Southern Spain’s Costa de Sol has long been a favourite sun and fun beach destination for British holidaymakers. And interest seems to grow each year – the region received around 1 million visitors in May 2016, an increase of nearly 12 per cent from the year before.
There’s no doubt that the Costa del Sol offers a multitude of amazing attractions: sandy beaches, well served resorts, over 320 days of sunshine per year, as well as glorious golf courses and white villages in abundance. However, some people find it hard to fall in love with much of the overbuilding that has taken place on this coast. Although some places still remain genuinely traditional and picturesque, much of the area is covered with what many people regard as faceless holiday home urbanisations, along with Brits abroad-style pubs and fish and chips.
Laid-back, sandy Costa de la Luz
If you crave a little more natural beauty and less commercialism than on the Costa del Sol, you might consider visiting neighbouring Costa de la Luz. Instead of flying into Malaga, book a flight to Seville, Jerez or Gibraltar and explore the tranquil southern tip of the Spanish coast; a place which remains largely untouched by package tourism.
Most people go to Tarifa, a trendy yet still traditional surf town with its glorious sandy beach and international kite and windsurfing crowd. Alternatively, you could head further along the coast, past the giant wind turbines and dry fields to other coastal gems like Conil de la Frontera, Chiclana, Zahara de los Atunes and Atlanterra, all of which boast incredibly beautiful, soft white sands complementing the simple, low-rise hotels, beach chiringuitos (beachside restaurants) and local tapas bars.
Before you book your next Spanish costa holiday, you might like to take a look at some of these favourite Costa de la Luz destinations:
Sitting majestically on the southern-most part of Spain where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic seas meet, Tarifa’s infamously strong winds bring windsurfers and kite surfers in their droves – unsurprisingly so, as Tarifa ranks third after Hawaii and the Canary Islands for surfing conditions. Being completely untouched by high-rise development, it boasts some of the most stunning white sandy beaches in Europe.
The town and its surrounding beaches are high energy, hip and trendy, perfect for the active crowd. On the beach, you can watch multi-coloured kites and sails zip by and if you don’t mind a keen wind, you can sit and soak up the sun as well as all the action. Alternatively, take part in some surfing yourself – small surf schools dot the beach and cater for all levels of ability.
Tarifa rocks by night as one of Spain’s favourite party places. During July and August it welcomes hoards of visitors seeking full-on fun, day and night. Its enchanting whitewashed streets wind through the Moorish influenced old town, giving it a distinctive North African vibe; in fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re in Morocco, just 35 minutes fast ferry ride across the water.
Conil de la Frontera
If Tarifa is too hectic, you might prefer more of a family-friendly time in Conil de la Frontera. This charming old fishing town lies south of Cadiz and many centuries ago it was an active port. It’s a lively place with a fun holiday atmosphere during summer months. But this is no package holiday resort. Expect a pretty, historic, whitewashed and unspoilt town, clustered alongside a magnificent stretch of white sandy beach. Just like on the entire Costa de la Luz, it can get windy but this is often welcome relief in the height of summer.
Here you will find mostly independent Spanish holidaymakers and nature-loving foreign visitors of all ages. They come not only for Conil’s fantastic beaches, but also to connect with the authentic, unpretentious charms of one of Spain’s best-kept former fishing villages.
The beach is wide and white, ideal for bracing walks and a true feeling of oneness with nature. Check out a number of delightful beaches nearby, the most popular being La Fontanilla which stretches out directly in front of the town covering a wide, 2 kilometre stretch of sand. The tide is gentle here and there are plenty of showers and sun loungers available, ideal for all the family.
The town gets busy in the late afternoon and evening as everyone stops to enjoy coffee, ice cream and tasty seafood dishes while the arty shops and seafront artisan market remain open until late.
Chiclana de la Frontera
For yet more untouched local charm, Chiclana de la Frontera is not short of traditional cobbled streets, flower-filled balconies and some of the finest beaches in the region. Barossa Beach is a case in point with its 6 kilometres of soft sands and its popular promenade with bars, restaurants and a lively atmosphere at one end, and a quieter, less developed area at the other. Sancti Petri Beach is also popular and both have been awarded blue flags by the European Union for their high standards of cleanliness and facilities.
If you are looking for the comforts of a hotel chain, Chiclana could be the best place to find them with its selection of top hotels, including Iberostar, Barcelo and Riu.
Just south west of Chiclana, you will get to Novo Sancti Petri, a new seaside resort area which has become very popular with Spanish tourists during summer months. The Novo Sancti Petri Golf Course is an added attraction. Partly designed by the late Seve Ballesteros, it has stunning views of the sea. Meanwhile, the small island of Sancti Petri boasts a magnificent 17th-century castle covering the ruins of Phoenician and Roman temples – jump on a ferry to take a visit.
Zahara de los Atunes
On a summer’s day, Zahara is a trendy place to be and forms a stunning natural wilderness of 20 kilometres of unspoilt white sandy beaches stretching as far as Cape Gracia. Drive south from Zahara to the lighthouse on Cape Gracia to discover some magnificent, unspoilt beaches, ideal for relaxing away from it all.
In Zahara de los Atunes itself you can enjoy a drink at a beachfront bar or in one of the few modern resort hotels sitting alongside the traditional beach hostels and cabins.
For years, Zahara was a traditional fishing village, famous for its Atlantic bluefin tuna but today it’s an increasingly popular summer beach hang-out. Its compact core of old, narrow streets and lively bars lies at the heart of the ruined 15th-century Castillo de las Almadrabas, a place where the tuna catch was once processed. In summer months, the lively beach bars spill out onto the sand, while at other times of the year, things can be quiet. Heading out south of Zahara, you will find the rather more developed holiday resort area of Atlanterra.