15 September 2010

Life's a Beach

The Costa de la Luz, or "Coast of Light", boasts some of the finest beaches and nature reserves in Europe.  It stretches for over 200 miles from Ayamonte on the Portuguese border to Tarifa, the southernmost point of mainland Europe.  It faces onto the Atlantic ocean; head due west and eventually you will pitch up in West Virginia. With its wide, windswept beaches of golden sand, and those great rolling waves beloved of surfers, it has a completely different character from the crowded and tideless costas of Mediterranean Spain.

Within an hour or so´s drive of Alcalá you can reach all the Costa de la Luz beaches that fall within the Province of Cádiz:

Sanlúcar de la Barrameda's beach is on the mouth of the Rio Guadalquivir, one of Spain´s longest rivers and the border between the Provinces of Cádiz and Huelva.  Its waterfront restaurants are famous for langostinos and the driest of all dry sherries, manzanilla - a combination almost as magical as eggs and bacon.  You can take a boat-ride up the river and set foot (albeit briefly) in Doñana Parque Natural, one of Europe´s most important nature reserves.  There is horseracing on the beach in August.

RIVERBOAT TRIP FROM SANÚUCAR INTO COTO DOÑANA
Chipiona sticks its thumb out into the Atlantic and is the home of Spain´s tallest lighthouse.  Is a typical Spanish family seaside resort, with loads of great seafood restaurants and four miles of Blue Flag beaches, packed solid in July and August.

THE LIGHTHOUSE AT CHIPIONA
Rota is a well manicured fishing-harbour-turned-yacht-marina, with two decent beaches, one each side of the marina.  It is largely an adventure playground for escapees from a huge US Navy and Airforce base nearby; you will hear a lot of English spoken here.  The nicest way to visit the town is by ferry from the port in Cádiz.

THE WEST BEACH AT ROTA
El Puerto de Santa Maria straddles the Rio Guadelete on the northern side of the Bahia de Cádiz.  To the northwest of the elegant old town the beaches are jealously guarded by the sterile urbanizaciones of Vistahermosa, Puerto Sherry and Costa Ballena - mile after mile of luxury dwellings with pools and security gates.  In El Puerto itself there are two splendid sandy beaches, one either side of the river mouth: La Puntilla with its pine groves and campsite to the west, and Valdelagrana with its apartment blocks and promenade to the east.  Like all the beaches in this area, they are only really crowded in the Spanish holiday season, early July to mid September.

 A STROLL ALONG THE PROM - VALDELAGRANA IN SEPTEMBER
On the southern end of Valdelagrana beach is Los Toruños nature reserve, where you can hire bicycles or canoes and explore the salt-marshes.

Cádiz  A short ferry hop across the bay from El Puerto, the oldest city in Europe sits proudly on a peninsular joined to mainland Spain by two threads - a bridge to the industrial port of Puerto Real, and a causeway across the bay to the naval town of San Fernando.  La Caleta is a small, crowded beach in the old town, with a nocturnal party scene in the summer months.  On the Antlantic side of the peninsular is the Playa Victoria, with its big luxury hotels. 


LA CALETA BEACH IN CADIZ OLD TOWN
San Fernando  The sandy beach stretches for a further fifteen miles or so alongside the causeway between Cadiz and San Fernando, broken only by a military area at Camposoto, after which it becomes the Playa Castillo, stretching for three miles down to the Punta del Boquerón river-mouth opposite Sancti Petri Island.  Facilities and chiringuitos (beach bars) can be found at intervals along this stretch, but much of it is wild and undeveloped; behind it lies the Bahia de Cadiz nature reserve, with flamingos and many other wading birds picking their way through the salt pans.


Chiclana de la Frontera   Sancti Petri is an abandoned fishing village located at the northern end of the Playa de la Barrosa. It adjoins the Bahía de Cádiz Natural Park and has a sheltered, rocky beach, facing a small island of the same name (boat trips to the island are available in summer).   Sancti Petri was used by General Franco and his entourage as their holiday retreat. The fishermen were forced out of their homes and when Franco died, the place fell into ruin. It is now being renovated in a fairly low key fashion, with a fishing port and marina, sailing and windsurfing schools, and a few bars and restaurants.

SANCTI PETRI ISLAND, CHICLANA
La Barrosa, a.k.a. "Chiclana-on-Sea", is one of Spain´s most famous beaches with five miles of fine sand and bars, hotels, restaurants and watersports facilities to suit all tastes and pockets.  At the southern end is the upmarket resort of Novo Sancti Petri, a little cluster of four-star hotels, apartments and golf courses favoured more by Northern Europeans than by the Spanish.

LA BARROSA ON CHRISTMAS DAY
Conil de la Frontera from a distance looks like someone has dropped a handful of sugar cubes by the side of the ocean.  It is one of the most popular resorts on the Costa de la Luz, especially for younger people as it has a thriving nightlife in summer.  There are ten miles of beaches to suit all tastes, from long open sandy stretches to small isolated coves backed by sandstone cliffs. The clean blue waters are perfect for swimming and snorkeling. The beach closest to the town itself is called Playa de los Bateles. Others include Playa de la Fontanilla, Playa Fuente del Gallo and Playa de Roche.  Cala Pitones is a secluded cove, off the beaten track, where swimsuits are optional.

COVE ("CALA") BETWEEN  ROCHE AND CONIL HARBOUR
El Palmar is a couple of miles south of Conil, but falls in the territory of Vejer de la Frontera, a splendid white hill-town five miles inland.  The beach is more of the same - miles of white sand, surfing, a few bars and cafes that only really come alive at night.  The main selling-point is that you can park right by the beach, good if you have sunbeds and parasols to cart around.

SUN, SEA AND SAND AT EL PALMAR
Barbate The beach continues unbroken past the little resort and nudist beach of Zahora, until it reaches Cape Trafalgar (Nelson's glorious victory is seen from a rather different perspective here of course).   It then swings east to Caños de Meca, an old hippy hangout (or do I mean hangout for old hippies?) with sandy coves and rocks.

CAPE TRAFALGAR SEEN FROM CAÑOS DE MECA
The coast becomes more rocky from here on, and the beaches are replaced by steep cliffs topped pine trees until you get to the splendid sandy inlet of Playa Hierbabuena, just outside of the fishing port of Barbate itself.  If you can tear yourself away from the beach, the walk along the cliff through the pines is simply wonderful.

PLAYA HIERBABUENA'S CLIFFS AND PINE TREES
Barbate's town beach is Playa Carmen, flanked by a long esplanade lined with seafood restaurants and icecream parlours.  The local specialty is atun rojo, red tuna, caught locally but most of it is exported to Japan to be made into sushi.  Preserved tuna - mojama or sarda - is delicious and makes a good souvenir for the folks back home, as well as supporting the beleagured local economy.

Zahara de los Atunes  Southeast of Barbate the coast is fairly wild and inaccessible - much of it reserved for the military - until you reach the fishing village of "Zahara of the tuna-fish".  Zahara's undoubted charms have made it almost too popular, and it is now almost completely dominated by hotels, hostels and tourist restaurants.


ZAHARA DE LOS ATUNES
Bolonia  A little further along is one of my favourite places on the entire planet.  In fact I really shouldn't be telling you about it, but it's sufficiently inaccessible for the crowds to stay away.  Not only is there a fabulous beach, the bluest sea and the largest sand dune you've ever seen, but an entire Roman village, Baelo Claudio, in excellent state of repair standing right there next to the beach!


PLAYA DE BOLONIA FROM THE TOP OF THE DUNE
(those little dots on the left of the beach are people!)
Tarifa   Our journey ends at the magical town of Tarifa, with the Rif Mountains clearly visible a few miles across the water and the flavours of Morocco strongly evident in the walled old town.  Whipped by the Levante from the east and the Poniente from the west, Tarifa is almost always windy and the vast beaches of Las Lances and Valdevaqueros are a mecca for kite-surfers, wind-surfers and, er, surf-surfers, as well as twitchers who come to watch the millions of birds who pass overhead migrating to and from Africa.  The most sheltered beach is the Playa Chica, "little beach", just to the west of the jetty.

TARIFA'S PLAYA CHICA IN EARLY SUMMER

2 comments:

jfs said...

From Catou catherine seguin's father:

Many good souvenirs from reading your notes. Catou took us to many of these sites and beaches. Life in Alcala is special, as if time stood still and people matter more than.....
She is back for a second school year to teach English so you surely will meet.
I can still feel the Levante. And the view from her rooftop in June 2010.

Claire Lloyd said...

Thank you for your kind comments. I hope you get another chance to visit the area some day!