Brian has been looking forward to visiting Cádiz for a long time.
This is where in the Age of Discovery, Christopher Columbus sailed from on his voyage to discover America. It was home of the Spanish Armada, and from where the ruthless Cortés and his conquistadors sailed from to conquer the Aztecs.
Jutting out into the Bay of Cádiz and almost surrounded by water with only one land exit, Cadiz claims to be the oldest city in Europe.
It has seen turbulent times as well, the Phoenicians, Romans, and Moors were all here, then attacked, blockaded and looted by the English, and burnt to the ground by the Dutch. Cádiz has been continually inhabited for more than 3000 years.
We stayed on the opposite side of the harbour at El Puerto de Santa Maria, a quiet little town and caught the ferry over to Cádiz.
One of the things I noticed about the old town is that it feels lived in, not at all touristy. Paint peels of the brightly coloured buildings, and in those built from the local stone you can still see traces of shells. Grand terrace houses three and four stories high flank the cobbled streets, but it’s not dirty and dark, it feels friendly.
We always look for the market, and Cádiz has a great Mercado. The array of fresh seafood including the largest tuna I have ever seen was astonishing.
We tried the most amazing snack, tortilla de camarones, which is wheat and chickpea flour, onion, parsley, prawns and a little salt deep fired until it’s crispy around the edges and soft and juicy in the centre, my mouth is watering now as I write about them. They make a similar tortilla using sea anemone, tomorrow I’ll give that a try.
We hug the coastline between Rota and Chipione staying in small beachside parking areas of the seasonal chiringuito’s, which are basically beach bars, usually only open during the summer.
Some spots are quiet with only a couple of MH’s around, and some like the one we are at now are like a fiesta.
Most of the population here live in apartments, so come Friday afternoon the Spanish start heading away from their city apartments to weekend places like the coast with motorhomes, caravans, dogs and lots of kids.
It never seems to get out of hand though, nobody gets drunk and obnoxious, the kids wander around together, it’s just like a huge family weekend party.
I enjoy the local sherry from Jerez, and Brian a glass of vino tinto as we watch the beautiful sunsets from our spot right at the beach.
Park National de Doñana and El Rocio-one of Spain’s strangest towns.
The National park is one of Europe’s largest and most important wetland reserves for bird species. It is a major site for migrating birds, with flamingos staying here at present. It is also home to a rare eagle, fallow deer and is the last refuge for the Iberian Lynx, one of Europe’s rarest mammals, with 60 pairs living in the park.
Entry to the Park is strictly controlled to ensure minimal impact on the animals, and you must use an official guided tour. If we were assured that we would see a lynx it would have been worth the price, but these shy animals are nocturnal, living in the scrub and hunting ducks and rabbits. So instead we find the closest town that borders the park and stay there, hoping to catch a glimpse of….well anything wild really.
Staying here the idea was to see flamingos or possibly some other wild animal that escaped from Doñana National Park next door, what we didn’t expect to find was a town right out of a Wild West movie.
Horse-drawn carriages are popular with the locals, and you’ll see them trotting about the streets going about their business throughout the day, even the local hearse is horse-drawn.
There are wooden hitching posts in front of most houses and buildings so people can tie up their horses, it’s easier than parking a car.
The roads are all sand or dirt, and the road rules seem a bit more flexible here. There are no road markings, street signs or traffic lights, and you’re more likely to come face to face with a carriage or a rider on a horse than another car. It appears the 21st century hasn’t arrived here yet.
But come in May-June and this place is a whole lot different, over 1 million, yes that’s not a typo, 1 million people arrive here on horseback, oxen-drawn carriages or on foot for the annual pilgrimage to pay homage to the Virgin del Rocio.
It’s a huge fiesta then with food, fireworks, music, flamenco dancing, (I wondered why there were beautiful flamenco dresses for sale).
So, if you’re looking for a little of the ‘wild west’ or need a new flamenco dress or beautiful riding boots, make sure you visit El Rocio.