The Costa de la Luz is a wonderfully relaxed place to spend a few days. This coast is as far removed from the mass tourism of Spain’s Mediterranean flesh pots as it’s possible to get – conceptually speaking. Kilometre after kilometre of golden sand stretches out along the wild and rough Atlantic coast, there are rolling dunes rather than high-rise apartments and hotels behind beaches that, outside of the summer season, are almost never crowded.
Until recently tourists to this area were predominantly Spanish, and although tourism is definitely more international these days, it’s of the low-intensity, low-impact sort. Fishermen still arrive early and claim their spot on the beach, surfers emerge some time later and take to the waves; there are low-key, easy-going beach bars and seafront restaurants serving up delicious seafood. The pace of life seems permanently set to ‘slow’.
We arrived in Los Caños de Meca after the short drive from nearby Vejer de la Frontera. It was early morning and there was time to stroll along the beach towards the village of Zahora, which is home to several good seafront restaurants and bars. It wasn’t quite time for lunch so we carried on along the beach to a small prominantry, beyond which is another vast sweep of beach, Playa Mangueta.
After a long lunch, we made our way back towards Cape Trafalgar’s most iconic sight, its lighthouse. Standing 34m tall, and built 1860, the Cape Trafalgar lighthouse is the area’s most prominent landmark, visible from just about every direction. It may not have been built to commemorate one of the greatest naval battles of all time, but it has come to symbolise the spot at which Admiral Lord Nelson inflicted a decisive victory over a joint French and Spanish fleet.
In 1805, if you’d been stood where the lighthouse stands today, you would most likely have had a view of one of the most epic sea battles of the Napoleonic Wars. The Battle of Trafalgar had far reaching consequences. It didn’t stop the land war in Europe, which Napoleon’s forces were dominating, but it did mean that Napoleon’s planned invasion of Britain was cancelled and France wouldn’t be able to challenge British naval power for the rest of the war.
Just before the Battle of Trafalgar there were 177,000 French troops preparing to invade across the English Channel. The French and Spanish ships fighting at Trafalgar were needed to break Britain’s dominance of the sea lanes and allow the invasion to take place. The loss of twenty-two ships of the line without the loss of a single British ship was a disaster for Napoleon.
Strolling Cape Trafalgar today, it’s hard to imagine the battle that raged out to sea. It lasted for hours, involved seventy-three ships, more than 45,000 men, and resulted in an enormous loss of life – the most famous of which was Admiral Nelson himself. We made our way back along the beach just as the sun was setting. It was one of those near-perfect sunsets: a brilliant golden orb plunging into a darkening ocean and framed by a blood-red sky. It seemed poetically symbolic of the battle itself.