26 Jun, 2023 @ 15:08
4 mins read

EXPLORING SPAIN: Travelling an Unspoilt Coastline

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The Costa de la Luz of Cadiz, is Andalucia’s most unspoilt, if sometimes rather breezy, coastline

THE journey from Zahara de los Atunes to Barbate is one of the most scenic in Andalucia… and a tardis between two worlds.

Zahara is the quintessential home of affluence; a golden magnet for upmarket restaurants and a flotilla of Cayennes and Q7s come weekends and peak holiday season.

In contrast, Barbate is a new town created by dictator Franco, pockmarked with ugly 1960s tower blocks and afflicted by an unemployment rate as high as anywhere else in Europe.

What they share though, is privilege.

For what surrounds them is a canvas of colours and contours, a backdrop of Africa, all illuminated by an almost unique changing light.

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Long, unspoilt beaches, windswept sand dunes and scrub, umbrella pines and the smell of rosemary and mimosa. 

This is the Costa de la Luz – the Coast of Light – and a million miles away from its nearby cousin the Costa del Sol, indeed the costas in general.

This is a coastline of castles and carpaccios, coves and corvina (one of its best local fish)… the perfect blend of nature and its best ingredients.

This is a coastline of gems; historic Tarifa, the bridgehead for the Moors in Spain and a crossing point for centuries and beautiful Vejer de la Frontera, with its cobbled streets and restaurant scene.

This is a coastline of laid back, low rise resorts; Roman Bolonia and the biggest sand dune in the world, entertaining El Palmar, with its party crowd and surf, and quirky Caños de Meca, with its alternative feel.

But what best sums up this long stretch of coastline for me is the view you get while taking lunch at places like Patria or Tesoro, that sit high in the hills, or on the terrace of a hotel suite like Califa in Vejer or Punta Sur, in Tarifa.

For spreading out in front of you are uninterrupted vistas of rolling fields and pine trees all the way down to white sandy beaches, with very little built on them.

An incredible sight, this patchwork quilt of greenery and long, unspoilt beaches is sadly practically unique to Spain these days, but what much of Andalucia’s coastline would have looked like 50 years ago.

The Costa de la Luz is only matched in beauty by Cabo de Gata in Almeria but there is something intrinsically different about the Costa de la Luz: Laid back and unshowy, its friendly, unfussy locals complement the breathtaking scenery and distinctive vibe.

The coastline is, without a doubt, for the more discerning tourist and, in particular, for lovers of fine food.

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Vejer, in particular, has an incredible mix of stylish boutique hotels and probably the highest concentration of top restaurants per capita of anywhere else in Andalucia.

This is a true food capital and over the last few years, I have found at least a dozen great places to eat within a ten mile radius of the town.

Tarifa has an altogether different feel. This is a party town, particularly in summer, when the back streets are heaving with lively bars well into the early hours.

But its stylish mix of shops and restaurants added to its melting pot of worldly Spaniards and interesting expats make for a distinct Tarifa scene, not dissimilar to the one you find in Ibiza and it is one of the few places – thanks in the main to its breezes – that still has enough going on through the winter.

The Moors would never have had it so good on arriving in Tarifa in 710 AD.

While later dubbing Andalucia ‘paradise’, it was certainly anything but peaceful when they used the town as their bridgehead into southern Spain.

This is quickly obvious wondering around Tarifa, its historic ramparts littered with statues and references to stirring catholic heroes such as Sancho El Bravo and Guzmán el Bueno.

If you have never taken a ride to these shores, the other side of the Rock of Gibraltar and around Cadiz you are in for a surprise.

This is Europe’s true deep south; a series of windswept flood plains, fringed by miles and miles of mesmerising and largely unspoilt white, soft and sandy beaches, ideal for a bucket-and-spade-holiday.

Aside from the austere ‘cubist’ towns, which were built by the Moors who ruled this land for nearly 800 years, you will be spoilt by the numerous sites from the famous Trafalgar lighthouse – off which the key naval battle once took place – to the historic fishing village of Sancti Petri, near Chiclana.

Then there are the excellent Roman ruins at Bolonia and hidden gems, like Zahora and exclusive Roche, where Madrid’s captains of industry take their holidays.

My favourite spots though include the secret beach, a half an hour walk from Bolonia, where you will find just cows, the celebrated brown retinto cows of the region.

I also love the amazing walk through umbrella pines to the Torre del Tajo, high above Barbate, which finally gives out one of the best views in Christendom. 

And then there is the ancient dovecote at El Palomar de la Brena, plus the historic inland gem of Medina Sidonia.

But best of all it is the restaurants and food that make this region so very special.

There is literally everything here from the historic converted townhouses, like Califa, to the evocative dining terraces at Patria and Castilleria. 

And above all there are the ingredients… the amazing tuna, local vegetables and the amazing beef from the aforementioned cows. 

And then up the road you have Jerez, its history and its sherries, not to mention the incredible historic gem of Cadiz and its nearby towns of Sanlucar and Puerto de Santa Maria and the true lungs of Andalucia, the celebrated Donaña National Park.

Oh the incredible lightness of being!


THE Costa de la Luz officially stretches all the way up into Huelva, and to the border with Portugal.

Split in two by the stunning Donana national park, the coastline also includes the so-called ‘sherry triangle’ or ‘Cadiz coast’ towns of Sanlucar de Barrameda, Rota, Chipiona and El Puerto de Santa Maria.

It also includes the cities of Cadiz and Huelva.


Beach Guide: Costa de la Luz, Cadiz

Costa de la Luz: Where to Stay

Short Break: Cadiz City – a Gem

Jon Clarke (Publisher & Editor)

Jon Clarke is a Londoner who worked at the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday as an investigative journalist before moving permanently to Spain in 2003 where he helped set up the Olive Press. He is the author of three books; Costa Killer, Dining Secrets of Andalucia and My Search for Madeleine.

Do you have a story? Contact [email protected]

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