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Sailing Mediterranean Spain - Mainland Coasts

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".

Weather and When to Go

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.

Yacht Support

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. Wintering yards with good maintenance facilities are widely available, often run by separate businesses from the marinas.

Med Spain Cruising Regions

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The Spanish Enclaves

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

Gibralter Straits to Almeria

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.Map of mainland Mediterrenean Spain

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.

Cartagena to Denia

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. Dry docking with 200 ton travel lift at Ascar Astilleros, toilets and showers available.

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. Shipyards at Thomas Maestro - Navemar and Marina 2001; and at Puerto des Salinas, 5nm north.

Torrevieja. Port with three marinas, each with their own hard; Yacht Club with crane, travel lifts at Marina International and Marina Salinas.

Santa Pola is a small town 10nm south of Alicante. Club Nautico Santo Pola  has 500 berths, 20 ton travel lift and a hard. A substantial yacht manufacture facility next door provides super-yacht support.  Isla de Nueva Tabarca lies about 4 miles off Santa Pola and  is well worth a visit. It has 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, and a good crew change spot with nearby airport The seafront paseo is lined with cafés; good people watching. There's a range of wintering options for yachts.  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. 5nm north of the town is Club Nautico Campello; with Nacrama Nautica yard providing yacht lift and services. 

Dénia is a busy ferry port, and a useful yacht destination before jumping off to the Baleearics. There are three mooring providers and a couple of hards with yacht lifts. Marina de Denia and Real Club Nautico Denia are on the left as you enter the port. Both use travel lifts and offer dry wintering. Marina el Portet is on the right, and had a singularly unhelpful web site July 2018.

Denia to France

North of  Denia there are many ports and marinas for some 500 nm, 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 facilities nearby are good value (competition!):

  • Marina Real Juan Carlos 1 is just south of the city beach, and was developed to become home for the America’s Cup. The inner berthing area hosts top of the range super yachts. A big seaward extension added two more mooring areas; the southern for smaller motor boats; the northern for yachts. There's easy access to the city beach, but it's 1km walk to catch the Metro/bus to city centre. This port closes to visitors during F1 events.  No shore hards are advertised.
  • Real Club Nautico de Valencia is 5km further south (just the other side of the main commercial port). This secure marina  has workshops and hards with all the facilities you may need for wintering, afloat or ashore, including an Olympic swimming pool. It's been reported as good value for top facilities, but it’s a taxi ride to town or supermarkets
  • Pobla marina, 12km NE of Valencia is also worth considering.

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. 2 hour bus transfer to Barcelona airport.

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.

Med Spain Summary

  • Attractions. Frenetic tapas bars, Grenada's Alhambra, summer seafood restaurants in small resorts, Cartagena, Valencia, Barcelona, and the sunniest winter weather in the Mediterranean in the shelter of the Sierra Nevada - good for winter liveaboards.
  • Snags. A Coast of passage, rather than a cruising ground.  Limited anchorages in the south. An awful lot of coastal concrete. Big city poverty and un-employment - look after your belongings.
  • Ports of Entry. Marked on the chart with red blobs
  • Layup or Wintering. Popular live-aboard wintering region; Almerimar, Cartagena, Alicante, Valencia, La Rapita and Barcelona all high on the list. Also a variety of shore hards - including duty free Isla Verde at Algeciras.
  • Transport. Year round scheduled flights from many airports
  • Boat Charter. Small scale; mostly only skippered charter for short periods.



Reviewed September 2018


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