The Atlantic facing coastline extends all the way from Tarifa, home of the southernmost point in continental Europe, up to the Guadiana River, which marks the border between Portugal and Spain. There are so many spots along this coast for a getaway and you could easily spend weeks exploring many of the smaller towns as well as larger cities.
For now, however, we will focus only on the area up to Cádiz, since this is an ideal distance for a small getaway from Gibraltar. Whether you do a day trip and combine a few locations or if you spend a relaxed weekend or longer and make the most of one of the beachfront hotels on this coast, the Costa de la Luz is truly a beautiful destination.
ZAHARA DE LOS ATUNES
The village of Zahara de los Atunes is well known by Gaditanos for its long beaches, meaning that there will always be a spot without too many people crowding you! The most popular beach is the Playa de Zahara (also called the Playa del Carmen); a 6.3km long sandy beach dotted with chiringuitos.
Only the largest adult tuna are caught and lifted from the nets
When visiting Zahara de los Atunes, you can’t miss trying the village’s namesake. Atlantic bluefin tuna, or atun rojo, has been caught along this coast for centuries. The traditional technique (called ‘almadraba’) of catching the tuna is still used, and you can enjoy the delicious result at many restaurants and chiringuitos, including the popular Chiringuito La Luna.
Atún de almadraba:
The technique involves a labyrinth of nets which are positioned in a particular section of the sea where the tuna pass on their migration to warmer waters. Invented by the Phoenicians 3,000 years ago, this technique catches the tuna when they are at their most succulent. The tuna swim through different parts of the net until they reach a circular central area which is surrounded by a ring of boats. Fishermen then select the best tuna – only the largest adult tuna are caught and lifted from the nets – and then set free the smaller and younger tuna, making this traditional method a very sustainable form of fishing.
It became a haven for hippies, nudists and nature lovers.
Places to visit in Zahara de los Atunes:
· Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Carmen (where fishermen would butcher the freshly caught tuna)
· Playa de Zahara
· Playa de Atlanterra
· Castillo de Zahara de los Atunes and Palacio de Jadraza
· Playa de Cabo de Plata (a peaceful, sheltered beach that is also known as the Playa del Búnker due to the location of a 1940s bunker, part of a network of fortifications that stretched along the coastline from Málaga and Portugal in order to protect Spain from an amphibious invasion by Allied forces)
· Playa Arroyo del Cañuelo (a cove with no facilities – definitely for the more adventurous beachgoers!)
If you plan to stay in Zahara de los Atunes, the Hotel Doña Lola and Gran Hotel Sol are popular choices in the area.
LOS CAÑOS DE MECA
Not far from Zahara de los Atunes is the small community of Los Caños de Meca. Los Caños de Meca became a haven for hippies, nudists and nature lovers in the 1960s, and many remained in the area and moulded this community into the place it is today, with a wonderful bohemian flair.
The history of Los Caños de Meca goes back much further, though, and the location should be well known to anyone versed in Gibraltar’s history. At the edge of Los Caños de Meca is the Cabo Trafalgar (ring a bell yet?), location of one of the most famous marine battles of all time.
“His body was preserved in a cask of brandy.”
In 1805, Cape Trafalgar witnessed the making of history with the Battle of Trafalgar, where the British fleet fought and won against a combined fleet of the allied French and Spanish navies. Nelson was fatally wounded during the battle and his body preserved in a cask of brandy. HMS Victory was then towed to Gibraltar and was repaired in Rosia Bay. Men who died from injuries sustained during the battle were buried in Trafalgar Cemetery (named after the battle) and St Jago’s Cemetery.
Origin of the name ‘Trafalgar’:
I had mistakenly made the assumption that ‘Trafalgar’ was a name linked to the battle or to a historical figure, rather than the battle simply being named directly after the location (Cape Trafalgar). After all, Trafalgar doesn’t sound like the most Spanish place name. A spot of light research later and it turns out that the battle is entirely named after the location, and the name is actually of Arabic origins. The story is very similar to that of the word Gibraltar: originally an Arabic word or phrase (presumably also in this case used by the Moors), the name was corrupted when used by the Spanish. The word Trafalgar originates from the Arabic ‘ṭaraf al-ḡarb’, meaning ‘western cape’. This then became Trafalgar in Spanish, just like how Jabal Tārıq became Gibraltar.
Where to go in Los Caños de Meca:
· Cape Trafalgar and Cape Trafalgar Lighthouse
· Playa del Faro
· Playa Zahora
· Playa Los Caños de Meca
· Singular Coffee (an excellent café for coffee and cake)
· Bar Club Social (a popular spot for drinks that is also a great spot to capture images of the cape and lighthouse from a distance)
Popular places to stay in Los Caños de Meca include Hotel Madreselva, Mandala Bungalows, and Hotel Restaurante La Breña.
Perhaps you fancy stepping away from the small towns and villages of the Costa de la Luz and heading towards the big city? Cádiz is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in Western Europe and is situated on a narrow slice of land surrounded by the sea. It is home to many historical landmarks and lots of beautiful architecture, while also not being overwhelming in size.
Cádiz isn’t the most populous city in the Cádiz Province (that title is taken by Jerez de la Frontera) and, since the city is built upon a sandspit, it is extremely costly to sink foundations deep enough to support any high-rise buildings. This has meant that the city’s skyline is extremely similar to how it would have looked in the Middle Ages! The 17th-century Tavira Tower still offers panoramic views over the city and the bay, despite it only being a modest 45m tall.
One of the best-known sights in Cádiz has to be the cathedral, once known as the ‘Cathedral of the Americas’ since its construction was funded by money from trade between Spain and the Americas.
A visit to this charming port city is a must, particularly since it still seems to be a relatively underrated gem compared to many of Andalucía’s cities!
Sights not to miss in Cádiz:
· Cathedral of Cádiz
· Torre Tavira
· Castillo Santa Catalina
· Playa de la Caleta
· Plaza de San Juan de Dios
· Roman Theatre
· Castillo de San Sebastian
· Alameda Apodaca Park
If you decide to stay in Cádiz, Parador de Cádiz is known to be the city’s best hotel with a spectacular outdoor pool overlooking the bay. An alternative option is the Hotel Convento Cádiz, located in a 17th-century convent and only a stone’s throw from the city’s train station and a five-minute walk from Cádiz Cathedral.
The Costa de la Luz is truly packed with gems and I’ve only had time to talk about three of them! We haven’t even begun to discuss Chiclana de la Frontera, Bolonia, San Fernando, Rota, Chipiona, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Huelva and Jerez de la Frontera… as well as those further up into the hills such as Arcos de la Frontera and Medina-Sidonia!
While travel further afield is still off the table for many of us, this opportunity to truly explore what is practically on our doorstep is there for the taking. Stay safe, wear a mask, and enjoy the beauty that is the Costa de la Luz.