… At Any Time of Year!
When we think of coastal Spain, we all too often banish her treasures to the hot summer months, when tourists, ill-fitting bikinis, triple measures of Vodka in our cocktails and mosquitos abound. But the shores of the Iberian peninsula can be enjoyed throughout the seasons. And perhaps nowhere more so than the hidden gem of the Costa de la Luz, whose beaches, fabulous fresh fish, plethora of ice cream parlours, gin bars and white-washed villages remain a relative secret to most of us.
But what else makes it so special?
Well, this summer, I visited to find out!
If you’re journeying by road from the buzzing resort of the Costa del Sol, turn the corner at Tarifa, climb the solar windmill mountains that snake down to the Atlantic ocean and you will not be disappointed: voilà the start of the Coast of Light.
And what a fantastically dramatic start it was from the East; a sweeping yellow expanse of powdery sand – often peppered with an enchanting mix of bulls and kite surfers, followed by aquamarine waves, followed by (if you are lucky) the tip of Africa’s grand silhouette. Yes, Morocco is just 32 kilometres away at this point… meaning a zip trip to Tangiers on the fast ferry can be a realistic and adventurous addition to any holiday here!
If you are arriving by plane, your closest airport will be Jerez, from which it is a relative hop and a skip (in Spanish land mass terms anyway) down to some of the most pristine, unspoiled and under-commercialised resorts in Europe. Which may have something to do with the fact that they’ve not yet been descended upon by hoards of Brits on the lash. Just saying!
Anyway, this summer, me and the fam spent an oven-like week (it’s not usually quite as crazily scorchio, believe it or not!) in the seriously quaint town of Conil de la Frontera. And honestly, it was one of the most relaxing, scenic and enchanting family breaks we’ve ever had. Not to mention inexpensive (although, I must concede, we do have a slight head start in the travel department, we live in Spain…
So what’s so great about Conil?
Where to start? Conil boasts a bounty of beaches and small coves – literally too many to count! – which offer something for everybody, whether you are looking to chill out with a book and catch some rays, or catch some waves. After Tarifa, this is pretty much the Costa de la Luz’s number two spot for water sports of every kind from windsurfing to kayaking – and everything else in-between. We stayed in a villa with its own small pool (hotels can be slightly tricky to come by in peak season, and contrary to popular belief, a self-catering villa is often much better value) near the huge beach of Fuente del Gallo.
Conil is also a foodie’s paradise. The fish here is as fresh as it gets and the range of dishes in the local restaurants, cafes and chiringuitos (beach bars) – not to mention the incredible smell as you walk past them – makes the mouth water, whatever time of day.
Add to that an array of independent, and reasonably priced, crafty shops and boutiques and you have a little gem of a destination. The kind of place that even I (of the Itchy Feet) would happily return to year upon year for a holiday.
Vejer de la Frontera
Imagine a striking cluster of white-washed houses atop a hill, in a valley: Welcome to Vejer. But unlike your average quaint Andalucian village, this place has a serious thing with food going on. So much so, that you may not be able to tear yourself away! Outlets for gourmet yum-yums seriously abound here, to the point you could find yourself eating six meals in a day.
To work it all off though, climb to the top of the town (for Vejer is in fact a town, not a village) and gaze in awe at the impressive views mapped out before you from the Castillo, visit the brand new open-air NMAC Modern Art Museum, grab yourself some quintessential touristy pics next to the gathering of windmills and donkeys, or simply chill in the Plaza de Espana listening to its fountain trickle onto intricate nineteenth-century Triana tiles from Seville.
If you are very lucky during your stay, you might just get the opportunity to witness an impromptu Flamenco concert (we’re talking real Flamenco). And if you are luckier still, the ice cream parlours will still be open so you can sample a creation hailing from the heavens: Cheese and fig. Do not mock it until you have tried it!
Zahara de los Atunes
As you might have guessed by the name, this eight-kilometre-long beach-side town is famed for its utterly delectable tuna. And it’s a trip not to be missed! But not just for the repertoire of incredible fish dishes Zahara’s chefs have up their sleeves. Zahara is also the home of the friendliest of locals, yet more water sports and (tuna aside), some incredible tapas bars. It is also a stone’s throw from the extensive ruins of Baelo Claudia, what was once a fascinating Roman town. Add to that the choice of camping, self-catering apartments or a hotel, and this small holiday resort really does cater for every kind of guest and budget. If you are looking for an utterly relaxing, getting away from it all style vacation, there really is no better location in this part of Spain. Plus you are only a short drive away to somewhere a little livelier if you really feel the pull!
No trip to the Costa de la Luz would be complete without a visit – at least for the day – to its main city, Cadiz. Said to be the oldest city in Europe, Cadiz is absolutely magic; we’re talking glorious architecture, riveting museums, fabulous beaches and eateries. But perhaps all of this is no wonder when you consider its importance as a trade route in times gone by – indeed when viewed from the sea, Cadiz has an almost oriental look about it.
It is also a doddle to navigate by foot as the main sites are quite close to one another, making for a very pleasant day of strolling from the Iglesia de Santa Cruz to the Plaza de las Flores before breaking for a feast of fish and sherry and doing it all over again in the afternoon. Or perhaps hopping on a boat to El Puerto de Santa Maria, located just 10km across Cadiz’s bay.
Equally if you are feeling very lazy… and cash rich, there is always the quintessential (these jet-setting days it seems!) hop on-hop off bus tour, which is a great way to do a whistle-stop tour and take in the main attractions.
And then there’s the Carnaval! Come in February and be part of the crowd and one of the wildest and most fun in all of Spain…
Four fabulous places, and I haven’t even scratched the surface as far as what else the rest of this stunning coastline has to offer. I haven’t even mentioned Tarifa (for more info read here – it really is a one-off gem of a town, a kind of cross between Newquay, Cornwall, the Spanish seaside and a Moroccan souk!) But to go into any more depth, I’d have to write a travel book, not an article.
But hopefully I have inspired you to take the beachy path less beaten when it comes to packing your bucket and spade for Spain. This alluring coastline really does have so much more to bestow upon the tourist than the extremes of Benidorm versus Marbs!