designed by modernist Catalan architect, Lluis Domenechi Montaner.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Once you’ve had your fill of Barcelona’s iconic, spirited architecture, return to your yacht and head out into the Balearics islands, where famed party isle Ibiza has been accorded UNESCO status for its incredible underwater meadows of Poseidon grass, splendid preservation of architecture, and long history of human settlement.

Ibiza

Finally, to the island of Majorca, where a cruise up the west coast of Palma reveals the searingly, jaw-droppingly beautiful Serra de Tramuntana mountain range, which has been awarded UNESCO status for its incredible terrace fields, drystone towers, and pretty villages perched upon the vertiginous landscape.

Mountains of Mallorca

9. Turkey Ephesus, Turquoise Coast

Cruising along the Turquoise Coast of Turkey is a staggering experience, with lush pine forest and mountains contrasting against a limpid turquoise sea. This stretch of coastline was bestowed as a wedding gift to Cleopatra by Mark Antony, and is rich in historic ruins, including the ancient capital of Lycia, Xanthos Letoon. This site offers splendid temples and theatres, as well as fine examples of the stone tombs that are found carved into cliffs all along the Turquoise Coast.

Beach in Turkey

For those with the leisure of time, a trip north to the ruins of Ephesus are a must for any ancient history lover. Ruled by the Greeks and the Romans, this port town was once one of the greatest seaports of the ancient world, but now lies 9 kilometres from the sea due to its harbour silting up over the centuries. Ephesus is a vast site, with highlights including the remnants of the Temple of Artemis, the Grand Theatre with seating for 25,000, and the beautiful Library of Celsus, once one of the great libraries of the world and now the site of atmospheric summer concerts.

Ephesus

10. Corsica – Gulf of Porto

It’s hard not to gape in wonder as you cruise through Corsica’s UNESCO listed Gulf of Porto, where monumental rock formations loom over emerald and sapphire seas. Taking in a vast expanse of area including the Calanche of Piana, Gulf of Girolata, and the Scandola Reserve, this is a natural paradise born for yachting exploration, with mighty red cliffs and black volcanic rocks, hidden grottos, and stunning calanques to drop anchor in.

Piana, Corsica

The Gulf of Porto is also home to an abundance of life, from the dolphins that play and jump in the yacht’s bow wave to the eagles and peregrine falcons that soar above the rugged cliffs. This is wildly beautiful place, where rosemary and sage grow wild in the maquis and the few signs of human life are the old Genoese watchtowers on lonely bluffs, and the pretty village of Girolata, only reachable by boat or by foot.

Girolata, Corsica

For history lovers and admirers of nature, there can be no better holiday than a UNESCO-themed yacht charter in the Mediterranean. Where would you go first?

Alexander Coles is Co-Founder at Bespoke Yacht Charter.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Willham says:

    As a keen seafarer, this article really resonated with me. Lots of excellent options here, and well worth chartering a yacht for a memorable trip. The entire Amalfi Coast is unmissable. I’ve seen it from the land; but I’d love to see it from the water and have an opportunity to go swimming and diving too.

  2. claire says:

    You have described this wonderfully, it all sounds so magical and amazing – very luxurious! “pastel-painted villages” sounds glorious. Everything seems like it would be a photographers dream. There are so many places in Italy that I must go to – I’ve only ever gone to Venice, but that was fantastic. The Italian destinations definitely appeal to me most

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