Uniquely located, at the tip of a peninsula off the southern Andalusian coastline, Cadiz is one of Spain’s most intriguing cities, increasingly popular with tourists for its historic old city, incredibly beautiful beaches and famed gastronomy.
We drove to Cadiz from Malaga airport, which took around two and half hours. The approach to the city from the coastal highway is along a dramatic, narrow peninsula with a vast industrial port on one side and golden beaches on the other. The landmark Cubanist style buildings, and the cathedral dome of the old city, can be seen in the distance. One of the oldest cities in Europe, Cadiz has an illustrious history, having been occupied by a myriad of different civilizations. It was first named Gadir, meaning enclosure, by the Phoenicians, most probably because of its unique geography surrounded by water.
During the 18 th century, known as the ‘golden era’, it became a great trading post for the colonies and flourished as a cosmopolitan city. During this period a variety of architectural styles can be seen in most famous monuments, representing the many cultural influences.
We were headed for the Parador de Cadiz, Hotel Atlántico, in the old city, which enjoys staggering views over the bay of Cadiz and the Atlantic Ocean. Typically, the state owned Spanish Paradors are located in restored historic buildings. However, Hotel Atlántico, is distinctly different. Incorporating wood, marble, steel, stone and glass, the building is an icon of contemporary architecture. Light fills every space and the sea forms the horizon, visible from any spot in this avant-garde style Parador. The rooms are bright, spacious and ultra-cool, complemented by generous sea-view verandas, from which you can watch dazzling sunsets over the Atlantic.
The hotel has an excellent gourmet á la carte restaurant, Bahia de Cadiz, but my favourite space in this stunning hotel was La Tacita del Atlántico, a chic bar/cafe, overlooking the sea, with its enticing soft white beach-style loungers, (the kind you sink into), romantic candle lit lanterns and views to die for. I loved the heavenly chill-out background music so much that I had to buy the CD! (Zara Home compilation).
The hotel is ideally located in one of the most beautiful parts of the city, next to the elegantly laid-out Genovés urban park, within walking distance of the old city attractions and La Playa de la Caleta, one of the best-loved beaches in Cadiz. La Caleta and the boulevard that runs beside it, is reminiscent of Havana because of its Cuban-style architecture, and was the backdrop for ‘Havana’ scenes in the James Bond film, Die Another Day.
Cadiz enjoys the same endless white sandy beaches as other resorts on the Costa del la Luz, La Playa de la Victoria, in he newer part of Cadiz, being the most popular with the tourists.
Armed with a map from the hotel we set off to explore the old city. There are some recommended walking routes which are easy to navigate, and will take you around the city from the old to the new. The four main routes are clearly indicated in different colours, green taking you on a journey through history from Phoenician Gadir, to medieval and modern Christian Cadiz.
Orange takes you along the seafront to discover the city’s fortifications and castle walls that turned Cadiz into one of the most important Spanish strongholds. Purple takes in the houses and watchtowers of shippers to the Indies during the golden age of Cadiz, and blue follows the footprints of the flourishing liberal bourgeoisie who created the 1812 constitution.
Along the way stop at one of the many tapas bars in the side streets and squares, which are reputedly among the best in Spain. Or wander around the Plaza de la Catedral, where market stalls sell everything from spices to paintings.
If food is your first love, then you could skip the history and opt for a gastronomy tour! Cadiz has some exceptional restaurants, serving the very best of Andalusian local produce and, of course, a fantastic variety of fresh fish. Rick Stein recently included Cadiz in one of his ‘Long Weekend’ Cookery programmes, featuring the city’s most famous fish restaurant, El Faro, located in the Barrio de la Viña. Tapas is most definitely the way to go in Cadiz. We had probably the best tapas we have ever eaten at Lacandela.
Hidden away down a back street in the old city, this tiny unpretentious bar, with its eclectic décor, serves the most innovative, delicious and creative tapas.
Testament to this are the queues, which back up the street waiting for a table. Happily we had booked our seats at the bar, where we had an excellent view of all the dishes as they came out of the kitchen, so we could choose just what we fancied – and greedily kept ordering until we just couldn’t eat anymore! There are so many great tapas bars in the old city but Lacandela is definitely one to try.
They say that sunsets in Cadiz are very special and should be enjoyed over something ‘sweet’, so you will find cafes full of locals in the late afternoon, enjoying delicious pastries with a glass of sweet Moscatel wine, a tradition I could quickly get used to!
Cadiz as a destination is often overlooked by visitors to Spain, but it is well worth a visit and has much to offer for a city break holiday.
For Parador Hotel Atlántico email: email@example.com or central reservations www.parador.es.