Brittany Ferries, a French company, offers ferry service to Santander on the north coast of Spain once a week from Plymouth, Devon, UK and twice a week from Portsmouth, Hampshire, UK. Ferry service is also offered twice a week from Portsmouth to Bilbao, also in northern Spain.

Journey Time
Portsmouth to Bilbao2 per week1 dayBrittanyBrittany Ferries
Portsmouth to Santander2 per week1 dayBrittanyBrittany Ferries
Plymouth to SantanderInfrequent19.5 hoursBrittanyBrittany Ferries

The round-trip fare to Santander starts at £194 per person, based on one car plus two people. Your voyage will be on either the flagship of the fleet, the “Pont-Aven,” or a new addition, the “Cap Finistère” – the sailing time to Santander is twenty hours from Plymouth and twenty-four hours from Portsmouth. The “Pont-Aven” leaves Plymouth on Sundays at 3:30 PM and Portsmouth on Tuesdays at 5:00 PM; the “Cap Finistère” leaves Portsmouth at noon on Wednesdays.

Portsmouth, directly off the M27, is only 103 km (64 miles) southwest from London – the links to the M25 and the M3 make travel from the North and the Midlands quite easy. Plymouth is the best port to use for anyone coming from the West Country or Wales.

The luxurious “Pont-Aven,” launched in 2004, carries 2400 passengers and 650 cars. There are 650 cabins, most of which sleep four people, and a few two-person cabins. The less formal “Cap Finistère” carries 790 passengers and 500 cars in a more intimate atmosphere. There are 239 cabins, with a few more rooms set up for two-person occupancy – there are even rooms set up to be dog-friendly! All cabins are air-conditioned on both ships and you’ll find many choices for dining and entertainment no matter which ship you choose.

As your ship approaches the Santander harbour, take note of the historic Lighthouse of Cabo Mayor and marvel at the rugged coastline and its 50 metre cliffs. Go to Santander in June and July for some wonderful city-wide festivals.

The “Cap Finistère” departs from Santander for Portsmouth on Thursdays at 3:30 PM; the “Pont-Aven” departs Santander on Mondays at 3 PM for Portsmouth and Wednesdays at 9 PM for Plymouth. You can match your return trip to accommodate the length of your stay in Spain, going home on whichever ship is leaving then.

The “Cap Finistère” runs the Bilbao route, begun by Brittany Ferries in the spring of 2011. Fares for Portsmouth to Bilbao start at £195 per person. The ship leaves 10 PM Sundays and Fridays from Portsmouth, and returns from Bilbao on Tuesdays and Saturdays. Take note that the Sunday departure is the start of a 32-hour trip, with a Monday morning stop at Roscoff, France, for crew change and loading of supplies — no passengers may disembark — arrival at Bilbao is Tuesday morning. The other voyages are all twenty-four hours. There are plans to add a round-trip from Plymouth in the summer of 2011.

Visit Bilbao, Spain, for the scenery and for the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. At the end of August, come for the Semana Grande, known in Basque as Aste Nagusia, translating to Big Week — it’s Bilbao’s big summer festival, lasting nine days.