May 7th, 2012
So the sea is the sea. Is that correct? After all, the sea is blue. You can swim in it, sail on it, fly over the top of it. Ideally the waves arrive on a sandy beach in Spain.
That would be the Mediterranean then, would it? Well, yes. And no. It depends where you are. You may be marvelling at the Med.
Or you may be admiring the Atlantic. But which is it?
On a windswept day I went to the place where the Med meets the Atlantic. I was fortunate not to be blown into either. You can walk along out to sea on a path that means the Mediterranean is to your left and the Atlantic to your right. It is a refreshing stroll but, should you be wearing one, hold on to your hat.
Tarifa is a great place to rent a holiday home. There is a stark contrast between the old and new parts of the town. The modern is aimed at those wanting to buy clothing or rent sports equipment. Some good quality shops for the fun loving and fashionable.
The old part of town is very different. A large white washed town in itself full of nice houses and cobbled streets that run down to the sea. The walls around this historic part of Tarifa tell you that the area was conquered by Sancho IV of Castile and that in successive stormy centuries attempted sieges by North African and Moroccan troops were resisted.
Only one of the three original gates survives, the Puerta de Jerez. There are remains of the medieval walls and the stand out Guzman castle is a popular attraction.
But it is the wind that blows in the most tourists. It would be wrong to suggest that Tarifa is only suitable for the young and sporty types. But it is a fact of life in Spain that it is a beacon for those who like to test their strength, skills and passion for riding the waves.
I have to admire these people. But i admire more the scenery, and especially the beaches, in this region. Sand as far as the eye can see. If you are into beaches then head for the province of Cádiz and the coastline of the Costa de la Luz. The wide expanses of sand rarely get anything approaching full.
As you face the sea at Tarifa, the Med is to your left. The Atlantic to your right. Whichever way you turn, there are some delightful locations to explore.
Be sure to walk on the beaches of Trafalgar, Zahara de los Atunes or Los Canos de la Meca. This is a splendid stretch of coastline in Spain and in many parts represents what so many coastal locations looked like only 50 years ago.
The ever popular holiday destinations such as the family friendly Conil de la Frontera and Chiclana de la Frontera offer so much of what you will want from a holiday in the south of Spain. And thousands of hours of sunshine year in, year out.
Go inland a little and wander up the streets of Vejer de la Frontera. A place full of character and charm. Narrow, sometimes cobbled streets, that lead you up hill and around corners. You will often come across a bar or restaurant that is almost hidden from view.
I spoke with Adrian Gibb who lives nearby and he has lived all over Spain. He told me: “This is the most fabulous corner of Spain that I have lived in, and that is saying something. I have spent the last thirty years in the country and have lived north, south, east and west. But this is the best.
“I read often that the strong winds we get down here on the Costa de la Luz have been known to send people crazy. Well, in my opinion, you would have to be crazy not to come on holiday here or to want to live here once you had spent time in the towns or on the beaches. And then you have the cracking city of Cadiz so close at hand. I love that city. So much character and class.”
Cape Trafalgar has to be one of my personal favourite places in southern Spain. In recent years environmentalists have campaigned to keep it that way. Whenever there has been publicity about a plan to build hotels and other such developments at Trafalgar, those who do not want to see this location ruined have risen up and been very vocal in trying to prevent the historic Cape Trafalgar from becoming just another seaside haunt.
Cape Trafalgar is special. Very much on the Atlantic ocean, it attracts not just those seeking to ride the waves or sit on the beach. Those who are into naval history come here because it is the site of the famous Battle of Trafalgar. The British Royal Navy destroyed the combined French and Spanish fleet just off the cape of Trafalgar.
On one visit i met Tony Waddock who, with his mates, was on a special trip visiting the significant locations in Spain. Significant that is if you are in to the famous battles of the seas.
Tony says: “I read in a newspaper that there was a plan to build a hotel and a resort here. That would be scandalous. They must not allow it to happen. Do people not appreciate just how beautiful this coastline is? Do they not know their history and realise that Cape Trafalgar has played such a huge part, not just in Spanish history, but also in British history.
“We go all over Spain and we are amazed at how little is made of the naval history of this country. Trafalgar is special and, even on a windy day when I am hanging on to my wig, i never fail to be impressed by the Costa de la Luz.
“Tomorrow we go out on to the seas beyond the Cape to learn more about the battle and to take photographs. We love it here.”
You don’t have to want to be into wars or battles to enjoy life down here.
Friends of mine, whose only interest in Napoleon comes in the shape of brandy bottle, wanted to spend a Christmas in the province of Cádiz. They asked me where they should visit in the area. I told them of the must not miss places but, foolishly, i did forget to urge them to spend some quality holiday time in El Puerto de Santa Maria.
How could i make such a mistake? For this is one of the often overlooked treasures of the so called sherry triangle.
There are pretty beaches here too. But it is the seafood restaurants that attract so many visitors. The Spanish, who know a good prawn when they taste one, flock here from far and wide. Sit outside one of the many establishments that serve sumptuous seafood and soak up the bustling atmosphere of a charming Spanish destination.
But don’t just sit on the seafront. Do wander the backstreets and admire some characterful buildings. The town is full of them. I went into the bullring there and came across some young, would be toreadors practicing their skills without a bull in site. It was fascinating to see teenagers showing off, no doubt hoping to make a name for themselves in years to come.
The countryside around here is rolling, green and so often you can see bulls where they should be. Namely in the field. Magnificent beasts standing proudly amid some truly magnificent scenery.
You can sail to Cádiz from El Puerto de Santa Maria. It is a great way to move between the very different locations.
Keep going further to the right of El Puerto de Santa Maria, with the Atlantic ocean getting ever warmer the closer you get to Portugal, and you will arrive in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. This is a place for which i have lots of time. Some people simply drive on by en route to Huelva or to another country altogether. Portugal.
Vastly different at the height of the holiday season from when visited in the depths of winter, Sanlúcar de Barrameda reminds me of many a Spanish town of yesteryear. First and foremost it is a real working town that goes about its business regardless of whether or not it is tourist season.
My friends who went there at Christmas found it to be very quiet. In summer that is a different story. I have been there in all seasons and believe it is a place that retains its character no matter what. I loved being there for the horse racing on the beach at the height of the summer. That was fun. And i have enjoyed sitting outside the bars on the seafront at the far end of Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
I have been there in February and been surprised by how temperatures do not drop very far at night time. Winter is also a good time to make the boat hop across to the Donana National Park. The mosquitoes are not around in winter and their absence makes visiting the park outside of summer more pleasurable.
As does the locally produced drink called Manzanilla. Now my childhood memories of craftily tasting a glass of sherry do not match the lovely taste of Manzanilla – one very dry, light and slightly salty sherry. It goes down very nicely.
From Sanlucar you can travel further west and, very quickly, you will find yourself in Bonanza. When I was growing up Bonanza was a television programme. A western full of characters with rugged and distinctive faces.
And, in that regard, this little location has much in common with the hit TV show. I even saw a wagon and horses there. On the beach.
Bonanza has been described as simply the port of Sanlúcar de Barrameda. Well i think that is a touch unfair and dismissive. Clearly the port has always been the hub of Bonanza when it comes to activity and being a crucial centre of commercial activity. But there is a little more to Bonanza than that.
I revelled in being there when the latest fish catch was landed. The noise of sales patter was deafening. I am fascinated by the fish still landed in Spain. The size, colour and appearance. And then there is the whole sale process at the market. An education in itself. And, once bought, these fish of the Atlantic are taken off to the superb restaurants of Sanlúcar de Barrameda and the surrounding area.
The Med and the Atlantic are very different seas. Don’t take my word for it. Speak to those who fish in the waters, sail on the oceans or test their sporty skills trying to ride the waves.
When people think of Spain they immediately think of the warm waters of the Mediterranean. But there is more than one sea off the coast of Spain.
And, like the Atlantic ocean itself, the coastal locations west of Tarifa are lively.
Get to Spain and make an Atlantic crossing.