I ALWAYS wear my billowing maternity-style dress in steaming summer temperatures, smugly satisfied that I’m ‘cooler’ than everyone else.
But, be warned! This style of outfit should come with an embarrassment warning on the Costa de la Luz, where I spent a day holding down the hem, while loosely resembling an inverted lampshade.
Welcome to Tarifa, wind capital of Europe where the naughty levante breezes can play havoc with a girl’s dignity.
Luckily, no-one gives two hoots, as they get on with their day, shopping, surfing, kitesurfing and cultivating ‘the look’ of studied cool.
While the wind might be Beaufort Scale-busting blustery, the natives are as serene as a summer snooze, and the tourists (most of them) radiate a distinct sense of style.
The beach strip is a fashion catwalk for the Hawaii 5.0.set with their Billabong T-shirts and Rip Curl surfboard shorts. Watch them flexing their bronzed six-packs as they lug their unruly kite sails into the water to turn tricks above the waves like a circus act. It’s the best free show in town!
But there’s also a healthy population of everyday Spanish folk who keep Tarifa authentic and are happy to share it with the adrenaline junkies.
I meet some of the old guard as I scale a hilly Moorish passage in the old town and happen upon four cosy Spanish ladies gathered in a front room, which stinks of acetone.
I’m impertinent enough to stare and Loli – lady of the house-cum-salon – invites me in, plonks me down and embarks on an unsolicited (but much-appreciated) manicure for the princely sum of €4.
“It’s just a chiringuito, really,” she laughs, flummoxed when I ask the name of her homely salon, before baptising it on the spot: ‘Salon de Marilu’, after her daughter.
“We’ve lived here all our lives,” explains Lola, “If I won the lottery maybe I’d get a place in Malaga for the winter, but summer here is magical.”
Chattering with these women in their unpretentious hideaway gives me a behind-closed-doors glimpse of the old Andalucia in a town that has seen huge changes over the last decade.
I too have a long affinity to the town, as it happens.
My first memory of Tarifa came in a series of aircon-deprived road trip holidays with my family, where we conquered a huge chunk of Spain’s must-do list.
On one trip, aged nine and deeply ensconced in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, I was oblivious to the wondrous views as we passed from Malaga into Cadiz and dipped down towards Tarifa’s endless white sand beaches, where the Atlantic kisses the Mediterranean.
I recall being bundled out of the car on an overcast day – with similar wardrobe malfunctions – to a greying, tired town swarming with ‘looky-looky men’.
And things certainly looked up when I coerced my mother into buying me a turquoise handbag from a street stall, although I don’t remember much else.