For those who associated southern Spain with high-rise holiday hotels and full English breakfasts, it may come as a surprise to discover that there remain a few ‘secret’ destinations that are far from the radar of the average package tourist.
One such hidden gem is Tarifa, the traditional Spanish ‘pueblo’, or white village, perched on the western south coast beyond the rock of Gibraltar and facing the Rif Mountains of the north Moroccan coast. As one of two main ferry ports providing passenger services over the Strait of Gibraltar, Tarifa is considered to be one of the main gateways to Africa, and it is its proximity to the continent that is in part responsible for lending the town its distinctive exotic flavour.
Tarifa is largely unmarred by the small ferry port, which sits tucked away at one end of town. In fact much of its charm lies not in the town itself but in the large expanse of white sand beach that stretches all the way from the centre to the raised headland some 10 kilometres to the west. Much of this stretch of coastline is untouched and undeveloped thanks to an inspired piece of Spanish planning law that has prevented Tarifa from going the way of so many of the Spanish Costas.
This section of coastline is known as the “Costa de la Luz”, or Coast of Light, in an interesting (and understandable) move by the Department for Tourism that saw it renamed in the late 1990s from its original “Costa del Viento” or Windy Coast label. However, the reasons for its original christening remain clear, as the long stretch of sand is exposed to powerful winds that rise over the coast of Africa for much of the year.
It is these winds, however, that have largely contributed to Tarifa’s success. The town has established itself as one of Europe’s primary kite-surfing destinations, the strong winds and picturesque beaches providing the perfect practising spot for beginners and pros alike. There is a plethora of kite-surfing schools established along the length of the main beach and the town has developed into a major training and testing ground for some of the world’s leading windsurf brands and manufacturers.
There is a good range of accommodation options in Tarifa but be sure to book early to avoid disappointment. This is a popular weekend destination for the lively student population from Granada, Seville and Malaga and is also a favourite summer escape for the many expats living and working on the Costas. Accommodation has a quirky ‘boutique’ feel, with some lovely renovated townhouses offering bed and breakfast in the old town. A number of sophisticated yet rustic beach hotels are dotted along the 10-kilometre stretch of beachfront. If plush, white-curtained beach beds, ambient house music and heady cocktails are your idea of bliss, you will not be disappointed here.
Make time to take a boat trip out to the Strait of Gibraltar for a spot of dolphin watching, explore the old fortress in the old town or take the ferry to Tangiers for a spot of haggling in the bazaar. However you spend your time in Tarifa, you are guaranteed to find it a refreshing alternative to the typical Spain of the package tour brochures.