It was an Irish Times travel article on Tarifa that opened my eyes to the possibility of a beach holiday on Spain’s Atlantic coast. And whilst I never reached Tarifa – the beach looked far too windy for sunbathing – I discovered the gorgeous sandy beaches of the southern section of the Costa de la Luz, the Coast of Light and Spain’s best kept secret.
And it was this secrecy surrounding the area that made the holiday a difficult one to plan. Where would I stay? What were the best beaches? Was it expensive? With little information to hand I simply scrolled along the coast on Google Satellite and took a gamble on Conil de la Frontera as a base, an excellent choice as it transpired.
COSTA DE LA LUZ BEACHES
Conil de la Frontera, a seaside pueblo blanco* 25-30 miles south of Cádiz city, has been a fishing port for centuries. It blends its old heritage with contemporary cosmopolitan to perfection and is hugely popular amongst Spanish holidaymakers of all ages. The lack of international tourists meant brochures and menus were only in Spanish. Nor can I remember speaking anything other than Spanish to locals.
And as excellent the restaurants, cafes and bars may be, Conil is all about the beach. And there are miles of it, subdivided into playas, running an almost uninterrupted stretch down to Cabo de Trafalgar (Cape Trafalgar), the site of the 1805 battle of the same name.
In a strange coincidence, a relative of Cuthbert Collingwood’s was said to have lived in the house that my father grew up in. Collingwood was second in command of the British Navy at the Battle of Trafalgar.
Los Caños de Meca is the nearest urban settlement to Cape Trafalgar. It has a hippy-feel but not as many cafes, restaurants etc as Conil. Between Cape Trafalgar and Conil de la Frontera the long stretch of beach is known as El Palmar and Zahora.
The drive from Los Caños de Meca to Barbate goes through the pine forest of the Parque Natural de la Breña y Marismas del Barbate and has fine views of the coast from the summit. This park has excellent hiking opportunities particularly along the coastal cliffs. Barbate’s fishing industry is quite industrialised and the town more built-up than Conil.
Zahara de los Atunes was a considered choice for a base. And whilst it is blessed with fine facilities and a gorgeous beach it just lacked the atmosphere that Conil had in abundance. Playa Arroyo Cañuelo, south of Zahara, was another beautiful beach although it involved climbing through a pine forest and had no facilities upon arrival.
But in terms of gorgeous beaches I’ve saved the most scenic till last. Bolonia is a substantial drive from Conil but it was worth it. Therapeutic mud is to be found at the southern end of Bolonia but, to be honest, this view of Bolonia was therapy in itself.
Despite being part of the Atlantic, the beaches of the Costa de la Luz were warmer than expected but gradually became windier the further south one ventured. The only thing I would change about my visit was the manner in which I reached Conil.
GETTING TO COSTA DE LA LUZ
Jerez is the nearest airport with Seville quite reasonably distanced also. Flying into Faro Airport in Portugal is perfect for Huelva province, the northern Costa de la Luz, which forms the Spanish border with Portugal.
What I wouldn’t recommend is flying into Faro to reach anywhere on the southern part of the Costa de la Luz as it’s not possible to take a short-cut along the Huelva coast into Cádiz – Parc Nacional de Doñana blocks that route. Lesson learned for the next visit!
* A traditional Andalucía ‘white village’
Other Iberian destinations and travel tips can be found on my Spain Travel Tips post.