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El Puerto de Santa Maria

Dennis Switzer

El Puerto de Santa Mara is located on the coast in southern Spain, in the Andalusia region. It is in the Cadiz province, on the Guadalete River mouth, on the Cdiz Bay.

A short ferry ride or commuter train journey from the city of Cadiz is El Puerto. It is one of the points of the sherry triangle. The other two points are Sanlucar de Barrameda and Jerez de la Frontera. Visitors are able to sample all varieties of sherry at any number of bodegas in El Puerto. Osbourne is the largest in the city. As with many towns along this coast, El Puerto has associations with Columbus. He stayed at the local castle while awaiting word from Ferdinand and Isabella. The well where he took on drinking water for his voyage is still seen on the malecon.

For those seeking clean beaches and an experience "tipico" of Spain, El Puerto is a place to visit. It is part of the Costa de Luz and faces the Atlantic and rather than the Mediterranean so water temperatures are cooler than those of the resort towns of the Costa del Sol. However, the crowds are fewer and the beaches are cleaner and sandier. Do not expect extensive English menus or sales personnel able to converse in English.

Seafood lovers will enjoy a walk along the waterfront. Numerous restaurants and kiosks offer freshly caught fish, expertly cooked. Perfect with a glass of fino!

A highlight of the fiesta season is Mardi Gras festivities in the early spring. It is not always held at the beginning of Lent so it is best to check with the tourism office for dates each year. Other festivals are held throughout the year. Again check with the tourism folks.

Weather

We were there in March and the weather was pleasant. Days in the 20C range.
Nights, a light jacket is in order. Spring can bring strong Levante winds that roar through the Straits of Gibraltar. They make Tarifa a mecca for wind surfers. Summer I'm told is hot and sunny, although temperatures are moderated by the Atlantic and are not as oppressive as in Seville.

How to Get to El Puerto

From North America one can fly to Heathrow in London and then directly to either Jerez or Seville. Car rentals are available at both airports. Trains stop at El Puerto. It is on the Seville-Cadiz line, as is Jerez. One can take the AVE (train) to Seville from Madrid and then the local train to El Puerto.

Map of Costa de la Luz, Spain. Map provided by Venere, used with permission.

Costa de la Luz, southern Spain

Day Trips From El Puerto

Because of El Puerto's situation, it provides an excellent base to explore the Western part of Andalucia. The cities of Seville, Jerez, and Cadiz are in easy reach by train. Interesting coastal towns of Sanlucar and Rota are a short inter-urban bus ride away. For those with a car, numerous white villages, Roman ruins and natural areas provide worthwhile day trip destinations.

The following provides a highly personal review of some of these places. There are numerous guides for the larger cities so I will concentrate on some of the smaller centers. To help you decide the weight you wish to give to the information provided, here's a little personal information. We are a retired couple in our late 50s who enjoy walking, photography, history and experiencing local customs and food.

Car Rental and Driving

If you are renting from El Puerto, I suggest that you specify picking up the car at the agent in Rota rather than at the Jerez airport. The bus connections to/from Rota are frequent and there is less hassle. At the time of writing, the rental agent does however allow free drop off at either the Malaga or Jerez airport. We chose to rent a car for our final week and return it to our place of departure.

We found the secondary roads in Cadiz province less hectic and in better repair than in Malaga and Granada provinces. For North Americans who are used to racking up mileage quickly, travel on roads in Cadiz (apart from the toll roads) may be frustrating. Although the distances are short, in many cases you will find the drive takes longer than expected. We found guides such as Michelin's (www.viamichelin.com) or Mapquest (www.mapquest.com) accurate in their assessment of driving times.

Rota

Many guide books dismiss Rota as a destination. It has a naval base that has a large American presence. If you are with the U.S. forces or are retired from them you may wish to attempt to book a golfing time on the base course. Because of the American presence most merchants and restaurant staff speak English. A bus leaving from the Plaza de Toros in El Puerto, takes about a half hour, and drops you about two kilometers from the beach and old town of Rota.

The tourist office staff are friendly and helpful. Their office is located in the Town Hall located in a restored Moorish castle. The tour of the Town Hall is worthwhile. Ask for the time of English tour. Also, on the square, is the local church. Of particular interest is the interior covered with ceramic tile decoration. The bar across the square offers good tapas.

The beaches are wide and clean with fine sand. For history buffs, this is the ancestral home of the Ponce de Leon family.

Sanlucar de la Barrameda

About thirty kilometers from El Puerto, at the mouth of the Quadalquivir River, lies Sanlucar. This is one point on the "Sherry Triangle" and is justifiably renowned for both its seafood and Manzanilla sherry (my favorite is "La Gitana"). The tourist office at the foot of the Paseo, across the road from the malecon along the waterfront provides information regarding which bodegas are open for touring that day. A lively market runs each day until about 1pm.

There are many fine tapas bars around the town square. Generally, you have to enter the bar, order your drinks, and choose your food and deliver it to your table on the square. Classier seafood restaurants are found along the riverfront.

A visit to the Donana National Park building, "the Ice House," is worthwhile. It provides an overview of both the natural and human history of the region. The account of the pilgrimage to El Rocio is particularly interesting. They also provide information on various tours of the Park itself. Those with transportation may wish to visit a park area just out of Sanlucar. There are trails are bird blinds. We were lucky enough to see a flock of flamingos when we visited.

Down the coast is the town of Chipiona. It was a disappointment. Contrary to what the guidebooks say, we found the beach dirty with broken glass and the town generally looked run down. However, if you're into lighthouses it has the third tallest one in the world there.

Vejer de la Frontera and Baelio Claudio

For history buffs, a great day trip is to the hilltop village (pueblo blanco) of Vejar de la Frontera and then to the Baelio Claudio Roman ruins.

Negotiate the maze of roads around the El Puerto/Cadiz corridor and find the N340 heading to Algeciras. Along the way to the Roman ruins, south and west of El Puerto on the way to Tarifa, you will experience breathtaking scenery from the white hilltop village (pueblo blanco) of Vejar de la Frontera. Into the 1940s women of this village dressed in a way reminiscent of the town's Moorish past.

You will find the Baelio Claudio Roman ruins in the town of Bolonia, close to Tarifa. Only 80 kilometers from El Puerto, you are transported back 2000 years to a small Roman city. The town of 2000 people relied on the salted fish and garum factories. There is a theatre, forum, basilica, and baths for you to view. The beach is pristine and the small open-air restaurants serve great food at reasonable prices. For EU residents there is no admission fee. All others pay 1.50.

If time permits you may venture back along the coastal road to Zahara de los Atunes and Barbate. This is a full day of touring.

Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema

For a change of pace, we recommend a drive visit to Grazalema. To get to the sierras take the Arcos highway (A382) to the turn for Zahara de la Sierra. Zahara is another hill town that deserves a stop for coffee and a dulce. From there CA531 takes you into the heart of the Sierra de Pinar and the Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema. This is Spain's rainiest region so be prepared for all weather. Since it is mountainous, dress in layers.

There are numerous hiking trails of which to take advantage. Grazalema's town motto translates (roughly!) as "No other, cleaner". For individuals used to dodging fido's reminders on every block in most cities, this town is a welcome relief. It truly lives up to its motto. We found the Restaurante Cadiz El Chico offered a good el menu for about EU 10. Return either by A372 to Arcos (direct) or by completing a loop through Ubrique on A374/A373. Either way you can experience the cork forests and see the oaks in various stages from being harvested. Although touted for their leather goods, we found the same quality and prices can be had in El Puerto. However, the selection was definitely greater in Ubrique.

There are Many More Places to See

And, of course, there's always Jerez and Seville for another day (or two!).

Resources

www.elpuertosm.es: Official website for El Puerto.

www.andalucia.com/costa-de-la-luz/: Official tourist website for the Andalucia region, Costa de la Luz page.

www.autoeurope.com: AutoEurope, car rentals in Spain, is a SlowTrav affiliate.

www.all-inclusive-car-hire.com: We found All Inclusive Car Hire offered competitive rates and good service.

www.viamichelin.com: Online mapping.

www.mapquest.com: Online mapping.

© W. D. Switzer, 2005

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