Country guide: Exploring Spain by Sea
|● Great weather, year-round||● Often very touristy|
|● Some of the world’s best nightlife||● Impossible to island-hop|
|● Home comforts are easily available
|● Certain islands can be very pricey, especially Ibiza|
If you fancy trying out one of the more underrated sailing destinations that Europe has to offer, head to Spain. Whether you sail out of Barcelona along the southern coast of Iberia, head to the Mediterranean to explore the Balearic Islands or get suitably subtropical in the Canaries, Spain is the place to borrow a boat.
Conditions can vary dramatically off the coast of Spain, but summer sailing season will see both the mainland and the country’s islands average in the high 20s and low 30s. Combine that sunshine and warmth with the fantastic Mediterranean breezes in the area and it’s easy to see why borrowing a boat in Spain is such a pleasure. Whether you’re visiting for the beaches of Mallorca, the volcanic landscape of the Canaries, or the internationally-renowned nightlife of Ibiza, there’s no better way to see it than on a boat.
It’s worth noting that conditions differ in the Canaries. Being around 1,000 km away from the Iberian Peninsula, these subtropical islands are warm all year round. With temperatures reaching the mid-20s even in the middle of winter, the Canaries are an ideal sailing destination all year round. Plus, these islands often serve as a stop off point for sailors heading out on voyages across the Atlantic. Much like the sunny weather that hits the shores, the blustery trade winds which reach the islands make them the perfect place for year-round sailing.
While mainland Spain certainly has a long coastline at almost 5,000km, it’s rarely touted as a particularly prominent destination for sailing. Maritime visitors to the country tend to prefer a visit to the numerous islands off its shore, ignoring the mainland’s Mediterranean coast. Despite this, a visit to Spain wouldn’t be complete without dropping in on the many historical port towns and cities that populate the country’s southern coast.
Barcelona is, of course, the most prominent city on the Spanish coastline and a beautiful place from which to sail. The opportunity to explore the unique Gaudí architecture and take a stroll down La Rambla draws millions of visitors to the city year on year. If you Borrow a Boat, you’ll be able to experience Barcelona from a completely different perspective, away from the tourist crowds. A beautiful harbour onto the Mediterranean makes for the perfect location to get away from the city and out onto the breathtaking sea.
You could also choose to set sail from the tourist resorts of the Costa Blanca. Visiting the beautiful – if rather Anglicised – white sandy beaches of Benidorm or Altea will make a great start to a sailing adventure. Alternatively, start further to the west, making land at the ancient cultural hotspots that dot the southern coast. If you’re sailing down the coast, a visit to Cartagena is a must. This ancient city’s Roman theatre and baroque architecture offer up a taste of out-of-the-way Spanish luxury that’ll take you back in time.
For a true taste of the unique, sail from the British microcosm of Gibraltar. Technically you’d be in Britain, but the sun, sand and Barbary macaques are guaranteed to make you think otherwise. Unlike many of the other more ‘British’ parts of Spain, you won’t find any all-inclusive resorts here. Gibraltar has been an overseas territory of the UK for over 300 years and is quite literally like visiting a British town that’s been teleported to Spain. Nowhere in the world can you relax on board a yacht in the blue waters of the Mediterranean while watching a red London bus carry people down to the beach – it’s a unique experience and Gibraltar is certainly worth checking out.
Some of Mallorca’s more popular towns – such as Palma and Port de Pollença – attract holidaymakers in their thousands. While the island certainly has beautiful beaches, the swathes of young families can get frustrating. If you’re tired of tourists, hop on board a boat in the shadow of the beautiful cathedral and set sail around the island’s coastline. You’ll be sure to discover a very different Mallorca from the one offered by travel agents. Boaters are able to visit quaint, out-of-the-way port towns, beautiful cave complexes accessible only by boat, and charming white beaches unspoilt by package holidays.
Of course, Mallorca also offers plenty of comforts, for those of us who love the home-away-from-home feel offered by many Spanish tourist destinations. Sail down to the seafront in Palma to discover a raft of expat pubs, bars and cafes, giving you a taste of home from the prow of your boat.
Menorca is something of a hidden gem when compared with its big sister, Mallorca. The island is far smaller and hasn’t quite attracted the large number of tourists that flock to its Balearic neighbours. As such, it’s ideal for sailing. You’ll be able to conquer this little island’s entire coastline with ease, resting in quaint fishing towns that haven’t been hit with the full force of international tourism just yet.
Nature loving captains should rejoice at the thought of sailing Menorca. Designated as a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 2005, there are natural wonders everywhere. The island is filled with a wide range of animal and plant life that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s particularly renowned for the number of beautiful exotic bird species that you can encounter. If you’re a sunseeker, don’t worry. This island paradise is just as warm as Mallorca, with the same spectacular sands you’ll get elsewhere in the Balearics. Ultimately, you’ll want to sail to Menorca if you’re looking to get a far more rustic feel out of your Spanish sailing holiday.
Home to some of the biggest and most renowned nightclubs in the world, Ibiza is undeniably the king of the Mediterranean when it comes to nightlife. Dock in Ibiza and you can rave through the night at Pacha on the island’s southeast side, or sail around the gorgeous coastline to watch the sunset from the world-famous Café del Mar on the western coast. It’s a luxury island similar to Mykonos in Greece for its ability to attract the rich and beautiful to its high end restaurants and world-class shopping districts.
Despite its reputation for glitzy clubs, Ibiza holds some hidden treasures outside of its nightlife zones. When you’re finished partying and people watching, you’ll be able to indulge your inner historian and visit the ruins of a number of ancient Phoenician settlements. Alternatively, you can simply sail around the coast to visit a range of laid back fishing villages that provide visitors with some much-needed respite from the island’s party vibe. Whichever Ibiza experience you settle on – do it on a boat, and you’ll do it in style.
If you’re bored with sailing the Med and are looking for subtropical temperatures and fantastic sailing conditions without the 15 hour flight to the BVI, head to the Canaries. This chain of volcanic islands offers conditions that feel far more Caribbean than European, and all in the same time zone as the UK. Plus, thanks to the islands’ proximity to the equator, you’ll have steady conditions year round. Even in mid winter, expect temperatures in the mid-20s with force 3-4 winds that feel as though they were especially tailored to sailors.
Admittedly, the Canary Islands are lacking on the cultural front. Don’t worry though, as this group of island paradises more than make up for it with some of the most beautiful scenery you can find in what is technically Europe. From glorious blue lagoons to craggy rock formations and beaches formed of black volcanic sand, the Canaries have it all.
For a full Canarian experience, head to Lanzarote. Decidedly volcanic, the island has plenty of giant rocky calderas and almost Martian landscapes to discover. Sail out of Lanzarote and you’ll come across a variety of volcanic islets. Many of these rocky oceanic wonders are uninhabited, with their untouched landscapes rivalling many of the most beautiful Caribbean islands. Plus, you’ll be happy to know that most of these islets are accessible only by boat. Sail off the beaten track in the Canaries and you can look forward to having a desert island all to yourself.