9 exclusive Mediterranean cruises that avoid the crowds

CNN  — 

Mediterranean cruises: great for blue seas and skies, lousy for avoiding the crowds that inevitably travel with you from destination to destination.

The answer: a cruise with a small group of friends on a private boat that’s large enough to carry essential luxuries, but small enough to head to uncrowded offbeat destinations.

Here are some of the best exclusive cruises embarking this summer:

Corsica’s Cap Corse (France)

Known as “le doigt,” or the finger, Cap Corse is a jet-black rocky peninsula at the top end of the island where Napoleon was born.

It’s dotted with picturesque villages, steep cliffs, vineyards, windmills, pink coral sandy beaches and grazing buffalo.

First stop on this catamaran cruise is Macinaggio, where the ruins of Santa Maria tower, bombed by Nelson’s fleet, rise from the sea.

Then there’s the fishing port of Centuri, renowned for its lobsters.

From the medieval St. Florent, the catamaran sails to the almost tropical beach of Saleccia, covered in palms and coconuts below the myrtle-scented wild Agriates Desert.

Sunsets are enhanced by glasses of Rappu passito wine, slices of brocciu cheese and figatelli, fennel-scented sausages.

Four days, from 800 euros ($930) per person. Departure from Scarlino (Tuscany). Sealand Yacht Charter; +39 0521 508275

Egadi Islands & Zingaro Reserve/Marsala (Italy)

A traditional gulet sailing boat is the best way to explore the inlets of these three atolls off Sicily’s western coast.

The largest atoll, Favignana, is known for its deep rocky caves, Roman villas and Aragonese castle.

Guests can take free-diving lessons in the crystal clear waters of Cala Azzurra or ride across the islands many cycle paths or visit an old tuna factory – a relic of the days before Favignana’s gruesome tuna-killing festival was banned.

The other two isles are quieter, dotted with whitewashed houses.

On car-free Levanzo, the tiniest and most romantic, private tours explore the Genoese Grotto featuring Neolithic wall paintings.

Then there’s wild Marettimo, celebrated for its lobster soup, mountain range and Punta Troia castle.

Back in mainland Sicily, the boat heads north, stopping at the Zingaro Natural Reserve for a swim in the pristine waters of around Scopello’s limestone sea stacks and the “blue lagoon” of Santa Margherita Bay.

One week, maximum 12 people. From 17,000 euros for the whole boat. Private transfer from Sicily’s Trapani airport. Wondergulets Charter; +39 2454 94722

Sporades Islands (Greece)

The Sporades: A taste of real Greece.

An archipelago of 11 islands, four of which are uninhabited, the Sporades are what real Greece is all about.

They’re offbeat, hard to reach and untamed by nature.

The cruise takes in a marine park that’s home to a colony of monk seals.

Despite the calm, it’ll be hard to avoid partying like an animal in Skiathos, famous for its wild nightlife.

Fertile Skopelos, filming location for the movie “Mamma Mia!,” is lined with vineyards and dome churches.

Daily food served on board includes grilled octopus, fried calamari and borek (cheese and vegetables pastries).

One week, from 1,500 euros per person. Departure port: Skiathos. Sealand Yacht Charter; +39 0521 508275

Pontine Archipelago (Italy)

Halfway between Naples and Rome, this cluster of five islands is where Odysseus was bewitched by Sorceress Circe and the Sirens’ songs.

Among them is Ponza, where yellow, red and white cliffs tower over the blue sea.

Here the local diving center will pick guests up from their deluxe yacht for a private dive inside a WWII shipwreck.

There’s a sunset dinner at Michelin-starred Il Tramonto restaurant, overlooking nearby Palmarola, the isle Jacques Cousteau called the Mediterranean’s most beautiful.

Palmarola’s colorful pebble-stone beaches, granite cliffs, sea stacks, cathedral-shaped caves and collapsed natural arches – and its one restaurant, O’ Francese – are the next stop.

Nearby Zannone, flat and covered in bush, features the ruins of a monastery and grazing wild sheep.

Lunch here is fresh sea urchin dishes prepared by private chef.

Sailing south, the trip enters the marine park of Ventotene, an ancient Roman port still used today.

On clear days the view stretches to Mount Vesuvius.

Five days. Minimum two people. From 7,300 euros per person. Private transfer from Rome to Ostia or Terracina port. Access Italy; +1 212 217 2080

Bodrum to Didim (Turkey)

After berthing in the clubbing hotspot of Bodrum, the 22-meter deluxe gulet (with onboard massage therapist) heads towards Gumusluk village, a mix of ruins, picturesque houses and fish restaurants.

There’s a shopping stop in the VIP-friendly boutiques of Yalikavak’s and Turbuku before the crowds are left behind for swimming at Altinkum beach.

In Didim there are guided tours to the ancient city of Ephesus, one of the Mediterranean’s top archeological sites.

On the last day there’s snorkeling in the crystal-clear waters of the Twin Islands.

One week. Maximum six people; 10,500 euros for the whole boat. Departure port: Bodrum; Wondergulets Charter; +39 2454 94722

Alternative Amalfi Coast (Italy)

The popular Italian resort destinations of Capri and Amalfi might seem obvious, but this yacht cruise ventures further afield, to places like Ischia island with thermal spas offering customized beauty therapies.

Procida is a picturesque fishermen isle with pastel-colored houses and an impressive fortress.

The Li Galli archipelago is a set of private isles just off Capri. There’s a villa, formerly owned by Russian dancer Rudolf Nureyev, with Turkish mosaics and carpets.

On Capri, the island’s Michelin-starred Il Riccio restaurant will lend its chef to the yacht for an evening meal in front of the Blue Grotto.

Heading south, there’s swimming at the waterfall of Ravello, probably the most chic town on the Amalfi coast, and a chance to savor the incredible views from the “Terrace of the Infinite” at the Rufolo and Cimbrone villas.

Five days. Minimum two people. From 7,300 euros per person. Private transfer from Rome to Positano. Access Italy; +1 212 217 2080

Northern Dodecanese (Greece)

Dodecanese: A world of unspoiled atolls

Kicking off in historic Kos, this cruise explores the Greek islands closest to Turkey – a world of unspoiled atolls dotted with blue and white houses.

The cruise then stops in Pserimos and Leros, where rental bikes can be taken up winding paths to the overhanging fortress and gardened village of Platanos.

Next up is Patmos, featuring a monastery with a breathtaking view that rises from the ruins of a temple dedicated to goddess Artemis.

Lipsi island, lined with taverns, is ideal for food enthusiasts.

Local specialties include cheese cakes, stuffed eggplants, dried tomatoes, honey and pistachio cakes – accompanied by a wide choice of wines.

Kalymnos, also on the itinerary, has opportunities for free climbing.

The days end back on board with painting lessons and massage sessions.

One week. 12 people. From 28,000 euros for the entire boat. Departure port: Kos; Wondergulets Charter; +39 2454 94722

Kornati Islands (Croatia)

This cruise zigzags through a maze of 140 atolls, part of a protected marine park near the mainland city of Zara.

Mostly barren and uninhabited except for a few colorful houses, steep cliffs, cone-shaped summits, karst-limestone rock formations and narrow canals create an eye-catching lunar landscape.

Kornat, Murter, Zut and Dugi Otok are among the major isles.

The summit of Ravni Zakan rewards visitors with sunsets on pink-colored rocks.

Turquoise waters swarm with bright fish and there’s even a salted lake believed to have healing powers.

One week. From 700 euros per person. Port of departure: Sibenik or Zara; Sealand Yacht Charter; +39 0521 508275

Aeolian Islands & eastern Sicily (Italy)

This trip includes views and walks up the active Stromboli volcano.

On Alicudi and Filicudi, the farthest and wildest of the Aeolians, there are thousands of winding steps, ancient pathways and prickly pears.

Night skies over Alicudi are lit only by stars: there’s hardly any electricity and cars are banned.

“Donkey taxis” are the main means of transportation.

Filicudi – featuring the stunning Dugong Cave, the Rock of Fortune and La Canna stack – produces Italy’s best capers.

The cruise finishes on Sicily’s eastern coast, sailing from Taormina to Syracuse then up to Capo Passero, the southernmost tip renown for its top red wines.

Two weeks. From 1,500 euros per person. Departures from Palermo, Milazzo; Sealand Yacht Charter; +39 0521 508275