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This area of long, sandy beaches and stunning sunsets stretches from Tarifa, the southernmost point of mainland Spain, right up to the Portuguese border and the start of the Algarve.
The bright, clear Atlantic light is what gives the Costa de la Luz – the Coast of Light – its name. And it’s the ocean influence that makes the beaches here different. Kept clean by Atlantic tides, their sand is finer and more golden than on the neighbouring Costa del Sol. Most are long, straight and backed by low cliffs or sand dunes and pines.
Catering mostly for Spanish holidaymakers and independent travellers from the rest of Europe, the area has escaped the package-based mass tourism seen elsewhere in Spain, and as a result there is almost no high-rise hotel development.
The temperatures are slightly milder than on Spain’s Mediterranean coasts, which can be a blessing in high summer, while the often strong Atlantic winds and waves are loved by wind surfers and surfboarders.
The Costa de la Luz falls into two provinces, divided by the mighty River Guadalquivir. The stretch from the Portuguese border to the Donaña park and the Guadalquivir is in Huelva Province, and from there to Tarifa, near Gibraltar, is in the province of Cádiz. They really are two separate halves, because unless you’ve got a boat, getting from one to the other involves a long drive via Seville.
Ryanair has daily flights from Stansted to Jerez de la Frontera, which as the home of sherry is a fascinating destination in its own right, but now also very much the gateway to the Cádiz part of the costa. Other possible points of entry are the airports at Seville and Gibraltar, or even Málaga on the Costa del Sol.
The Huelva coast
This bit of coastline is almost unknown to British visitors, but there are beautiful golden sands and small seaside towns devoted to national tourism. If you can find a villa here, you will certainly be far from the lager louts. This section is most easily reached from Seville airport (Ryanair flies there daily from Stansted and twice a week from Liverpool, and Clickair has daily flights from Gatwick), or from Faro in Portugal.
Starting in the west, where Ayamonte faces Portugal across the Guadiana river, the main resorts are Isla Canela, the new development at Islantilla, La Antilla, El Rompido and Punta Umbria. The city of Huelva is worth a visit, to retrace the footsteps of Columbus at the monastery of La Rábida, while Mazagón has an interesting marina and eroded sandstone cliffs. Matalascañas has an enormous beach of fine sand and is an entry point for tours of the Coto de Doñana National Park, the most important reserve for wading birds in Europe.
Cádiz and the eastern section
Most visitors, however, head for the eastern section of the Costa de la Luz, in the province of Cádiz. Travelling from north to south, the first town is Sanlúcar de Barrameda with its golden sands overlooking the Guadalquivir and Donaña National Park. There are more excellent beaches further south, around the small villages of Chipiona and Rota. The town of El Puerto de Santa Maria, in the bay of Cádiz, is famous for its restaurants, where you can enjoy succulent local seafood washed down with chilled dry Manzanilla sherry.
The historic walled city of Cádiz is built on a peninsula, joined to the mainland by a beach-lined isthmus. South of the golf at Sancti Petri, the coastline becomes more rugged, dominated by coves and cliffs often backed by pine forests. The best are located just to the north of the fishing town of Barbate, and are protected in the cliffs and pinewood of Barbate Natural Park. Don't miss the 'trendy' coastal villages of Conil de la Frontera, Caños de Meca, and Zahara de los Atunes, not forgetting Vejer, the fortified hilltop white village 10km inland. History buffs could stroll to the lighthouse at the Cape of Trafalgar, at the western end of Caños de Meca beach, and another interesting outing is to the Roman ruins of Bella, near the isolated cove of Bolonia, with its beach protected by rocky headlands.
Further south is Tarifa, the windsurfing capital of Europe. The best beaches for wind and kite surfing are Playa Los Lances and Playa Valdevaqueros, to the north of the town. After that comes the industrial town and ferry port of Algeciras, facing across the bay to Gibraltar.