Summer 2017 and I wanted to find some rural accommodation, near a beach, in Spain. The search began with one of my favourite websites, Responsible Travel, and through them I found somewhere which ticked all our boxes for the perfect family holiday, on the Costa de la Luz near Cadiz in southern Spain.
We chose the lovely El Sueno casitas, in the shadow of the imposing white hilltop town of Vejer de la Frontera. We shared a pool with four other small villas which meant the kids found it quite easy to make friends.
The Costa de la Luz isn’t only about glorious beaches – there are picture perfect hilltop towns and historical sites to visit too. I had plans of outings to local cities and sights (in the early morning to escape the heat) and spending lazy afternoons by the pool. But we took the kids to our local beach, El Palmar, on the first day, and we were all bitten by the beach bug.
It was the warm waves that did it. Quickly purchasing some bodyboards for the boys, we busied ourselves playing in the warm waves of the Atlantic Ocean, building elaborate sandcastles, and space rockets, and writing in the sand. The beach was truly our playground and the Costa de la Luz, with its wealth of great beaches, put itself high on our list of great family holiday locations.
We did venture away from the beach, and I’m really glad we did. If you’re planning a family holiday on the Costa de la Luz (out of season if you’re not sure about the 40degree heat!) here are our top tips with kids for the local area:
- Away from the coast, Seville is a fantastically beautiful city, and well worth the nearly two hour drive from our accommodation. It was an easy sell to our kids – the Plaza de España was the setting for Planet Naboo in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. If you have a 6yo boy, this will get them happily to the city, though they may be disappointed not to actually see R2-D2 and Anakin on arrival. Once in Seville the Alcázar is a must. Our boys loved the labyrinth of rooms, and the highlight was undoubtedly the hedge maze.
- The coastal town of Tarifa has a wonderful atmosphere, and there’s lots for the kids to engage with. On both days we visited we started our trips with crepes at the Cafe Azul. We went dolphin and whale-watching with FIRMM (sadly no orcas, but we did see a Sperm Whale that was as big as our boat!), and we visited the Castillo de Guzmán el Bueno. A bargain at 4 euros for the adults, and the kids were free. Castle walls to roam (and terrify mums with vertigo) and a really engaging, hands-on museum.
- Cadiz, at the western edge of the Costa de la Luz, is another beautiful place. Unfortunately we visited on our second morning – the boys wanted to go to the beach. We lasted until about midday before finally giving in! I would have liked to see more, but sometimes you’ve got to put the kids first. We did go up the Torre Tavira for wonderful views over the city. One day I’ll go back – and if I’m with the kids I’ll do my research first and find a hook to draw them in.
- Like much of Andalucia, the Costa de la Luz is dotted with spectacular hilltop white towns. Vejer de la Frontera was our local white town – lucky us! It’s firmly on the tourist trail, but you forgive it when you wander through the labyrinth of streets and have spectacular views out over the surrounding countryside. We went up for dinner a few times during our visit. Heading to the gourmet market in the centre meant we could get pizza for the kids, and local specialities for us, with very quaffable, very cheap wine. A winner all round. Finishing up with ice-cream and a wander through the streets kept all members of the family very happy.
- A family holiday on the Costa de la Luz wouldn’t be complete without a trip or two (or ten) to the beach, and the beaches were fantastic. Yes, we were there in high season, so yes the beaches were crowded, but that didn’t dampen our experience as much as we might have expected. So in our order of preference, here are the beaches we visited:
- Zahara de los Atunes – great for bodyboarding, crystal clean sea and the softest sand for squidging toes into. Accessed via walkways over the dunes
- Barbate – ‘raw’ as described by the chap who owned our holiday accommodation. The water wasn’t crystal clear, but great for kids bodyboarding and playing in the waves with flat sand going out for a long while. Delicious churros, and lots of choice of restaurants, bars and heladarias (ice cream cafes) along the wide promenade. A place to watch the Spanish live and play on the beach.
- El Palmar – the centre of the surf scene. On the second day we went there the waves were quite something! But our kids were happy playing in the white water as it rolled by. Best beach for collecting shells, and a fantastic restaurant (Casa Francisco) with wonderfully fresh paella, a kids menu of swordfish, and live lobsters in a tank to keep the children entertained.
- Caños de Meca – unusually for this part of the coast, the beach is in a shallow cove, with rock pools to explore. We thought it was beautiful. The rock pools weren’t as full of life as we’d hoped, and the beach dropped away sharply into the seaweedy-sea quite quickly, meaning the kids weren’t quite as happy just playing in the water.
- Barossa Beach – we visited this on the way back from our less-than-successful trip to Cadiz. Lovely tapas lunch before having some beach play time, but otherwise, not particularly memorable.