SUNCREAM, sunglasses, skimpy swimming shorts … packing for my 40km beachcombing marathon along the Costa de la Luz didn’t take much planning.
Although I wish I’d brought superglue too.
For during my day-long mini-marathon along the ‘coast of light’ from Tarifa to Chiclana I only had one working flip flop.
I lost one of them when my toe strap snapped on Playa de Los Bateles, in Conil, while I was fighting a battle with my beach towel against a pesky levante wind.
The longest beach in Conil (one of six) appropriately sounds like it’s named after a battle but it actually means ‘Beach of Boats’.
A stroll around the whitewashed streets of this former fishing village offers a glimpse into the violent history which blighted the Costa de la Luz for centuries.
The Torre de Guzman – a short, squat tower built by the town’s official founder, Guzman El Bueno – offers my first glimpse into the coast’s swashbuckling military past.
Founded by the Phoenicians, Conil was later inhabited by the Romans, Vandals, Visigoths and Moors, along with the Brits who smashed the French and Spanish Navies at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
But as Cape Trafalgar, where it all happened, is still some way off I subdue my fluttering beach towel and sit down to take in the view.
It’s easy to see the attractions of Spain’s wild west coast. In both directions, as far as the eye can see, bronzed bodies are basting on the beach.
Heading east you reach El Palmar, with its endless soft sandy beach, as popular with surfers as sun worshippers these days.
Neighbouring Torre del Puerco with its panoramic lookout tower and Zahora, popular with sailors and fishermen, complete the beauty pageant of peaceful playas.
Next up is the emblematic Cabo de Trafalgar lighthouse, the cape where Lord Nelson won the battle but lost his life aboard HMS Victory.
It is actually possible to walk the entire stretch of unbroken sand between Conil and Los Canos de Meca, but keep an eye out for dress code signs if you’re an unrepentant ‘textile’ – the derogatory term naturists use for people (like me) who wear shorts.
The numerous hidden coves certainly reveal more than you bargained for!
‘Canos’, as it’s abbreviated, has its own nudist beach at the foot of a steep cliff.
A former hippie colony, the village is no longer teeming with women with flowers in their hair, but it still has that ‘edgy’ laid-back vibe, with its cool surf dudes.
The 15-minute drive from here to Barbate was by far the most impressive part of my journey.
The road slices through dense pine forest and motorists are treated to an orchestral concert of bird song emanating from the broccoli-shaped trees.
Barbate is a major fishing port and more industrial than its neighbouring towns. A giant tuna sculpture on the long wide promenade, and a tuna museum, are testimonies to its key industry.
Along with sun worshippers and watersports enthusiasts, the main beach is also a favourite arena for handball. I sit down among the masses to watch four games being played simultaneously.
As the sun begins its downward descent to the horizon there’s one more port of call to make. Zahara de los Atunes, famous for its annual May tapas festival celebrating its almadraba tuna, a method of catching tuna in large circular trap nets at sea handed down by the Phoenicians.
This quaint little town – the most upmarket on the coast – is filled with tapas bars and restaurants, each with their own artistic take on how to serve its namesake fish.
It only seemed right to try some so I ordered up a slab of juicy red tuna steak and ate it while watching the moonlight on the water. After a day discovering the peachy beaches of the Costa de la Luz, there can be no more fitting a finale.
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