Spanish Road Trip 2023, Day 5, 5th November - A day in Tarifa.
After arriving in darkness the night before, although we were very very pleased with our room, this morning we were really able to appreciate our accommodation, at the El Levante Hostal, situated in beautiful quiet countryside, with lovely views of the mountains in the distance.
We ventured to the bar for our breakfast of tostada con tomate, juice and coffee. The owners were so friendly and welcoming and spent time with us discussing what we should see in the area, as there seemed to be so much we asked if it would be possible to stay an extra night, It was explained that, they were now official closed for a few days to do some maintenance ready for a busy weekend and the bar would not be open the following morning for breakfast, and we would be the only ones here, but we jumped at the opportunity of another nights stay here at this wonderful hostal.
Never be afraid to book a hostel, we have stayed in many over the last few years, and they have always been pleasantly surprised, they are great value for money and much friendlier than hotels, yes they may not have things like lifts, pools or onsite restaurants, but you dont really need all the extras when staying for just one or two nights.
Tarifa is best know in Andalucia, and beyond as the windy city. Situated in the province of Cádiz, Andalusia, located at the southernmost end of the Iberian Peninsula on the Costa de la Luz ("coast of light") and across the Strait of Gibraltar, making it the most southern point in Spain and mainland Europe. Tarifa is the closest Spanish city to the African continent, which is about 14km away and on a clear day, you can see the coast of Morocco across the Strait of Gibraltar.
Tarifa hosts international competitions and attracts water sports enthusiasts from around the world. There are over 60 kite surfing schools in the area, which is an extraordinary considering how small Tarifa actually is and a lot of the accommodation is geared to surfing etc.
During the summer months, especially August, due to its popularity even getting into the town itself could find you stuck in queues of traffic, but this time of year it was quiet with just "normal" tourists like ourselves discovering the area.
Spanish Road Trip 2023 - A day in Tarifa
Tarifa has a rich history, with influences from various civilizations, including the Phoenicians, Romans, Moors, and Christians, but also has many wonderful beaches and is full of natural beauty, it is a wonderful area to visit, even this time of year.
We managed to squeeze quite a few of Tarifas top tourist attractions into our one day here and it has left us wanting to see more of this beautiful area.
The beaches in Tarifa are some of the best in Andalucia, long, wide, with soft golden sand, with coves and dunes, and the beaches stretch for miles and miles.
Our first stop was Just a 15 minute drive north of Tarifa for a few photos of the stunning 100 meter high sand dunes at Playa Punta Paloma.
As we continued our drive over the mountains, we were lucky enough to see many Griffon Vultures hovering overhead, one even took flight right over the car, these were an amazing sight to see.
They can soar for hours without flapping their wings, reaching speeds of 75 km/h and altitudes of 10,000 meters, hence why my photo is not the best quality.
The Griffon Vultures (Also known as the Eurasian Griffon) feed in groups and are scavengers feeding mostly from carcasses of dead animals, they roost and breed in large colonies that can host hundreds of individuals, they are 93–122 cm (37–48 in) long with a 2.3–2.8 m wingspan. making them one of Europe’s largest birds, this was the perfect area for them as they love cliffs, rocky slopes and open shrub and grasslands.
Spanish Road Trip 2023
Next on the list was a visit to the Roman ruins of Baelo Claudi, stopping off at the wonderful beach just in front of the ruins, watching the waves of the Atlantic and enjoying the views of another famous sand dune, Duna de Bolonia and Bolonia Beach
Spanish Road Trip 2023
While not directly in Tarifa tis archaeological site located nearby in Bolonia, and includes well-preserved ruins of a Roman town, including a temple, forum, and fish-salting factory.
At the entrance we were asked our nationality, it seemed the British were able to get in for FREE, what a bonus as this was a really stunning place with spectacular views of the mountains and nearby Bolonia Beach, which is known for its white sand dunes and crystal-clear waters.
The archaeological site of Baelo Claudia is situated on the shores of the Strait of Gibraltar, providing a strategic location for maritime trade with northern Africa
The city of Baelo Claudia was founded in the 2nd century BC, it was an important centre for trade and fishing in the region, and is said to be the key to understanding Roman urban development and life in a city during the Roman Empire, as all the key elements that constitute the essence of a Roman city can be found here, the forum, temples, basilica, residential areas, Roman roads, administrative buildings, market, theatre, burial grounds, thermal baths, industrial areas and port.
Baelo Claudia was known for its thriving fish-salting industry, producing a fermented fish sauce called "garum" that was highly valued in ancient Roman cuisine.
The town's economic prosperity was also linked to its role as a trade hub for goods coming from Africa.
As you enter the site, there is a 2 floor museum that houses permanent and temporary exhibitions of Roman artifacts mostly dedicated to Baelo Claudia.
As you leave this modern building you step into another world of the Roman City, which has an easy to follow route to make sure you see everything and plenty of seating areas along the way to relax and enjoy the stunning surrounds.
Forum and Basilica: The forum was the heart of the city, serving as a public space for political, social, and economic activities. The basilica, located adjacent to the forum, was a public building used for administrative and legal purposes.
Temple of Isis: The Temple of Isis, dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis, is one of the well-preserved structures at Baelo Claudia. It reflects the influence of Eastern religions in the Roman Empire.
Theatrical Space: Baelo Claudia had a well-designed theatre that could accommodate a significant number of spectators. The theatre is located on a hillside, offering panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
Aqueducts: Three aqueducts supplied the city with water, the main one was the East aqueduct, the second the west and the last entered the city on the Northern side
We really loved this place and would have been more than happy to pay an entrance fee, we were surprised at how busy it was for the time of year, and would imagine it would be very, very busy during the summer months, but would happily return if back in the area.
After walking around the ruins for a couple of hours and being starving hungry we decided to head back into Tarifa itself for lunch, and enjoyed several tapas dishes including ham and cheese croquettes, chicken curry with rice, stuffed mushrooms, goats cheese and a rack of ribs in one of the many restaurants that surrounded the port, the meal came to just under 30€ including drinks and set us up for the rest of the day.
One thing we have noticed in this whole area, is just how friendly everyone is, making you feel very welcome, sadly this is not the case in every Spanish town/city we have visited over the past few years.
One of the things that Tarifa if famous for is the fact that it sits along the Straits of Gibraltar, just 9 miles from the northern coast of Africa. This strait is the only place where the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea mix, and you can see both the Med and the Atlantic oceans on the causeway to the Isla de las Palomas, which was was created in 1808.
Halfway across the causeway there are signs pointing at the two bodies of water, this is the perfect spot for a photograph, spot the difference in the seas... calm on the Mediterranean side at Playa Chica, rough and wild on the Atlantic, Playa de los Lances.
The, island itself, (Isla de las Palomas) is not open to the public, other than by prior appointment but the promenade leading towards it is a touristic site itself, because it splits the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean.
Isla de las Palomas means The Pigeon Island and is the southernmost point of mainland Europe and used to be a military base. The island has been inhabited since around the 6th century BC, proven by the Phoenician-Punic remains of at least five funeral chambers. Later on, the Romans used the island as a limestone quarry.
Situated just in front of the causeway is the Santa Catalina Castle, which is an observation tower constructed in 1931 in the style of a 16th-century castle.
Sadly this is currently closed to the public, although hopefully it can be restored and reopened in the near future.
Next it was time to explore the old town area of Tarifa, where we found narrow, winding streets white-washed buildings, charming squares, and a lovely relaxed atmosphere with plenty of local shops, cafes, and restaurants.
One of the main entrance points to the old town is Puerta de Jerez, the last-standing Moorish gate, which dates back to the 13th century.
The central plaza in Tarifa town has three names. Officially called Plaza de Santa Maria, after the church on one corner, its older name of Plaza Alfonso XII is still on the wall. However it is known locally as Plaza de la Ranita, or Little Frog Square, thanks to its unusual star-shaped fountain featuring eight ceramic frogs, one on each point, and a very Moroccan shade of turquoise.
Iglesia San Mateo Eliza is the main church in Tarifa, and dates from the 15th century, it was built on top a former mosque. and a tombstone dating back to the Visigoths in the 600s even gives clues about Tarifa’s Christian past before the town was conquered by Arab Moors in the 700s.
The church has been built in a Gothic style and maintains its original architecture, the façade was redecorated in the 18th century with Baroque elements. The belfry of the medieval church is painted in a salmon pink colour, decorated with Tuscan pilasters, culminating with a round dome on top. Entrance is FREE but sadly it was closed on our visit.
Spanish Road Trip 2023
Tarifa also has its very own castle, Castillo de Guzman el Bueno this is one of the main attractions of Tarifa old town, sadly it is closed on Monday's which is the day we were here, yet another excuse to revisit this area.
The castle is named after Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, a Spanish military leader and hero known as "Guzmán el Bueno" (Guzmán the Good). He defended the castle against a siege during the 13th century, demonstrating great courage and loyalty.
The castle was originally built by the Moors as part of the defensive structures along the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula.
Moorish Period: During the Moorish period, the castle served as a strategic military outpost guarding the Strait of Gibraltar. It played a crucial role in controlling maritime traffic and defending against potential invasions.
After the Christian Reconquest of the region in the late 15th century, the castle underwent renovations and modifications under the command of Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, the first Duke of Medina Sidonia.
The castle was further strengthened and adapted to new military technologies during subsequent centuries.
The Castle of Guzmán el Bueno features a mix of architectural styles, including Moorish, Gothic, and Renaissance elements.
The castle includes towers, walls, and a central courtyard. The Torre de Guzmán, a prominent tower, stands as a symbol of the castle's historical significance.
The Torre de Guzmán is a cylindrical tower that offers panoramic views of the town, the surrounding landscape, and the Strait of Gibraltar.
Tarifa is a beautiful place, both the town and the surrounding area, there is a lot to see and do here, far too much to fit into a one day visit, so its an area that is definitely on the list for a return visit on a future road trip.
It was back to our wonderful accommodation for a good nights sleep ready for day 6 of our Spanish Road Trip 2023.