Costa de la Luz holidays introduce you to stripped-back Spain. We’re on about sunflower fields, bleached-white towns and sunbather-free beaches.
The Costa de la Luz starts at Spain’s tip and runs all the way to the Portuguese border. Basically, find the Costa del Sol on a map, then skirt over to the opposite coast. Saying that, it’s a totally different kettle of fish. There’s a big chunk of coastline to brag about, but this place is savvy – it shuns the limelight to keep things nice and quiet.
There’s nothing new about this place, but the locals have been keeping it to themselves. This means it’s chock-a-block with Spanish flavours. For starters, you’ve got Moorish cities like Jerez de la Frontera, dinky bodegas and beaches with chiringuitos – baby-sized tapas bars serving stuff like grilled fish. High-rise hotels are a no-no here, and even some of the beaches are sunbed-less.
Empty stretches of sand come thick and fast in this Andalusian gem. But if you want one with top credentials, try the Blue Flag beauty near Chiclana de la Frontera. Or head north to Isla Canela. Kitesurfing, windsurfing, plain ol’ surfing – you name it, this place does it. And it’s a good-looking golden sands type, too. Plus, it bumps up next to a fishing village with a little marina and a shopping centre.
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
Historic sites are ten-a-penny in Chiclana de la Frontera, which is anchored just inland from an easy-on-the-eye beach. Its Spanish roots are plain as day from the off, with centuries-old churches and laidback coffee joints peppering the streets. On Plaza Mayor, the main square, smartphones are aimed at the domed 18th-century clocktower, and dry whites are the top-rated tipple in the town’s wine bodegas.
This place might sound like a tropical isle, but it’s actually on the cusp between Spain and Portugal. And it sticks to the Costa de la Luz mantra of peace and quiet. It could be because a bunch of higgledy-piggledy canals cut it off from the mainland. Or it’s those Spanish tourists trying to keep it all to themselves.
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