I loved Cadiz! From the minute we drove over the spectacular bridge on the approach to the city, I was hooked. There’s something for everyone: history, culture, beaches and a wonderfully relaxed gastronomic scene that the Spanish do so well.
I had read about the Mercado Central de Abastos, the food market, selling, among other things, the most amazing array of fresh fish. Living with a chef and both of us loving the theatre of Mediterranean markets, it was there that we headed first. We wound our way through the maze of narrow cobbled streets which gave way to pretty squares, alive with musicians playing intoxicating music.
We heard the market before we saw it: the hum of activity, the rallying cries of the stallholders and the chatter of people enjoying the delights of fresh tapas and a glass of local sherry in the bars around the edge. The market was originally built in the early 1800’s and, as such, is the oldest indoor market in Spain. With its simple pleasures, largely untouched by modern life, it felt like nothing much had changed since then. How refreshing.
Having whiled away a few hours wandering around and people watching over a coffee, it was off to the beach. Surrounded as it is by water on three sides, you are never too far away from one in Cadiz. We followed the locals with their deckchairs, tables and picnic baskets and found ourselves on Playa de la Caleta, of Halle Berry fame no less. Apparently Cadiz is so similar to Havana that they filmed one of the scenes in the Bond film Die Another Day here rather than there.
Being a Friday afternoon, the atmosphere was full of pre-weekend energy. There was every age, shape and size installed in their favourite spot on the beach appreciating the respite from the afternoon heat. We walked to the very end of the promenade, right out into the Atlantic, imagining the ships setting sail for distant lands. Cadiz has a strong maritime history and the battle of Trafalgar took place here in 1805.
We ambled back through the old fishing quarter. These days the fishermen’s cottages have given way to a host of restaurants. The streets are lined with tables, all fully occupied with the serious business of eating lunch. The pungent aroma of garlic hangs heavy in the air. The chef decided to indulge his passion for sardines and managed to consume a full plate of them only to regret it later!
Our short but invigorating stay was almost at an end. But there was so much more to visit. As the oldest port in Europe Cadiz oozes history. Spain’s first constitution was passed here in 1812 in Oratorio de San Felipe Neri and then read out to the people in Plaza San Antonio, one of the squares we had walked through. All of this in the midst of an attack from Napoleon who, in the end, failed to win over the city.
Aside from that, there’s a buzzing nightlife scene which I was particularly sorry not to have sampled. But one thing I knew for sure as we crossed back over the enormous bridge in our little Fiat 500: I will be back! Cadiz had captured a place in my heart and one visit was definitely not enough.