The thought of riding out the notorious mid-summer heat in Spain will not be to everyone’s taste. But Galicia in the northwest corner is not only very different but a fascinating destination in itself and one that is often overlooked in the rush to get south.
Experience the tranquillity of a night in one of the numerous picturesque anchorages in the Rías Baixas and you’ll be thinking again about this spectacular and hospitable corner of Spain. Once there, you’ll discover an even bigger cruising ground than you might have expected. As well as the magic of the four Rías south of Cabo Fisterra (Cape Finisterre), there are the off-lying islands that provide shelter, but more importantly, are wonderful destinations in their own right.
If you are taking a passage from the UK, one word dominates your thinking – Biscay! There isn’t enough space here to debate the tactics to be adopted for this passage. However, with Ile D’Quessant abeam, there are 335 miles to be covered to A Coruña, so a favourable 48-hour forecast should see you safely there. The approach to A Coruña is dominated by the site of the Tower of Hercules, Europe’s oldest working lighthouse and well worth a visit. A Coruña itself has an authentic feel to it and the Marina Real is well placed for exploring the back streets of the old city and its justly praised tapas bars. Look to sample “pulpo” (octopus) and “navajas” (razor clams).
Between A Coruña and Cabo Fisterra lies the Costa da Morte (Coast of Death – just in case Biscay hasn’t already grabbed your attention). This is a wild place, but its name owes more to the shipwrecks of the past than the present day. A useful stopover before the landmark Cape is Camariñas, where there is a reasonable marina or Muxia on the other side of the same bay. Once round Cabo Fisterra, and with the obligatory photos having been taken, you are in the Rías Baixas (the “Lower Rías” in Galician). The climate becomes gentler and the coastline more forgiving.
The three rías to the south are each protected by islands: Illa Salvora off the Ría de Arousa; Illa Ons off the Ría de Pontevedra; and the Illas Cíes off the Ría de Vigo. All are designated national parks and a permit is needed to anchor off them, as well as to land. Do not let this put you off as the process is straightforward through the authorisation website and the rewards are magical anchorages, unspoilt beaches, and walks along marked paths that allow you to appreciate these remarkable places.
Sheltered anchorages can be found along the eastern shores, with a quick dinghy run ashore straight onto the beaches which, even in high season, are not crowded. There you’ll find the odd beach bar, café and restaurant, but these are not mass tourist destinations. The number of daily visitors is restricted, meaning that the trippers on the foot ferries from the mainland must also be in possession of a permit to land. The islands also perform the extremely helpful function of providing protection from the Atlantic swell, and when taking the inside passage, it is not unlike archipelago sailing in the Baltic or the west coast of Scotland – except it’s warmer – and there are no midges! The water temperature though, is more Cornwall than Costa del Sol, something you may wish to bear in mind before diving into the clear waters of an anchorage.
Each of the four Rías offers superb, scenic sailing and you are spoilt for choice for anchorages and marinas. A feature of all of them are the mussel rafts or bateas. As well as being hidden up creeks, they also occupy sizeable chunks of the main rías. Some are marked on charts, but most are unlit so proceed with caution.
Of the four Rías Baixas, is the only one that is not guarded by an outlying island, but there is a marina and anchoring possibilities off the busy little town of Muros, or at Portosín on the southern side, which is far quieter.
To eat: Both have plenty of options for eating ashore, but A Casa do Tella a Rosalía in Portosín is particularly recommended and has percebes (goose barnacles) on the menu, another must-try in Galicia. These are gathered by hand from the rocky coast by highly skilled “percebeiros”, at not inconsiderable personal risk.
Characterised by pine-laden slopes down to the shoreline this ría has abundant sheltered anchorages. The two main marinas are at Vilagarcia and Vianova on the eastern side. There is one at Rianxo but it’s a touch on the shallow side.
The Isla de Arosa off the eastern shore is connected to the mainland by a road bridge and is a popular, by Galician standards, beach lovers' destination.
To eat: Taberna a Castelara – is the standout restaurant in Vilagarcia and is a pleasant stroll from the marina.
Sanxenxo marina is reached first but this is a busy place in the season. A better bet is to continue inland, passing the “helter skelter” lighthouse on Illa de Tambo, to Combarro where there is a welcoming marina with good depth and facilities. On the southern side of the Ría de Pontevedra is the small and peaceful Ría de Aldán which is the perfect place to anchor for lunch or overnight.
To eat: Seek out the Bodega o Bocoi in Combarro which has great views over the water as the light fades.
The port of Vigo is the busiest in Galicia so keep your eyes open and note the local Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS). The standout destination here is Baiona, set in a beautiful bay and overlooked by the Parador de Baiona, an impressive, fortified edifice on a rocky promontory. The Monte Real Club de Yates has an excellent marina, with efficient and friendly staff and all the facilities you could wish for. Baiona was the first port in Europe to learn of Columbus’s success in reaching the Americas as the caravel Pinta made landfall here on its return in 1493.
To eat: It has to be the Parador - one of the famous government-run hotels and restaurants found throughout Spain. Aperitifs on the terrace – the gin and tonics are memorable – and then into an impressive, high-ceilinged dining room.
A gentle north-westerly breeze at a Ría entrance can be accelerated by the topography of the land to give 20 knots plus further inshore, so be prepared for a lively beat back out! If the wind is in the north or north-east, as it often is, especially in the summer, be prepared for lively gusts coming down the slopes and through the gaps. Despite the shelter provided by the islands, the remnants of an Atlantic swell can find their way into the marinas. It is worth investing in some snubbers or steel shock absorbers if you are planning on staying long. Mussels will happily colonise and jam an untreated feathering prop if left for any amount of time.
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