For empty beaches, sleepy villages and landscape that’s been left to its own devices, head to the Costa de la Luz. A holiday to Spain’s hidden coast will bring out your inner explorer.
Spain’s sleepiest stretch
Spain’s most southerly Costa – which stretches from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Portuguese border – has ‘retreat’ written all over it. You won’t find any high-rise complexes along its 320-kilometre coastline. Instead, it’s all Moorish towns, fishing villages and laidback beach resorts. You can fly into Faro and stay at cosy coastal hideaway, Islantila, or land in Jerez, the world’s sherry capital, and kick back on the huge stretch of sand at Chiclana de la Frontera.
Blue Flag Islantilla
Fly in to Faro and you’ll stay in Islantilla, close to Portugal’s border. The locals have long been on to it as one of Spain’s top hideaways – and they should know. Its biggest highlight is a 20-kilometre Blue Flag beach, which stretches from Puerto del Terrón to Isla Cristina. And if you’re a fan of fairways, you won’t want to miss a round at the 27-hole Islantilla Golf Club. It’s one of southern Spain’s most beautiful courses.
Beyond the sand
Fly in to Jerez, meanwhile, and you’ll get a concentrated hit of old-school Spain. This Moorish city is the world’s sherry capital, but it isn’t just about fortified wine – it’s just as famous for its horse shows and first-rate flamenco performances. Jerez is part of the Cadiz province, which is all about quiet villages, great scenery and unspoilt beaches. Talking of beaches, the place to head is Chiclana de la Frontera. The huge sandy stretch here is rated as one of the best in Spain.
Things to See and Do in Costa de la Luz
Bigger is better
The Costa de la Luz does big beaches with style. The golden sands here tend to stretch out for kilometres at a time, often backed by rolling dunes. And, thanks to the coast’s Atlantic-facing location, there are sea breezes that make this place a magnet for wind and kite-surfers.
The big beach
Islantilla’s super-sized sweep of sand is the prime patch in this neck of the woods. Families love its town centre location, and the soft sands and squeaky-clean waters have earned it a Blue Flag award. Sun-worshippers can bed down on one of the loungers, while sporty types can get their teeth into things like sailing and windsurfing.
The secret beach
If you’d rather turn the volume down a notch or two, make for El Rompido Beach. It’s part of a Natural Park, so you won’t find sunbed-covered sands or jet skis zipping about here. The gold sand stretches along the coast for a good few kilometres, so it’s dead easy to find yourself a deserted spot. There aren’t any beach bars and restaurants, though, so it’s a good idea to bring a packed lunch.
Bargain-hunters are spoilt for choice at Islantilla’s Tuesday market. The streets of the old town are crammed with locals selling things like glistening olives, slabs of bread and juicy oranges. Or drive 5 minutes to Lepe, AKA Spain’s strawberry capital. You can gorge yourself on the juicy fruit at the daily market in the town centre, and it’s worth picking up a few bottles of the tasty local vino while you’re here.
Shopping is sorted at Islantilla’s 2 malls. The Commercial Centre on the prom has loads of boutiques selling top quality leather shoes and bags, and the brand new La Hacienda has a clutch of funky jewellers to its name. If you’re after something to take home, drive to Spain’s world-renowned ‘Sherry Triangle’, near Cadiz. It takes an hour, but the top-notch sherry in towns like Jerez de la Frontera is well worth it.
Ayamonte town centre, a 15-minute drive from Islantilla, is the Costa de la Luz’s main shopping hub. Mooch around the cobbled squares and you’ll soon stumble on posh leather boutiques brimming with butter-soft jackets, bags and that perfect pair of heels. If you’re in Seville, make your way to the Triana quarter for intricate pottery hand-painted by gypsy craftsmen – you can watch them as they work.
To slow the tempo, park yourself in one of the seafood restaurants or cocktail bars lining the beach in Islantilla. There’s a small cinema at the Commercial Centre, too. Or, hop on the tourist train to La Antilla, the old town. It’s well known for its top-notch fish restaurants – you’ll find loads along Paseo Maritimo. Over in the Moorish town of Lepe, 5 minutes’ drive away, there’s a clutch of tapas bars in the main square.
Granted, Islantilla isn’t exactly famous for wild nights out on the town. Drive 15 minutes to Ayamonte, though, and you’ll find some lively beach bars that stay open until late and put on live bands every now and then. If only thumping clubs will do, drive an hour and a half to Seville. Head to the Centro district for dance and hip-hop, or shake your stuff at the flamenco joints in Triana.
Chilled tomato soup can be a tough one to get your head around, particularly if you’ve grown up on the Heinz tinned variety. But Andalusia’s traditional gazpacho is well worth a taste. Locals eat up this ice-cold puree of tomato, cucumber, peppers, onions and garlic to pick them up on hot days.
Tortilla de patatas
Pop your head into any tapas bar and you’ll find the chef deftly flipping over this omelette-like dish. It’s a simple mix of potatoes, eggs and sweet Spanish onions and it really hits that lunchtime spot. But should you eat it hot or cold? Decisions, decisions…
It’s virtually impossible to walk straight past a street-stall chef cooking churros – the smell alone will stop you in your tracks. Tube-shaped doughnuts are deep-fried until they’re crunchy, then dusted with icing sugar. Eat them with milky coffee, or – if you’re feeling decadent – dunk them into thick hot chocolate.
Nothing says summer in Spain like a hefty jug of sangria. Bartenders on every street argue over who mixes the tastiest. They usually make it with red wine and orange juice, plus some unsweetened lemonade to give it a bit of a tang. Extras like chopped apple, orange and mint sprigs are thrown in, too
Think sherry is just for grannies? Think again. The Costa de la Luz is the official home of the tipple, and you can sip everything from light and dry to dark and sweet varieties here. Look out for big brands like González Byass and Domecq, or drive one of the sherry trails for smaller names.
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Chiclana de la Frontera
Chiclana de la Frontera – or Chiclana as it’s known – is on the Bay of Cadiz in southern Spain. The place gets more than 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, yet somehow it’s stayed off the radar of most sun-seekers. The locals are in on the secret, though – they head to spotless La Barrosa beach every summer. And with standout cooking, superb wines and a Seve Ballesteros-designed golf course, there’s much more than just sand to keep them coming back to this area.
On Spain’s south coast, close to the border with Portugal, Isla Canela – AKA Cinnamon Island – has so far managed to stay under the tourist radar. It means even at the height of summer this place doesn’t feel crowded. The fact that it’s separated from the mainland by the Guadiana River might have something to do with it. You’ll find salt marshes teeming with flying fish and rare birdlife to the north, and a long beach to the south.
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