Rick Stein and his recent TV series (and now a book!) ‘Rick Stein’s – Long Weekends’, has a lot to answer for, he has encouraged my get up and go, to get going.
His series of culinary city breaks prompted my globe-trotting friend and I to jet off to Cádiz to explore this Andalusian city. Helping me restore my confidence to travel too!!
The best gateway was Seville airport, add a train journey of an hour and a half from Sevilla Santa Justa station and we got off the train in Cádiz met by a wonderful fresh salty smell of the sea!!
So here we were, 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.
Cádiz’s links with Cuba go back 500 years, when ships laden with treasures from the West Indies returned to this ancient port on the south-west tip of Spain. The city has often been compared to Havana, and after a couple of days strolling around the promenade that almost encircles the old town, dipping in and out of the dense mesh of narrow streets within, it was easy to see why.
There is nothing swanky about Cádiz, but people here live well and have musical fun at Carnival time. This is a place for mooching around and indulging in low-key, simple pleasures.
The city was founded more than 3,000 years ago by the Phoenicians, who were attracted by its strategic location at the entrance to the Mediterranean.
The old town, shaped like a clenched fist, is at the end of a long peninsula. You are never more than a mile from the sea, which is always discernible in the pale gold light shimmering at the end of the long, straight streets. The grid pattern dates back to the early 18th century, when the Chamber of Commerce of the Americas was transferred from Seville, bringing with it wealthy merchants who built lavish homes and created a prosperous, glamorous society. Very easy to get lost!!
We saw dozens of these mansions, built in the porous local stone and painted ochre, pink, pistachio green and duck-egg blue, some faded and decrepit, but many newly restored and pristine. Glassed-in balconies sparkled in the sunlight, framed by dainty wrought-iron balustrades painted silver or white. Many of the houses are topped with turrets, where the merchants installed telescopes to spot their ships returning from the New World.
Whilst we only spent the equivalent of two full days in the city, here are a few of my highlights from the trip.
The oranges that grow in the city, lining the streets are charming and fragrant, but inedible in contrast to the orchard oranges.
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, or by courtesy of the No. 2 bus.
An avenue runs around the shore, changing its name several times, and the interior is populated with a jumble of streets and monuments. The look is distinctly Latin American, and anyone who has visited that part of the world will appreciate the shared architectural DNA; Cadiz stood in for Havana in the Bond film Die Another Day.
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.
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.
Mercado Central de Abastos
Built in 1837, Mercado Central de Abastos is the oldest covered market in Spain (another superlative; Cádiz is doing well).
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), markets are also great places to pick up some cheap food and drink.
A weakness of mine was churros and hot chocolate.
Out to brunch
Café Royalty on the Plaza de la Candelaria is a visual feast – with mirrors borrowed from Versailles, screens from the Orient and frescos from the past.
Las Caleta beach faces due west, making it the optimum location for a sun lover. Café Bar Club La Caleta does not exploit its position just above the waterline. Tapas were available served from inside the cave-like interior where you could choose your fresh fish for lunch.
And where to stay
The city’s defiantly modern Parador is the antithesis of the typical historical properties in this government-run chain.
Most amazing sunsets over the Atlantic
Glad to say, my reinvention to travel is here to stay and as Rick Stein did 10 episodes of Long Weekends, and having already done Copenhagen, I have eight more to do!!
We combined our visit to Cádiz with a couple of nights in Seville (post to follow)