Our entrance into Cadiz was quite spectacular.
We drove over the brand new bridge (just 14 months old) with a brilliant blue sky above and the sea sparkling a storybook Mediterranean blue below us.
There was hardly any traffic on the road as we parked the car up and then set out on foot to search for our hostel among the twisting streets in the old town.
Cadiz or Cadicadicadi as locals call it is the most charming town and both Debs and I fell instantly in love with it.
Maybe it’s because it’s almost completely surrounded by the sea (a causeway connects it to the rest of Spain), maybe because the architecture is so different (many of the old sea merchants’ houses have watchtowers), maybe it is the enormous promenades and parks, but definitely it is because the people are so friendly.
Oh, and we fell on our feet at our backpackers’ hostel too.
I LOVED the hostel – the Casa Caracol. It had an amazing vibe, great staff, and it was all contained in a beautiful building with heaps of character. I immediately told Debs that I wasn’t planning on checking out any time soon and we threw ourselves into the atmosphere by booking a ‘family’ dinner which was made by a couple from Argentina.
We spent an evening piled up on sofas and beanbags watching a video with most of the other guests, we took part in an impromptu flamenco class with yet another guest and generally we had a great time. There was a roof terrace with hammocks and an outdoor shower and loo, a log burner for the colder nights and an awful lot of stairs. Oh, and a great pancake breakfast was included in the price which is always welcome when you are backpacking and travelling.
Out and about in the town we got ourselves a free walking tour, we climbed up the Tavira Tower, we explored just about every little nook and cranny and we ate our body weight in tapas.
The walking tour
Of course we tracked down a free walking tour (for tips) and that gave us a great insight into the history and the culture of Cadiz.
Our guide walked us around the old town and explained how Cadiz became rich due to its location as a port on the tip of Spain and how from here many of the old time Spanish explorers, adventurers and pirates started and ended their trips.
I had already noticed the resemblance to Havana in Cuba – both in the architecture and the way that the long seafront was arranged – but also in the attitude and the openness of the population. There just seemed to be a lightness about the place. The physical light had a clarity to it – as you might find in St Ives in Cornwall or other places that artists love so much, and the people also had a carefree vibe about them.
La Torre Tavira and the Camara Oscura
I had seen a camera oscura before – coincidentally in Havana when I was on my adventure trip with Explore – and this one was fun too.
An image of the city below is projected onto a screen in the dark at the top of the tower via a series of cameras and periscopes and we learnt about the unique skyline of Cadiz.
Many of the sea merchants’ homes had towers on the roof but they are not really visible from ground level. They build the towers so that they could look out for their approaching vessels (or those of their rivals) and they could communicate with the captains by a system of flag signals. Cadiz must have been an amazing sight in its heyday with the port packed full of ships and colourful flags fluttering across the skyline.
The location of the city also made it a target for invading troops and so it was heavily fortified.
A series of solid stone walls encircle the town and squat forts stick out into the sea at strategic points. Some of these are free, others contain museums and many of the street corners in the old town have iron posts to protect the walls of the houses from the carts and the traffic – but these iron ‘posts’ are the old cannons!
The twisting streets may have been designed in this way to repel invaders who would get lost and who could be more easily ambushed
A wealthy city
Because wealthy merchants and business owners settled here many of the houses are decorated with elaborate balconies and beautiful parks and gardens can be found all over the city, with exotic trees and plants and with fountains of water cascading over colourful ceramic tiles.
There are churches on every corner and the creamy white stones of the cathedral gleam in the sun and tables and chairs and tiny little cafes are all just a stones’ throw apart.
Have you ever been escorted off a sherry tour?
The general idea is that you tour the wine cellar, sample the different types of sherry and then buy some more in the shop.
We arrived at the town of Jerez on a day trip from Cadiz by train.
A riot of colour greeted us as we stepped off the train in Jerez. The station building is decked out with the most beautiful coloured tiles which of course point to the wealth that was in this region in the past.
Once we had got our bearings and after a short strong coffee, Debs and I took advantage of the Open Top Tourist Bus which included a visit to the Tio Pepe Sherry Estate.
In the late autumn sunshine Jerez was a quiet and charming little town. Its claim to fame is the sherry (fortified wine) and flamenco.
The tour of the Tio Pepe cellar was really very interesting and it was all housed in a grand estate. The grounds were so big that at one point we were taken in a little land-train from one area to another. The barrels which are painted black (so that any leaks can be more noticeable) were lined up in formal rows and our guide explained the concept of sherry making to our tour group and he also pointed out the barrels which famous people had signed and been photographed next to.
Then it was on to the best bit of our tour – the sherry tasting. Our ticket included a couple of free samples – and Debs and I soon upgraded to try several more. We managed to persuade the others on our table to join us but when we asked for another round our guide informed us that it was not possible and we had to leave.
Actually it should have all been very possible but he wanted to go home (we suspect that he had a date) and it seemed that we were his responsibility until we were off the premises. We found a Japanese guy who was staying at our hostel and who invited us to join him, but our guide was having none of it.
We thought that we had given him the slip when we went to the toilets (our Japanese friend followed us and invited us again to join him) but our guide tracked us down and he escorted us off the premises! Short of twisting our arms behind our backs he hustled us out, via the gift shop which he herded us quickly through not even allowing us time to stop and buy some sherry and he deposited us back out onto the street. We weren’t even drunk but hey ho it made for a very amusing anecdote.
Get your Spanish phrase book here so that you can avoid confusion when you travel.
As you would expect seafood features heavily in the cuisine of Cadiz and Jerez. The fish market is a vibrant, smelly place and it contains numerous stalls which will cook your chosen fish to order. A speciality of the region are the flat crispy little shrimp ‘pancakes’, of course the sherry and chiparrones – deep fried bite sized crunchy bits of baby octopus and which are a lot more delicious than they might sound.
Whilst we were chilling in the hostel one afternoon, one of the guests was practising flamenco. We began chatting to him and he invited us along to watch him practice later that evening. Alex teaches flamenco and whilst we expected to watch him he was really generous and gave four of us an impromptu flamenco lesson.
I had been moved almost to tears by the raw passion at the flamenco show while we were in Granada and here I was, stamping and clicking with a maestro. It was the perfect end to Cadiz and the most southerly point of our #roadtripSpain. We would be heading back up the map the next day.
The interesting bits of Cadiz and Jerez
Our trip – Cadiz – Jerez – Cadiz
Where we stayed: Casa Caracol Hostel – definitely a 5 star choice – click here to see the latest rates and pictures of the rooms. You don’t even have to stay in a dorm as there are private rooms and they are beautiful too
Sherry Tour: we bought a duel ticket for the city open top bus ride combine with our entry fee to the Tio Pepe sherry estate. This included 2 samples of sherry and was excellent value – we just would have liked some more sherry (I should add, we were prepared to pay for it). The Tio Pepe tour was also interesting and our guide was excellent – we just would have liked to have chilled and sampled some more of the products.
You can read the other articles in the series here:
- Stage 1: Alicante to San Jose, via Cartagena, Bolnuevo & Mazarron
- Stage 2: Cabo de Gato, the Sierra Nevada & Granada
- Stage 3: Granada & Ronda
- Stage 4: This article: Cadiz & Jerez
- Stage 5: Seville
- Stage 6: Cordoba, Cuenca & Teruel
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