Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe...join me!

Monday, January 26, 2015

sun series #1 - the coast of andalucia

About as rare as finding a diamond peeking out from a grassy field in summer is seeing the winter sun above the Rhine. So, to pummel the January blues, I want to share with you a place where the sun rules. If you like ocean and sun, fish and mountains, sand and surfing (of any kind) then you will like these things to do in Andalucia, the Costa de la Luz - southern Spain's Coast of Light.


From the historically-rich city of Cadiz, the Atlantic shoreline cuts a toffifee-coloured line down to the most southern tip of the European continent and the surfing mecca of Tarifa. All along the Costa de la Luz sandy beaches and hidden coves eke out their existence among the relentless waves that batter the ochre-coloured cliffs.


But turn your back to the drama of the Atlantic coastline and you will find a golden simplicity within the people and the landscape. Obvious signs of hard times and struggle make their mark amid the beauty, but the Spanish tradition of family, fiesta and fun seem firmly cemented into the Spanish Alltag (everyday).


One of our favourite places to visit when we are here, is the surfer's paradise at the Tangana Beach Bar on Valdevaqueros Beach, just a few minutes north of Tarifa


Whether you surf or just like to watch it (like we do) then you'll love spending the afternoon or the complete day hanging out with the cool folks. The beach is long, the waves are wild and the atmosphere is supremely chill.


All you need are your sunglasses, a beach towel and a very relaxed attitude - or better yet, no attitude at all. Everyone fits in and that's the beauty of hanging with really cool folks.


If you're more into off-the-beaten-path, less-people-the-better then spend your day north of Conil de la Frontera. This is your kind of heaven. We love, love, love these hidden sandy beaches and spend at least a couple of hours each day in one of these coves.


The series of calas (coves) nestled between Conil and the town of Roche are many and variable. Some are more hidden from view than others and therefore a favourite with naturists. But if naked people don't bother you then you can enjoy the sandy nook as much as they do. Cala del Frailecillo is the smallest cove beach, while Cala del Aceite is the most popular and closest to the Conil harbour.


I would recommend taking a day and trying the different coves out. They are conveniently located side by side, but keep your eyes open! Some beaches are barely noticeable except for the stairway. The red cliffs, azure sky and white-capped water will relax you the moment your feet hit the smoking-hot sand.


If you haven't rented a car then hanging out at the Playa Fontanillo, right in front of Conil, is an easy and not-so-terrible option. A seemingly never-ending beach in both directions with just sand is loved by early-morning joggers, families, actual Spanish people and of-course tourists. But there is so much room, no worries that you won't get your piece of sandy real-estate for the day.


When we hit this part of the world, we like to mix our days into beach, hiking, beach. I have to say, it's quite the lovely schedule.


North and south of Barbate, you will find hiking routes moving through forests of mushroom-topped Spanish pines, along Eucalyptus shrubs and Cistus rockroses with constant majestic views of Morocco across the way.


The thing I obsess about, after I get bored of the never-ending beautiful view, is the aroma along every hiking trail we take. The air smells as if someone is regularly spritzing it with a mixture of vaporub and savory herbs. Seriously, you'll either get hungry or feel healthier, or both. I grew up with a family who sucked on Eucalyptus candy as if it was manna from heaven - when hiking here that family is never far from mind.


The understory in much of southern Spain is laid with bushy, pungent Eucalyptus, Rosemary and Thyme, along with Almond and Olive trees, Holly Oaks and Spanish firs. Only the Tasmanian Blue Gum, also in the Eucalyptus family can tear my thoughts away from my old friends and vault them towards my brother. Does this tree not totally look like it's dressed in camo?


There are two wonderful hiking trails between Conil and Barbate which lead you to Torre del Tajo and Torre de Meca. These watchtowers, among a series puncturing the southern coast, were erected in the 16th century to protect Spain from Berber attacks.


Because of the coastline's proximity to the Strait of Gibraltar and it being just a stone's throw from the African continent, this entire area has quite the bloody past. One might just think that this is the reason for the earth's reddish hue.


On clear days, between April and September, the steep-cliffed trail leading from Barbate to Canos de Meca offers you perfect viewpoints to see Killer Whales hunting Tuna, and Dolphins just playing around - really what else do Dolphins do?


And after a busy day of beaching and hiking, the very best place to take in the setting sun is a sandy bar on the playa. A cervesa or sangria, along with a fishy snack is pretty much the rule of the day here - or if you want a fancier paella served on white linen then La Fontanilla on Conil's beach will not fail.


When we are here we spend a lot of time at the harbour, admiring the patient skill of the fishermen untangling their nets (a seemingly endless job), and engaging in great guy's favourite pasttime - staring at boats...all kinds of boats.


Across from the harbour, at the foot of the Rio Roche, is a port of a different kind - here the boats come to die. I find it an overwhelmingly sad sight, but one I can't seem to get enough of. There is a beauty in the neglected wood, broken bows and forgotten stories.


Whenever I see the man sitting under his umbrella beside the broken boat I could almost weep. What a place to spend your day. Each time I send a prayer upwards hoping that this is not where he lives.


Conil, a small white city down the coast from Cadiz and forty minutes from the nearest airport, Jerez de la Frontera, has a quaint simplicity. It's not a glamorous place, has its dilapidated and neglected corners, and possibly because of that is a very easy place to spend some time. The only stress you'll experience is adapting to siesta store hours....but shopping can wait till later, here it's always sun time.

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