The golden swathe of sand stretches for miles into the far horizon and here and there little groups of sunbathers bask beneath the brilliant blue sky – this really is Summer time in the South-West of Spain! To the East, on the Costa del Sol, the beaches would be crammed, but holidaying here on the largely undiscovered Costa de la Luz is to encounter natural tranquillity.
The waves rolling in are Atlantic, not the tame examples of the Mediterranean, and the marvellous beaches of this lucent light-bathed coast have something for everyone including water sports such as boating, wind- and kite-surfing, and golf, tennis, etc. Featuring family beaches scattered with little wooden cafes ‘chiringuitos’ and watched over by lifeguards, you find sheltered coves in the Bay of Cadiz and long straight stretches beyond – all the way to the neighbouring Algarve.
This is the “Coast of Light” and of Andalucia’s ‘pueblos blancos’ or white towns, due to its buildings being mainly white-washed. Until recently, the Costa de la Luz was chiefly a small, traditional fishing and agricultural community.
These days, with the magnificence of its unspoilt, endless, golden sandy beaches and its picturesque architecture, including 14th-century towers and defences, the region is waking up to tourism. However, there are none of the concrete, high-rise developments that have scarred parts of the Spanish coastline. For now, it’s busiest for only six weeks yearly, from mid July until the end of August, with mostly Spanish visitors and holidaymakers, so the area loses little of its traditional flavour.
Restaurants and bars lining sea- and river-fronts and narrow streets in the old part of towns like Ayamonte, El Rompido and Sanlucar de Guadiana serve traditional Andalucian cuisine, specialising in seafood, naturally.
One just can’t resist the ‘pescaito frito’ – fried fish that come on diet-busting platters. Lighter ‘tapas’ are just as tempting: ‘gambas pil pil’ large prawns in hot garlic oil, delicate slices of octopus ‘pulpo’ and the famous ‘jamon iberico’ – mountain cured ham – washed down with ‘sangria’ or ‘vino de verano’ chilled red wine with lemonade ‘gaseosa’.
Evenings can be spent eating al fresco, perhaps enjoying entertainment, such as a dazzlingly dramatic performance of flamenco – Andalucia is the home of that dance form after all.
Explore the many alluring coastal spots, such as Sanlucar de Barrameda in the River Guadalquivir estuary which leads to Seville, which features an attractive old quarter and market where ladies sell mountains of leaping, translucent shrimps and yellow snails among a myriad of sea-food. You may even witness the annual Feria de la Manzanilla – a festival celebrating the local sherry. All the town’s women don colourful flamenco dresses, while the young men are on horseback, sipping sherry as they ride and pose. As dusk falls, the lights of a massive fun-fair brighten the sky.
Or take a trip to Jerez another celebration of sherry and horses – especially during the world-famous horse fair week and take a fascinating tour of the Gonzalez Byass sherry ‘bodega’, with its musty warehouses stacked to the roof with barrels of dry to sweet liquor, before moving on to the Royal School of Equestrian Art to watch their famous crowd-thrilling show.
One can spend many happy hours exploring the alleyways of the ancient and historic sea-port city of Cadiz. The combination of shady, narrow streets and sea breezes is pleasantly cooling, even at the height of the afternoon. One of the grand open squares is dominated by the baroque cathedral,- one of the largest churches in Spain.
Cadiz is a laid-back place, so it isn’t surprising that the cathedral took 110 years to build.
Then there are the many natural wild-life and water-fowl marshy sea-side and riverine reserves – such the world-renowned Cota de Donana Natural Park – and those lining the tranquil River Guadiana, forming the border between the Andalucian province of Huelva and Portugal.
The traditional villages centre on the main square with colourfully-tiled fountains, shaded by palms and abundantly-flowering, brilliantly-coloured bougainvilla, highly-scented jasmine creepers or orange and lemon trees. You will surely want to return – to stay!