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Mainland Spain is a coast of passage, or a coast for wintering, rather than a cruising ground, with some interesting cities to visit, and superb seafood to enjoy.
From Gibraltar to Dénia (opposite the Balearics) is about 500 nm of sunny sailing along a coast faced with some of the most over-developed beach resorts of Europe. The coast is easily navigated with day hops from marina to marina. These include some of the sunniest and good value winter live-aboard marinas in the Mediterranean. But anchoring is exposed, and rarely free of swell.
The northern 500nm to the French border has lower lying coastlines, frequent marinas and a better choice of anchorages, especially in the Costa Brava. The magnificent cities of Cartagena, Valencia and Barcelona are "Must Sees".
Once away from the easterlies or westerlies which blow up to gale force or stronger through the Gibraltar Strait for days at a time, summer afternoon sea breezes are common. The rain shadow of the Sierra Nevada creates a unique climate; one of the sunniest coasts of the Mediterranean, summer and winter. In winter, periods of settled weather are warm and pleasant, allowing good cruising, with little wind, but excellent live-aboard and layup conditions. North of Denia, the climate is less obliging, but good in summer. The northernmost Costa Brava is affected by the Tramontana, and not a good winter cruising ground. Tides and currents are trivial, navigation and pilotage easy.
The coast is liberally served with marinas which fall into two categories – privately run, and ‘council’ (Junta) run. The Junta marinas are relatively good value for money, but have chaotic booking systems. Private marinas vary widely (some with Solent prices, some good value). Empty private berths are often not available to short term visitors, but can often be sublet for longer periods. Marinas are busy in the summer, when booking ahead may be needed, though larger marinas usually have space for early arrivals. Price may depend on the length of the berth used, rather than the length of your boat.
Ceuta (email) and Melilla are Spanish enclaves (territories) on the Moroccan coastline, offering cheap berthing and fuel (especially Melilla). Popular wintering spots, with good ferry connections to Spanish mainland airports with frequent flights. Details on our Morocco page
There are few anchorages along this coast, and all are prone to swell, but there are enough affordable marinas with good facilities to meet the needs of most. From any port east of Malaga on this stretch, you can visit Granada, home to the incredible Alhambra, a wonderful relic of old Islam. It is probably best to hire a car for a day or two (good value in Spain), staying overnight.
Algeciras. This large Spanish port just west of Gibraltar has a boat yard (Isla Verde) suitable for winter layup ashore, with a 150 ton crane. The yard is within a duty free zone, and no VAT (IVA) charge is added to slipping fees and labour charges.
Gibraltar, La Linea. Three local marinas (and an anchorage off La Linea) are favourite jumping off points for cross Atlantic sailors, and are thus busy in September and October. Alcaidesa marina, at La Linea, is better sheltered than the Gibraltar marinas in westerlies, and usually has space. Boats using the nearby anchorage may leave dinghys at the Yacht club for a small fee. Gibraltar marinas are often full. Gibraltar has been described as a rather tacky "little England", worth a visit only to buy duty free, but very useful for motor yachts taking on large fuel quantities. Fly "Q" flags when entering and after leaving Gibraltar; it's outside the EU customs area.
Puerto de la Duquesa is owned by the same group as Estepona (next) but is smaller and more picturesque. Free wifi and Sat TV, yard, chandler, bars, restaurants and shops. Village and small town with supermarkets, a ten minute walk. Adjacent beaches.
Estepona, not far from Gibraltar, the 'old town' area is pleasantly Spanish. A hard and yacht lift are available. The marina is liberally supplied with late night bars and Chinese restaurants. Opposite the marina office is Café Reinaldo, popular with the smart Spanish locals. 300m west along the seaside is a superb, scruffy looking seafood restaurant - La Escollera - with loos which would do credit to the Ritz. Consider a visit to Ronda, linked by public transport, one of the 'white towns', perched in the hills 40km away over an impossible gorge.
Malaga is a workaday Spanish town with an unemployment problem, a small junta marina and excellent fish restaurants lining the sea front of it's western suburbs. Take a no 11 bus to eat in the district of Pedragalego, or go even further to El Palo, scruffier, but wonderful food in summer.
Motril has a small Yacht club marina. It's the nearest point for a visit to the Alhambra. If that's busy, Marina del Este is just 10nm west.
Almeria and nearby is the hottest and driest part of this coast, the spaghetti western capital of Europe, attractive for it's very long summer season and sunny winter, popular with live aboards. Nearby wintering marinas are Almerimar (a bit isolated but big live-aboard community) and the more expensive and convenient Aguadulce. Both object to work on the boats on the hard, but tolerate work when in the water. Almeria Yacht Club marina may be more attractive for those in transit; the Moorish fort is worth a visit.
North of Almeria, anchorages are more common, though some are still exposed to swell. This is a more interesting coast of passage. Marinas north offer high quality, but vary widely in price. They make good points of departure for the 70nm hop to Ibiza. Only a few places to visit are noted below:
Cartagena is a thriving modern city, one of Spain's main naval bases, has a fascinating history and relatively little tourism. The narrow streets of the old town, packed around the port, are dense with bars and restaurants - a tremendous contrast with the grubby industrial suburbs. World class events are the Easter fiesta, International Nautical week in June and the world music festival in July. All year, gorge yourself in the tapas bars around the Ayuntamiento. No wonder people love this place. But these festivals do crowd the Royal Yacht Club marina and the Yacht Port marina next door. These are both good value for money, and often recommended for live-aboard wintering.
Mar Menor, some 20 nm E of Cartagena. is a lagoon entered by a canal with a bridge (opens frequently). About 10 x 3 miles, the lagoon is formed by a built up sand-spit closing off a large bay. It's an interesting diversion, but often jellyfish infested.
Isla de Nueva Tabarca, about 4 miles off the coast and some 10 miles south of Alicante is well worth a visit. There is a small but free harbour. During August and any weekend in the Summer it can be crowded. At other times, peace and quiet reign supreme.
Alicante is a very Spanish town, whose seafront paseo is lined with cafés, good people watching. Marina Alicante is more expensive than average for the area; better value is Real Club de Regatas de Alicante with its very good visitor facilities.
Dénia marina is good value, a reliable destination since it usually has space.
There are many ports and marinas along the 500 nm coasts north of Dénia, with widely differing prices, higher towards the French border. It's rewarding to hunt out some of the smaller club run marinas along these coasts, often good value.
Valencia has a very attractive and lively city centre, popular with tourists. It's 4 to 5km inland from the city beach, served by many restaurants and cafes. The whole area is flat, well provided with cycle paths and bike rent shops. Marine facilites nearby are good value (competition!):
Barcelona also has multiple marinas catering for visitors, a lively arts and music scene, and is a busy tourist destination in summer. Unfortunately, tourists themselves are an attraction - for pick-pockets and bag snatchers. So keep a good grip on your assets. Wintering afloat is possible
Sant Carles de la Rapita was a fishing port at the mouth of the Ebro river (half way between Valencia and Barcelona) which has seen major recent development as a small (very Spanish flavoured) holiday resort, bringing it's population to 15,000. The harbour is very well sheltered, with a much praised MDL marina. which is good value. This is a useful wintering spot ashore or afloat for those intending to cruise the Balearics next year (100nm distant). There's a lot of marine growth when in the water, but you get a free lift and scrub with long term contracts to deal with that problem.
Costa Brava. The rocky, scenic 70 nm Spanish Pyrenees coast provides some pretty, fair-weather anchorages, a few are prone to strong and gusty winds when the Tramontana is blowing. The Islas Hormigas and Islas Medes add more interest. Rounding Cap Béar can be really windy, but Port-Vendres provides good shelter.
Reviewed March 2017