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Untouched Tarifa

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Tarifa, on Spain’s southern coast, is a windsurfing mecca. But there's plenty to see beyond the beach in an old town brimming with character that is the gateway to Morocco

Most conversations in Tarifa begin with the wind.

Someone will scratch their head, look out the door and tell you the Levante’s in today. Either that or the Poinente.

You don't have to ask.

And anyone who has been there longer than two days will know the score – the Levante, a strong, gusty wind from the east, means good windsurfing.

Tarifa, at the southernmost tip of Spain, is a well-kept secret for anyone but windsurfers and kitesurfers. Enthusiasts travel thousands of kilometres to spend a week on the coast, just out of town, windsurfing and kitesurfing any number of the locals’ hot spots. When they're not on the water, they're talking about it; and if they're not doing either they're sleeping.

The place is so well set-up for the sports, windsurfers and kitesurfers can take a pensionne in town and catch regular cheap buses out to the bays, or they can doss down at campsites beside the beach, and car-parks right in front of the best spots.

There are several major windsurfing companies with schools, equipment for hire, bars and accommodation but their presence hasn't ruined the roughish charm of the place.

Roads into most beaches are still dirt and those beaches are long and quiet, even in peak season. Though that can often be because of the wind. On a big afternoon, the sand whips and lashes and anyone who isn't in the surf isn't on the beach either.

That's when the old section of Tarifa township comes into its own. The walled-off settlement harks back to 709, when Islamic explorers, including their leader Tarif ibn Malluq, arrived from Morocco.

The castle and walls that still stand today are relics of the 1200s, when Moorish invaders strengthened the settlement to fend off other adventurers.

Today, the town is a warren of crooked cobbled streets, full of authentic Spanish restaurants and bars, old churches and homes tucked in amongst pensionne accommodation.

In the mornings – too early for most tourists sampling the Spainish lifestyle of siestas and late nights – locals flock to the under-cover fruit and fish market, the tiny bread shops and grocery stores. Old women sweep the maze of streets leading to the ancient settlement’s gateway, its harbourside castle and biggest churches.

The old town isn't large but you can happily explore it for hours on end. We stayed for 10 days and spent every evening in a different restaurant or tapas bar. In most the fare was excellent – plates of ham, calamari, mussels, olives or tortillas washed down with sangria or cervecas.

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