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South Tidal Europe - French Biscay to Gibraltar

The whole pace of life changes south of rugged Ushant and the Raz de Sein, where the Bay of Biscay starts. Tidal streams no longer dominate passage planning (though there are some hot spots), and the weather improves. The civilised older towns of southern Europe with their attractive pavement cafés offer a new culture - and new menus - to enjoy. It's easy to find good, economical places to base your boat, or lay it up, in this area.

Crossing Biscay. Well, some people rush past these great cruising grounds in a hurry to reach sunnier spots . . .

North West Brittany (dealt with on our Channel pages) has a pair of tidal gateways guarding the entrance to Biscay - but it's part of the Biscay France cruising experience

Biscay France is easy day sailing, rich with anchorages, historic towns, small off shore islands and sandy beaches. Alive and busy in the French holiday season from mid July to late August, it's much quieter out of season. Skip the 150nm flat, sandy French shores south from Gironde to the Basque Country by the border with Spain.

North Spain, from the French border to Galicia, is one of the few cruising grounds little affected by yacht or foreign tourism. Ports are dedicated to the fishing industry or to mining, and tourists are Spanish. Day sailing along the coast is easy unless a moderate swell rolls in, when some ports won't be safe to enter.  A new culture of tapas and informal seafood eateries opens up, and in the 6 week holiday season every excuse is made for a local fiesta (some quite bizarre!) after which curtains of fireworks will be exploded.

Galicia is a warren of deep inlets (rias), all safe to enter in any conditions. Many are part filled with mussel rafts. Yachts are well served with marinas and anchorages, and there are superb old towns to enjoy. Strong north or north-east winds are common in summer (the Portuguese trades), but inshore the seas are generally well sheltered.

West Portugal is a coast of passage, with Porto and Lisbon as "must sees" en route. Northerlies running throughout the summer make northward passages slow.

South Iberia is a pleasant, linear cruising route, well sheltered from summer winds, with ample marinas and some good anchorages. The good mild climate attracts a fair number of north European tourists to the Portuguese coast. There are several popular wintering bases for live aboards, and two rivers to explore. The Guadiana lies on the Portuguese/Spain border, while the Guadalquivir leads ultimately to Seville, a "must see" city, suitable for a winter layup.

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