At the tip of Spain lies a narrow peninsula, well known not just for its beaches, fish and fabulous flamenco shows but also for being the oldest inhabited city in Europe. Waves crash against ancient sea walls, watch towers line the city skyline and an iconic waterfront cathedral are just some of what bestows such charm and soul on this must-see gem.
As Greek and Roman myth has it, the city was founded by Hercules after he travelled to the end of the known world to slay the three-headed monster, Greyon. Here, he erected the Pillars of Hercules, or the Gates of Cadiz. The history books tell a different story, crediting the Phoenicians with founding a trading base here called Gadir in 1100 BC.
Fast forward a few thousand years to less-distant memory and the city played an important role in the discovery age with many of Christopher Colombus’ voyages to America setting sail from the port. But the city’s golden age didn’t come until the 18th century when 75 percent of Spain’s trade with America was shipped into and out of the port.
Cadiz is now one of the wealthiest and most cosmopolitan cities in the country with thousands of holiday makers flocking there each year to marvel at the impressive buildings, history and soak up sun on the sandy beaches (not something you’re treated to every day in Europe!). With this in mind I couldn’t not make a day trip from Seville to see what all the fuss is about and it’s not every day you can say you’ve been to Europe’s oldest town!
If you’re planning a day trip from Seville or surrounding towns the easiest option is the Renfe express. Trains depart once every hour or so from Seville’s Santa Justa station. In just under two hours you’ll speed across plains, farms and marshland before reaching Cadiz. Much of the city sights are closed on Sundays and Mondays so keep this in mind when planning your trip.
What to do?
The best way to see Cadiz is the hop-on-hop-off sightseeing bus. It loops around the city, stopping in the main areas and near the main sights. Although it’s a small town it’s just that little bit too big to walk around, especially in the summer heat.
A stone’s throw away from the sea in the historical heart of town lies Cadiz Cathedral. It’s impressive inside and out with architecture varying from baroque to neoclassical style. Underneath lies a crypt and visitors can climb the bell tower for panoramic views of the city. The Cathedral square has an abundance of coffee shops to chill out after conquering all those stairs (or in my case, almost having a heart attack from too much physical exertion).
From here weave your way through the colourful streets of the Old Town. The cobblestone roads and balconies covered in vines and flowers are worth getting lost in until you find yourself in one of the city’s countless squares. These have the most amazing bakeries. Seeing as I have no self-control I stuffed myself with more pastries and biscuits than I could count until a food baby formed. Absolutely no regrets.
I’m not one to say no to ANOTHER vista so I headed up Torre Tavira – the city’s most iconic and highest watch tower. About 500 stairs later I’d walked off the food coma and reached the top. It’s spectacular. Red and white roofed buildings sprawl towards the sea, the Cathedral is immediately recognisable with its grand architecture, cruise ships line the port and on a clear day like today you can spot neighbouring towns.
If you’re after a dose of history Museo de Cadiz is an essential stop. The museum walks through the city’s history from the Phoenicians to the Romans. My favourite part is the archaeological floor with remains from one of the first excavations.
By this time the temperature is creeping upwards to 40 degrees and my clothes are sticking to me (just for something different in southern Spain’s summer) so it’s time to get back on the bus and head to Playa de la Caleta beach. This is my favourite beach on the peninsula as it’s surround by two ancient defence fortresses. The beach itself is pretty quiet so I found some secluded rocks off the main walkway to set up camp and jump into the crystal clear water from. The water is much cleaner than the main beach and setting tranquil until a family trudged down the rock face, umbrellas, deck chairs and eskys in hand. Rest and relaxation over.
Just north of here are the beautiful gardens of Parque Genoves. They’re an oasis away from the crowds of tourists, stretching around the coast to Barrio del Mentidero. These are just another testament to the never ending beauty and romance of this old city.