“Cádiz…the early morning hours, the air filled with the smell of salt.” (Niña Pastori)
The lyrics sung by Cádiz’ native Niña Pastori perfectly illustrate the feelings I have for this southern Spanish city. Feelings of hot summers, feelings of yearning, feelings of a long lost love…
I had the chance to stay in Cádiz during one long summer month while attempting to brush up my Spanish language skills. Ever since, when asked about my favourite place in the world, I have no problem answering…
But what is it that makes this place so special and what are the main things to do in Cádiz?
1/ The charming looks of its old town
Cádiz is often called “Habanita” or “little Havana”. Its old streets and houses faded by the harsh sun and time, its wide seaside boulevards and the golden dome of the cathedral give the old town a feel of a bygone era. Cádiz is even a bit scruffy in certain places, but its old-fashioned charm will let nobody indifferent.
Walk around the Barrio del Pópulo. This area was the heart of the city during the Middle Ages and you can still find a few stone arches dating back to the 13th century.
Barrio de la Viña is the old district where the fishermen once lived. It’s a real working-class area, a place where you will find cheap and authentic tapas bars, picturesque street scenes and the charming Playa de la Caleta beach.
2/ Cadiz cathedral
Sitting on the steps of the Cathedral, watching the world go by was one of my favourite pastimes in Cádiz. Coming from the seaside and looking at the golden dome, it’s easy to see why the city is nicknamed “Habanita”. Eroded by sea, salt and time, this landmark is a eclectic mix of Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-Classical elements. It was built during the 18th century, the golden age for Cádiz. Back then the city was the trading centre between Spain and Latin America.
The interior of the cathedral could do with some love and care: nets are protecting visitors from paint flakes twirling down from the ceiling.
Make sure to go up the tower for a stunning view.
3/ Torre Tavira
During the 18th century this was Cádiz’ highest watch tower, at 45 m above sea level. 170 steps will take you to the rooftop terrace where you’ll be rewarded for your effort with stunning views over the city. Various rooms narrate the history of Cádiz during its Golden Age (18th-19th century) and the Camera Obscura is excellent for orientating yourself in and around the city.
4/ Playa la Caleta
La Caleta is a small and charming beach in the Barrio de la Viña district of Cádiz. It’s a place where the old town comes together: families with children, the odd language student and the elderly playing bingo! Once the crowds disappear, it’s a great place for an evening picnic! I spent many an afternoon here, reading Spanish tabloids while listening to the small waves lapping up against the colourful fishing boats…
Does it look familiar? Could be… it was used in James Bond’s “Die Another Day”!
5/ Discover true flamenco
If you’ve ever attended a flamenco show in Barcelona or Madrid, chances are it was of the tap-dance, tourist-trap variety. Flamenco is an Andalusian tradition and the best place to see it amongst locals is in the Barrio de la Viña area of Cádiz, where a lot of the traditional peñas are still filled with local talent. During summer, flamenco takes over the streets. Don’t leave before you know your “cante jondo” from your “buleria”! Watching the singers loose themselves in the deep emotions of this art form is a sight I won’t easily forget!
6/ Binge on tapas
If there is one thing I miss when I’m not in Spain, it’s going from bar to bar, sampling various tapas and glasses of wine as I go. And”ir de tapeo” (going for tapas) in Cádiz is a must! Whether it’s fresh or fried sea food you’re after, melt-in-your-mouth jamón or aubergines drizzled in honey, you’ll be spoilt for choice! I came across bars where the ham and strings of garlic were hanging from the ceiling, I saw more bull fighting posters than was good for me and my ears enjoyed listening to the harsh “gaditano” accent!
Tip: Make sure to visit “Taberna Casa Manteca” and “Mesón Cumbres Mayores”
7/ Give sherry a chance
Cádiz is situated south of the “sherry triangle”, an area known for its abundance of sherry producers and bodegas. Sherry (“jerez” in Spanish) is a fortified wine made from white grapes. In the UK it still carries the stigma of ” a sticky drink you have at your grannies at Christmas”. But not in Spain! In Andalusia, sherry is serious business. Learn how to tell your “amontillado” from your “fino” and “oloroso” at the tiny “Taberna La Manzanilla, where the owner Pepe is happy to educate you. An authentic Andalusian experience!
8/ Castillo San Sebastián/Castillo Santa Catalina
Both ends of Playa la Caleta are bordered by remains of a fortress. A causeway along the sea takes you towards Castillo San Sebastián, the most impressive one of the two. On the walk back you are rewarded with gorgeous views over the city.
9/ White villages nearby
The white villages or “pueblos blancos” of Andalucia are a series of charming small towns characterised by whitewashed walls and red or brown tiled roofs. If you are in the area, you can’t afford to miss them, they are the quintessential Andalusian experience! A lot of them are in the province of Cádiz and easily accessible from the city. Vejer de la Frontera for example is less than an hour away. A labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets winds its way between quiet squares, churches and historical buildings, it’s a photographer’s dream!
10/ Watch the sun go down
“At nightfall, when I watch Cádiz go to sleep, I can’t help but falling for her” (Niña Pastori)
Have you been to Cádiz? Do you have a city that totally charmed you?