If you live in northern Europe, there is something very exciting about being on a beach in winter when it’s warm enough to pretend it’s summer. The weather in Cadiz made that possible. The beaches of Spain’s Atlantic coast are a bit wilder, and the water quite a bit colder, than their more famous Mediterranean counterparts, but they have a raw beauty that more than compensates. Plus, they only attract a fraction of the visitors.
If you’re visiting Cadiz it’s worth spending a day walking the beaches that spread south from the city. We got up early and drove to the Parque Natural Bahía de Cádiz, a large area of sandy beaches, freshwater lakes, marshes and salt flats, the salt from which has been used since 1100 BC. Phoenician traders who first settled this area exported it. The long wide beach makes for a wonderful early morning stroll.
We headed along the beach to the Punta del Boquerón, the warm sun was offset by a cooling breeze. Fishermen were lined up along the beach and a few hardy surfers were making their way into the water. In the distance I could see what looked like giant boulders on the beach, and off the coast was the island of Sancti Petri, home to the Castle of Sancti Petri.
As we approached, the boulders took on a more regular form and it became clear that they were modern additions to the beach. These were bunkers used during the Spanish Civil War and World War II to protect this coast and Cadiz from attack. Today, they’re crumbling monuments to a dark and dreadful part of Spain’s and Europe’s history. They are in pretty bad condition, battered by water, wind and sand. How long they will survive is anyone’s guess.
Sancti Petri dates from a much earlier period, and was part of a system of 16th and 17th century coastal watchtowers constructed by order of Felipe II. The fortress was built as part of the defences of Cadiz, the intention being to protect Spanish shipping arriving back from the Americas, often laden with treasure, from Barbary Pirates and English privateers. The earliest part of the fort is from that time, but it was expanded in the 18th century.
Driving back into Cadiz we noticed a lot of restaurants with ocean views. It was Sunday and we decided we’d earned a long lunch. We ditched the car at the hotel and walked back along the seafront. We reached a strip of restaurants near the monumentally ugly Hotel Playa Victoria close to the football ground. The architecture in this area isn’t very attractive, but the seafood was excellent and came with ocean views.
Afterwards, we retired to the beach to sleep off our delicious lunch. It seemed like the perfect way to end our stay in Cadiz.