Spain is one of the most diverse sailing destinations in the Mediterranean, with plenty of cruising routes and itineraries that guarantee a memorable holiday. From the tranquil sailing areas and traditional fishing ports in the Bay of Biscay to the large marina developments along the country’s Mediterranean coast and the enchanting landscapes of the Balearic and Canary Islands, Spain offers a unique blend of remarkable sights and regional cultures to explore even for the most travelled sailor.
Spain enjoys a mild climate throughout the year and the sailing season typically lasts from spring to autumn. The peak season is in July and August, when most of the larger harbours and marinas on the country’s Mediterranean coast are completely full.
The sailing conditions vary from region to region. The northwestern coast is best sailed from one of the French ports, such as La Rochelle, because sailing in the opposite direction pits boats against the region’s dominant winds. Careful planning is necessary because of frequent storms in the Bay of Biscay, fogs along the Rías of Galicia, and the heavy Atlantic swell along the Atlantic coast, which can reach 4 to 5 metres. The southwest coast is usually trouble-free, but it is advisable to pay attention to winds and tidal currents near Cape Trafalgar because these can cause complications.
The Mediterranean region generally offers easy sailing conditions, with light sea breezes along the shore, but Balearic Islands have a less predictable weather pattern and sailors are advised to keep an eye on the forecast.
Spain has several main sailing areas: the northwest coast, southwest coast, the Mediterranean coast with the Balearic Islands, and the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of Africa.
The northwest coast begins at the border with France and stretches along the Biscay coast to the cities of San Sebastian and Bilbao in the Basque Country, Santander in Cantabria and Gijón in Asturias to the scenic municipality of Ribadeo on the Galician coast. Sailing along the Rias of Galicia, four estuarine inlets on Spain’s northwest corner, takes travellers to the major anchorages at A Coruña, Vigo and Bayona and smaller, more picturesque ports at Rias of Ribadeo and the towns of Viveiro, Cedeira, Camariñas, Muros, Pontevedr and Vigo.
The southwest coast, popularly known as Costa de la Luz, starts at the border with Portugal at Rio Guadiana and takes sailors along the western Andalusian shore to the major ports of Cádiz and Algeciras near Gibraltar and a number of smaller marinas and ports at the village of El Rompido and towns of Chipiona, El Puerto de Santa María and Barbate.
Sailing from Cádiz along the North African coast takes travellers to Spain’s autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla and onward to the Canary Islands, while crossing the Gibraltar takes them to the Mediterranean coast and the regions of Murcia and Valencia.
The major harbours along the Mediterranean coast include the glamorous resort towns of Marbella and Málaga and the historic cities of Almería, Carthagena and Alicante. There are also many smaller marinas in the area that make a good base for trips to the UNESCO-protected sites at Seville, Córdoba, Granada, Baeza and Úbeda. These include the 15th century Alcázar royal palace in Seville, Doñana National Park, Alhambra fortress and Generalife palace in Granada, and the historic centre of Córdoba.
Sailing along this stretch leads to the Catalan coast and the city of Barcelona or, going eastward from Alicante, Denia or Valencia, to the Balearic Islands. The major coastal harbours in this area are found at Tarragona and Barcelona and smaller ports include the towns of Sitges and Blanes, the resort towns of Llafranc and Roses, and the fishing port of Llansa.
Sailing in Spain offers an opportunity to discover a great variety of landscapes, historic cityscapes, cultural sites and stunning beaches. Spain’s northwest coast is home to several World Heritage Sites. The Vizcaya Bridge, the world’s first transporter bridge, is located near the Port of Bilbao. The cave of Altamira, which contains paintings dating as far back as 35,600 years ago, is in the Franco-Cantabrian region and requires an inland trip. The Tower of Hercules, situated on a peninsula near A Coruña, is the only fully preserved and functioning ancient Roman lighthouse.
Costa de la Luz also offers a diverse range of sights and experiences. These include historic locations such as Cape Trafalgar and the port of Santa Maria near Cádiz, the starting point of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World. The region around Cádiz is known for sherry, the fortified wine made from the grapes grown in the nearby towns of Jerez and Sanlucar de Barrameda. Tarifa, the southernmost point of Continental Europe, is one of the world’s most popular destinations for windsurfing.
The magnificent cities of Cartagena, Valencia and Barcelona are part of most cruising itineraries along Spain’s Mediterranean coast. This stretch of the coast is divided into several smaller regions: Costa del Sol along the coastline of the Province of Málaga, Costa Blanca in the Alicante province, Costa del Azahar in the area around Valencia, Costa Dorada between the Catalan towns of Cunit and Alcanar, and Costa Brava, which stretches from Blanes to the border with France.
Costa del Sol is a world-famous tourist destination with a unique variety of landscapes, from beaches, estuaries and bays to cliffs and dunes. Costa Blanca draws visitors with its many amazing sandy beaches and is an excellent starting point for a trip to the Balearics. Costa del Azahar, nicknamed the Orange Blossom Coast, is home to many of the region’s orange groves. Costa Dorada, which includes the city of Barcelona, has many long, sandy beaches that draw hordes of tourists every summer. Costa Brava is known for its steep, rugged terrain with numerous idyllic beaches and bays. Some of these, such as those in the area of the Cap de Begur and Cadaqués, can only be reached by boat.
The Balearic Islands – the four larger islands of Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza and Formentera and a number of smaller islands, including Dragonera, Cabrera and S’Espalmador – are among Spain’s most popular sailing destinations. The islands have countless amazing nightclubs, restaurants, beaches and hidden coves that are only accessible by yacht. Ibiza in particular is known as an international party destination, but all the main islands are vibrant tourist hotspots that draw huge crowds in the summer.
Palma, the capital of Mallorca, has a rich cultural offering and some of the best dining and shopping options in the region. The Serra de Tramuntana, a 90-km long mountain range on the island’s northwestern coast, is a UNESCO-protected nature reserve that reflects a fascinating symbiosis between the works of nature and actions of human beings. Menorca is ideal for travellers looking for a more low-key holiday, with a number of ancient forts, prehistoric sites, caves and red beaches. With miles of white sand beaches, Formentera provides an idyllic setting for anyone looking to spend a restful holiday far from the crowds.
The Canary Islands, located 100 km west of Morocco in the Atlantic Ocean, attract more than 12 million visitors each year with their subtropical climate, stunning beaches and remarkable natural attractions. Tenerife, the largest island in the archipelago, is home to two World Heritage Sites. San Cristóbal de La Laguna, situated in the northern part of the island, was Spain’s first non-fortified colonial town that later served as a model for similar towns in America. Teide National Park, centered on Mount Teide, Spain’s highest mountain, contains Pico Viejo, the second highest volcano in the archipelago. Both Mount Teide and Pico Vijeo rise above 3,000 metres. The park is also notable for the similarity to the environmental and geological conditions on the planet Mars, which makes it an ideal site for testing instruments that will be sent to the planet.
Other main islands in the group are Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro. Gran Canaria, Tenerife, Fuerteventura and Lanzarote are the largest tourist destinations next to Tenerife. La Gomera is notable for the Garajonay National Park, a UNESCO-protected park mostly covered by laurel forest, a humid subtropical forest that covered most of Southern Europe in the Paleogene period but disappeared as a result of climate change.
La Palma is home to the Caldera de Taburiente National Park, a World Biosphere Reserve that contains the vast expanse of the Caldera de Taburiente, a large Canary Island Pine forest endemic to the region, and Roque de los Muchachos, the highest point on the northern wall, known for the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory. The Timanfaya National Park on the island of Lanzarote is another Biosphere Reserve, known for its active volcano and parkland made up entirely of volcanic soil.
The island of Gran Canaria is home to 33 protected sites, including six nature reserves, ten natural monuments, two rural parks, two natural parks and seven protected landscapes. Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the island’s capital, is a popular spot for yachts preparing to set sail across the Atlantic to destinations in the Caribbean.