Imagine you had the chance to take off on an indefinite adventure around the world in your camper van. By leasing your property at home, you’ll have a small but regular income, which you hope to top up along the way with a few paid music gigs and busking opportunities.
Well, this chance recently presented itself to a couple of friends of ours, who left the UK in December of last year to pursue their new life on the road. They chased the sunshine through France and northern Spain, spent Christmas and New Year up in the hills close to the beautiful Andalusian city of Granada, and subsequently decided to remain along the south coast of Spain for the worst (read: coldest) part of the winter –January.
Considering that Stu’s birthday falls in January, and we’d spent the previous year exploring the cold, snowy streets of Gothenburg, Sweden, it seemed rather fitting that we should head to a warmer coastal city this time around.
Cadiz was somewhere that had been recommended by a few travel bloggers, and somewhere that was easily accessible by train from Madrid, Malaga, Seville or Jerez (all cities that the budget airlines fly to from the UK). We’d be able to spend some quality time with friends, and indulge in some birthday celebrations for Stu in a city that is considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe.
Don’t you just love superlatives? 😉
Surrounded almost entirely by water, Cádiz’s ancient centre is a romantic jumble of narrow streets and tall, once grand buildings covered in brightly-coloured, peeling paintwork and ornate wrought iron balconies. The waves of the Atlantic crash against eroded sea walls, sea gulls circle the skies, and the smell of fresh fish and open sewers permeates the air.
Whilst I only spent the equivalent of two full days in the city, here are a few of my highlights from the weekend.
A circuit of ancient Cádiz’s coastline
Cádiz’s ancient centre is so small that you can easy walk around it in an hour or two. But I would recommend allowing the best part of an afternoon to take in the sights you’ll encounter along the way. If you visit in winter (as we did) you can time your scenic stroll with watching the sun set behind the city’s iconic cathedral.
Castillo de Santa Catalina
Built in 1596 shortly after the Anglo-Dutch looted the city, the Castillo de Santa Catalina was once used as a military fortification and now houses temporary exhibitions. It’s one of the most peaceful and atmospheric spots in Cádiz, especially when you catch it bathed in the golden light of the late afternoon sun.
The Cat Houses
Being a cat lover I was delighted to see that in Cádiz the local feline population were being well looked after.
Cat houses were scattered amongst the rocks along the city’s southern coastline, and empty bowls served as evidence that they were being fed and watered on a regular basis as well.
Our Quirky Hostel
The staff are the best thing about this place. They’ll go out of their way to make you feel welcome, and to help you get the best out of your visit to a city that they proudly (albeit temporary, for some of them) call home.
The hostel feels quirky and bohemian, accentuated by the brightly coloured tiles and mosaics that decorate the walls, the relaxing rooftop terrace (complete with hammocks that they rent out as cheap digs in the summer), and the al fresco shower.
The wifi works well everywhere and breakfast is as much cereal and pancakes (cooked by the staff while you wait) as you can eat, plus limitless cups of (real) coffee.
Casa Caracol (house of the snail) is tucked down a tiny little road in between Barrio Populo and Barrio Santa Maria (in my opinion, the nicest part of the old city). It’s less than a minute’s walk from the ocean-side Plaza San Juan de Dios, and in under five minutes you can be at Cádiz’s cathedral or railway station.
Cádiz’s yellow-domed baroque-neoclassical cathedral is the city’s crowning glory. It can be seen from pretty much any location in the ancient centre, and dominates the panoramic view of the city from the Torre Tavira.
If you visit in the winter months you unfortunately will never be able to catch its grand facade completely bathed in sunlight, but it still looks beautiful regardless of the time of day or year.
So pull up a pew at 100 Montaditos on the corner of the plaza and bask in the sunshine you’ll catch from their outdoor seating area whilst sipping a cold cerveza or a café con leche and munching on some tasty, cheap-as-chips tapas.
Plaza España and Las Cortes Monument
This lovely, spacious, leafy plaza houses the commemorative monument to the Constitution in 1812. After heading north from the city’s cathedral to begin our coastal walk on our first day in Cádiz, this was one of the first sites we encountered. It’s definitely worthy of a good five or ten minute linger.
The Interesting Array of Bronze statues
You’ll encounter these throughout the old city, depicting various historical characters from this area of Spain. There’ll usually be a plaque beneath each one that tells you a little bit about who they are and the part they played in Spain’s history, but you’ll have to possess a good understanding of Spanish in order to be able to read it!
Aimless Wanders Through the City’s Ancient Barrios
Once you’ve completed your coastal walk around the edge of the old city, weave your way through the narrow streets of its ancient centre.
There are four distinct quarters to explore – the Barrio Populo is home to the cathedral and location of the original medieval settlement, the Barrio de Santa Maria is the old Roma quarter and the heart of the city’s flamenco culture, the Barrio de la Viña is a former vineyard that became the city’s fishing quarter, and the Barrio del Mentidero is the centre of Cadiz’s modern nightlife scene.
Castillo de San Sebastián
Castillo de San Sebastian is a fortification that was built in 1706 on a small islet that’s connected to Playa de la Caleta via a stone walkway. I’m including this more for the walk to get there rather than the structure itself (of which there is not much remaining), although that said, Stu found it fascinating.
Mercado Central de Abastos
Built in 1837, Mercado Central de Abastos is the oldest covered market in Spain (another superlative; Cádiz is doing well). According to the gentleman at our hostel, it’s closed at the weekend and only open until 2pm during the week so make sure you time your visit to coincide with this.
Although part of the fascination with markets for me is marvelling at all the colourful, fresh produce (it’s a great way to learn about a country’s cuisine), and chatting with the locals (and practising your language skills), markets are also great places to pick up some cheap food and drink.
We combined our visit to Cádiz with a couple of nights in Madrid (post to follow) If you want to do the same, here is a breakdown of the costs (per person):
- Return flights Liverpool to Madrid £61.98
- Two nights accommodation in Madrid in a private room £29
- Two nights accommodation in Cádiz at Casa Caracol in a private room £30.75
- Return train fare Madrid to Cádiz with Renfe £60 (booked in advance). BUT if you don’t have the time restrictions that we did, you can go by bus which is A LOT cheaper.