There is nothing surprising about southern Spain. It is exactly how you imagine it to be — a place full of natural beauty, wonderful food, rich culture, intriguing history and some of the nicest people on the planet. I loved the tranquility of the coastal cities and hated when it was finally time to leave. There is so much to see and do in this region, but I only had a couple of weeks, so I settled on visiting Tarifa, Málaga, and Cádiz. Each city was great in its own way.
Tarifa is the most southerly point in mainland Spain, located only about 30 kilometers north of Tangier, Morocco. Even though the two cities are very close together, they couldn’t be more different. Tarifa is one of the most relaxing places I have ever visited. The city has the vibe of a small beach town, like something you might find along the Outer Banks or in Southern California (minus the commercialization). As calm as the city was, the winds were exactly the opposite. It’s no surprise that Tarifa is one of the top destinations for kite surfing in the world. On occasion, the winds would be so strong I had trouble staying upright as I walked. The best part of my time in Tarifa was spending each evening watching the sun set over the water — truly some of the most spectacular sunsets I have ever experienced.
Tarifa is not a very large city, but it has a nice mixture of historical buildings, shops and restaurants. The Castle of Tarifa is particularly prominent, as it sits overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and the city. Tarifa is also home to some of the most delightful cáfes and tapas bars. My Spanish ignorance was on full display when I sat down for tapas the first time. I ordered “boquerones” off the menu, assuming it would be some kind of sandwich (I have no idea why, it just sounded like it should be), but it ended up being fresh anchovies that came battered and fried. Despite my initial surprise, the boquerones were excellent. I guess that is one reason we travel — to try new things and to learn about different cultures.
Málaga is the sixth largest city in Spain and is most notable for being the birthplace of Pablo Picasso. Although Málaga is a fairly modern and industrialized city, the beautiful and historic city center exudes the same Spanish charm that is found throughout the rest of the country. Everything felt particularly clean here, and walking the streets was exciting both day and night. Plus, the food was exceptional. I’m not proud of how much gelato I ate (but I’m not ashamed either).
The city’s top attractions are the Alcazaba, a historical Arabic castle that sits on the hill overlooking the city, and the Picasso Museum which houses many of Picasso’s famous Cubist and traditional paintings, including The Acrobat. Many visitors choose to branch out of the city to the surrounding towns for fun on the sand and in the clubs. Torremolinos is especially famous for its wild and active nightlife.
Cádiz is the oldest continually inhabited city in Spain (since 1104 BC). The city was originally settled by Phoenicians and later by the Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, and Castilians. Under Spanish rule, the city served as a major sailing port (Columbus left from Cádiz on two occasions), and it was the target for many conflicts throughout history. The city was a favorite target of the English for much of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, and during the Napoleonic Wars, Cádiz was one of the only Spanish cities to resist the French invasion.
Cádiz occupies a relatively small land area, so it is fairly easy to walk and to see the main highlights of the city in a day. The city’s cathedral is one of the most interesting in Spain because it keeps its crypt open for viewing by the general public. Outside of the cathedral you will find plenty of historical buildings, delicious restaurants, and beautiful sand beaches (mostly outside of the city center). A nice pedestrian trail located along the shore provides spectacular views of the Mediterranean Sea.