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4 of the best on the Costa de la Luz


We have been living in Hamburg now for almost two years, and with living in a cooler climate again, come winter, I naturally want to fill my days with warm cosy things–hot teas, comfy clothes and planning beachy vacations full of sun, long leisurely lunches and the promise of some beach-side bliss. The Costa de la Luz, Andalucia always fits the bill very nicely. It’s one of those places that keeps you wanting more–just a little wild and untamed, its jagged, spectacular coastlines and whitewash towns are a sensory indulgence. Andalucia reminds me of Baja, Mexico in some ways, but without the drug cartels and local police forces who are always kind enough to relieve you of your hard earned cash.

Since returning to Europe, my family and I have been visiting this coast year after year, mainly for the wind and water sports, but also for the relaxed, uncomplicated lifestyle that it offers. Andalucia has a long and ancient history–the Cretians, Phoenicians, Romans and Moorish Arabs have all left their mark here, culminating in architectural and gastronomical delights.

Driving from Malaga airport, it takes about two hours to reach Tarifa our main port of call. For this trip, we’ve rented an apartment just outside of the old town. Could we have picked a better spot! Steps away from the beach, beautiful sunsets with cafes and bars close by.

Positioned on the most southerly point of Spain, where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic, the old walled town of Tarifa shows its Islamic history in its narrow streets and alleys. Ablaze with orange trees and vibrant pink bougainvillaeas, you’ll find the most charming shops, bars, restaurants and churches. Said to have taken its name from Tarif bin Malik who led one of the very first Islamic raids on Andalucia in AD 710, Tarifa, with its refreshingly relaxed biorhythm, guaranteed 300 days of sun a year and miles of wind-swept beaches, has become a European mecca for wind sports lovers.

On a no-wind day, we take a leisurely excursion along the Costa de la Luz, from Tarifa to Cadiz, with a few pit stops along the way.

Tarifa Playa

From Tarifa, our first stop is Bolonia, a small beach town with an ancient Roman past. The Baelo Claudia archaeological site and museum are on our list of things to see, before lunch of fresh locally caught fish at one of the local restaurants. Bolonia is famous for its miles of unspoiled golden beaches and high sand dunes. Cows and bulls roam freely through the streets and graze on the grassy banks flanking the beaches without a care, just as they should. That said, the site of a large brown bull running down the street towards us as we make our way to our intended restaurant was wonderful to see, if not a little unnerving!

From Bolonia, we venture towards Vejer de la Frontiera, but first, we make our way along the Carrertera de Betis through the tiny village of Villa Selene and park at the Zona de Arriba to take in the breath-taking views of the coastline and surrounding fields from high above. The open, rolling countryside in this part are still lush and green after the spring rains. Splashes of pink and white from oleander and tropical greens from palm and banana trees which line the roadside are a sight to behold.

Ensenada de los Lances de Tarifa

From a distance, the richly historic town of Vejer de la Frontiera, perched high on the hill, looks like a snow cap on a mountain top. If you have ever longed to wander the streets of a classic whitewash Spanish town, Vejer checks all of the boxes. Enchantingly lovely, the winding, narrow, mainly pedestrian streets are speckled with palm trees and the prettiest bougainvilleas against beautifully preserved white buildings and wrought iron balconies with potted geraniums. The views from the towns lofty heights of the surrounding countryside below are breathtaking. Orange and olive groves dot the landscape and, at the right time of year, fields of vibrant yellow sunflowers can be seen for as far as the eye can see.

Cadiz is said to be the oldest inhabited settlement in Europe (although a few neighbouring towns would argue with this) dating back almost four millennia to the time of the Phoenicians. The historic centre, draped in Roman and Moorish history, is pretty much surrounded by water, which justifies the heavily fortified seawalls and multiple look-out towers, 126 in all. The architecture, at its banks and town squares, in bright pastel shades is airy and up-lifting and more reminiscent of towns in Latin American than Spain. Indeed, having been the set-off point for many of Columbus’ voyages, Cadiz was used as a blueprint for many colonial settlements in the Americas and, is said to be twinned with Havana, Cuba.

On our return from Cadiz, we stop at Playa Valdevaqueros, one of my favourite beaches on this coast, for early evening refreshment. We watch the sun as it slowly sets behind the high sand dunes, the sky changing from blue into shades of yellow, lilac and tangerine. Next, dinner at one of our old, or perhaps, new favourite restaurants.

 

Tarifa

Restaurante Solsticio – Av. Pintor Guillermo Perez Villalba, 64, Local 4
A beach-side breakfast really says you are on vacation. Literally on the corner from our apartment, the lively ladies at Solisticio will serve you a great breakfast with a warm smile. You can enjoy a selection of crepes (the chocolate, fruit and almond was to die for) bacon, omelettes and various other breakfast items with, coffees, juices and much more.

Asador el Caseron – Calle Huerta de Rey s/n
This is quite simply the best steakhouse in Tarifa. Steaks are all on display, you choose the cut you want and the chef will cook it to your liking. Practice your restaurant Spanish though, this is a very typical Spanish restaurant not really aimed at tourists, which makes it all the more charming.

Bar el Frances – Calle Sancho IV el Bravo, 21
For me, this is the best place in Tarifa for tapas. Everything on the menu is amazing. It offers comida casera, a homemade menu in full or half portions plus, a Plato del did, a dish of the day menu. Try the Pulpo, Albonigas de Atun or the Berenjenas con mermelada de tomato y queso de cabra (baked aubergines with goat cheese). It’s outdoor seating only not a problem during the hot seasons but, in the cooler seasons, the wind can whip up through the narrow streets so be sure to wear layers.

Delicatessen – Plaza de Oviendo, 3
Tucked away in a little street beside the Igesia San Mateo, this tiny bar not only serves up some delicious tapas, it’s also a Charcuteria and wine store. The main seating area is on the plaza in front of the bar with an indoor comedor (dining room) to the right. I love the way they have decorated the terrace with flowers and potted plants created from old kitchen utensils. Very cute.

El Lobo – Calle San Francisco, 24
El Lobo brings a piece of alpine France to Tarifa. You will be enticed by the smell of burning charcoal as you approach the restaurant positioned in a tiny alley in the old town. The speciality menu consists of Fondue and Brasero–small table-top barbecues bought to your table with a choice of skewered chicken or beef served with salads, gratins and vegetable bakes. The potions are plentiful, perfect after a day out on the water. Your meal will be completed with a tiny tumbler of Genepi, a traditional herbal liquor from Alpine Europe. This is an absolute must while in Tarifa, the young couple who own the restaurant are charming, the service great.

Pacha Mama – Carretera n. 340 Urbinaziones Pedro Valiente
Casual dining at its best. Great seafood, burgers and steaks all prepared on an open flame grill. This restaurant comprises of a large open garden, gated swimming pool area and an indoor sports bar and restaurant. They have a sizeable wine and beer selection but, I’m afraid, the cocktails are a little off par. Thankfully the atmosphere and service more than makeup for it.

Tarifa – Costa de la Luz

Bolonia
Restaurante Las Rejas – Estrada el Lentiscsal
After exerting yourself around the ruins and high dune of Bolonia, replenish yourself with bountiful fresh, locally caught fish at Las Rejas. Try the gambas a la plancha after a starter of Atun en Manteca–bake tuna with lard. To eat, take a slice of bread, spread on the lard and top with baked tuna and roasted red peppers. Surprisingly good.

Bolonia Playa

Vejer de la Frontera
El jardin del Caliph – Plaza de Espana, 16
The Caliph hotel and restaurants are a jewel within a jewel in Vejer. Set in one of the oldest buildings in the town, the Moorish influence is more than evident in the decor. Stone vaulted wine cellars and private dining areas, walled courtyard garden and the menu a fusion of North African and Andalucian influences. La Caliph is a feast for the eyes and appetite. For quick bites try the Caliph express at street level. Try the locally made dessert wine vino de naranja.

Vejer de la Frontera

 

Cadiz
Casa Lazo – Barrie, 17
We decided to avoid the usual list of recommended restaurants in Cadiz and go where the locals graze. The atmosphere is very typical of local Spanish restaurant, the braised beef cheeks topped with Serrano ham and fish a la plancha were fantastic. The service warm, speedy and accommodating.

Cadiz

Where to drink

Chiringuito Tangana – Playa de Valdevaqueros National 340
A great place to relax with a refreshing glass of Clara and watch the kitesurfing and great sunsets.

Cafe del Mar – Lugar Vega 303
Very much a vacation vibe in this spacious bar which opens out right next to the beach. They have an extensive cocktail and food menu with a great selection of fish dishes. Try their tuna sashimi.

El Ombligo – Calle San Francisco, 16
A tiny, traditional bar in the heart of old Tarifa. The tapas, embutidos (plates of sliced sausage, Iberico ham or Spanish cheese) pair wonderfully with a glass of Cana or wine. A great pit stop before dinner.

 

4 of the best on the Costa de la Luz Gallery

Costa de la Luz food

El Jardin del Califa | Vejer

It is a rare thing for me to miss an opportunity to visit the little town of Vejer de la Frontera whenever I’m in Andalucia. To visit this region of Spain is to reminisce the pages of Paulo Coelho’s fable, The Alchemist. I recall in the early chapters how Santiago the Shepard boy, looked out from the green pastures of Andalucia, over the Strait of Gibraltar towards Tangiers dreaming of adventure and finding his treasure in the distant Arabian lands. The Moorish Arabs occupied Southern Spain for almost 700 years, of course, and Vejer is one of many places in Andalucia where Arabian and Spanish cultures intertwine. I am forever an admirer of the Spanish climate and culture: leisurely warmth, laid-back, unhurried living and the Moorish love of symmetry and intricate design, and of cuisines prepared to bedazzle. This fusion of two worlds in this region is the reasons I never tire of coming here.

Perched high on a hilltop, Vejer is a quintessential Spanish town which looks like icing on a cupcake from below. It’s early spring, and the sun is already high, stark, and casts chiaroscuro light and deep shadows on the brilliantly whitewashed edificios. We venture up the steep, winding, narrow roads heading to our destination: El Jardin del Califa. Entering at street level the lobby is as whitewashed as its exterior. Following the stairway, however, you are lead down towards the intriguing cavernous depths of this 16th-century building, passing stone vaulted wine cellars leading to the dining areas.

The hotel and restaurants display Moorish and Spanish accents throughout; lanterns, rugs and tapestries add to the ambience. You’ll find an express restaurant at street level, a bar, restaurant and a teteria – tea shop – and, of course, the palm tree-filled-walled gardenAs with the decor, the menu is an exquisite menage of Arabian and Southern Spanish dishes: Tagines (naturally), jewel-coloured couscous dishes, barbequed meats and fish and classic meze starters.

In the spirit of Moorish opulence, we dine on meze sharing platters, an exceptional beet salad with whipped feta, spiced roast lamb with grilled aubergine infused with almond crumb and rosewater, completing our meal with baklava and a classic Moroccan mint tea. The hotel terrace gives way to expansive vistas of the surrounding countryside and out to sea where the Mediterranean opens herself to the Atlantic. I image myself here at dusk, sipping a vino de narañja, soaking in history while watching the sun setting over this beautiful part of the world. How magical that would be.


 

 

El Jardin del Califa

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4 of the best on the Costa de la Luz

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