Not all sources agree, but this city consistently ranks in the top 10, and Lonely Planet Spain claims that it is generally considered to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe—founded by the Phoenicians around 1100 BC. In more recent history, Columbus used this city to stage his 2nd and 4th sailings to the New World. Still stumped? Lets try James Bond movies for $1000 Alex. This city was used to film Die Another Day where bikini-clad Jinx (Halle Berry) emerges from the ocean. In the movie, the location was portrayed as Cuba, but the footage was shot in in south western Spain, in the beautiful city of Cadiz.
I am ashamed of my ignorance. I had never heard of Cadiz before researching our trip. While it gets its share of tourists, this historic and absolutely gorgeous city seems to fall under the radar. I didn’t arrive in Cadiz with the high expectations I had set for cities like Granada, Sevilla, and Cordoba, but I was completely blown away by it. Here’s what I loved about Cadiz.
Cadiz’s Seaside Promenade
One of the most striking features of Cadiz is that it is almost entirely surrounded by water. When we got lost in the wonderful maze of narrow cobblestone streets, all we did was walk in one direction and we soon hit the ocean.The Atlantic laps against the city’s seawalls and pretty beaches, where locals are out in full force, fishing, swimming, surfing, and socializing. The sand and pastel hues of the seaside buildings against the blue sea and sky imbue a wonderful calm.
The municipality has done a great job showcasing the stunning shoreline with a pedestrian and cycling promenade. Strolling around its roughly 4km perimeter, packed with beaches, gardens, monuments, and amazing views is an absolute must.
Don’t miss seeing the massive ficus trees found in several spots along the promenade. They look particularly dramatic when lit up at night. Rumour has it that these trees were brought to Cadiz from South America in 1902, by a group of nuns.
Cadiz’s Iconic Cityscape
Seville’s is bigger, Cordoba’s more famous, but Cadiz’s cathedral wins hands down for defining the cityscape. The southern side of the ocean promenade, along the Campo del Sur, holds Cadiz’s most iconic view. The gigantic cathedral, with its dazzling gilded dome, holds court over the low-slung old town. The view across the water from Playa de Santa Maria del Mar, just outside the historic center, is breathtaking.
The city’s “James Bond Beach,” Playa de la Caleta, is a golden curve of sand. White-washed buildings with distinctive Moorish architecture give the setting an exotic allure.
The lucky folks of Cadiz have miles of beaches that stretch along the narrow isthmus leading to the old city. Cadiz is acclaimed for having some of the nicest and cleanest urban beaches in Europe. Playa Santa Maria del Mar and Playa de la Victoria are backed by a promenade with all kinds of pleasant cafes, restaurants, and bars.
Just south of Playa de la Caleta, a long stone walkway leads to a small islet dominated by the Castillo de San Sebastian, a fort built in 1706. The walkway is particularly popular in the late afternoon. It’s a hub of activity where friends get together for guitar jams, fishermen cast their long rods, and locals and tourists admire the glorious sunset.
Exploring pedestrian-friendly Cadiz is fun, and a bit frustrating. Just ditch the map and let the convoluted streets of the old town take you where they will. Many of them are treasures onto themselves, but the real treat is emerging from a narrow street into one of the numerous plazas. Some of them are imposing, like Plaza San Juan de Dios and the Plaza de la Catedral; others have beautiful gardens like Plaza de Mina; and still others like the Plaza Espana are tributes to historic events.
Sadly, I don’t have a photo of my favourite—Plaza San Fransisco. We were having such a relaxing time in this pretty little square, eating lunch al fresco, that picture taking was forgotten.
Besides the sheer beauty of the plazas, I loved their vibrancy. They are filled with people relaxing, socializing, eating and drinking. The larger ones are also used for markets and exhibitions, like the awesome car and scooter show that was being staged in the Plaza de la Catedral.
I probably should have mentioned upfront that the best way to get an overview of Cadiz is to head to the centre of town and climb to the top of the Torre Tavira— the tallest of the city’s 129 watchtowers, built in the 18th century, during the height of Cadiz’s shipping trade. It’s a wonderful place to ponder the oldest city in Europe.
While in Cadiz, stay at a convent…
You’ll certainly be living much more luxuriously than the nuns did. The Hotel Convento Cadiz retains an austere peacefulness that can be felt in its huge courtyard (perhaps it’s the piped in Gregorian chant music). Convento Santo Domingo was founded in 1639, and the attached church is still operational.
Next posts will move to enchanting Granada, home to the most exquisite monument I have ever visited—the Alhambra.
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We often felt awed and ignorant too, particularly in Sicily where cities are ancient and gorgeous. Beautiful memories! Thank you for sharing.