With sultry, sun-bleached hill towns and wide, wind-whipped beaches, the Costa de la Luz is a delicious slice of old-world Spain, says Antonia Quirke. And what of these famous, untainted beaches? Bright with an implacable light, the Costa de la Luz is so capricious it will never find favour with those seeking the drugging reliability of the Costa del Sol. The Atlantic winds sweep in with an immense power, wrapping your cheeks around the back of your head, winds you can actually lean into on the beach at Roches and El Palmar but which can whip up suddenly to sandblast bathers, forcing families to run shrieking in towels to the safety of the juniper forests hugging the coastline.
The fifth largest city in Andalucía, Jerez is a perfect place to start a tour of the hill towns (pueblos blancos) and nearby beaches of Costa de la Luz, the stretch of spectacular natural reserves running from the mouth of the Guadiana River on the Portuguese-Spanish border down to the small city of Tarifa just over the water from Tangier. Nights in Jerez are for indulgence. On a wooden carousel in Plaza del Arenal, bright-painted Spanish horses are polished for the hours and children to come, and gas lamps glimmer on tables outside sherry bars along Calle San Pablo. Walk for long minutes through the elegantly shabby old city and you will find nothing but silent alleys and part-derelict houses sprouting fig trees or a weeping bottlebrush. Scarlet pomegranate flowers loll over hoardings decades-thick with posters for bullfights, a powerful flash-vision of western Asia meeting ancient Crete, that quintessentially southern-Spanish union.
To eat in southern Spain is really to snack between snacks. One place might sell small plates of delicious grilled aubergine and goat’s cheese drizzled with honey, another might specialise in taquitos de pescado en adobo, melting fried morsels of white fish that tell you the sea, and miles and miles of unspoilt dunes, is close at hand. Even the olives here taste subtly of anchovies.