Two beautiful and historic Moorish hilltop towns
VEJER DE LA FRONTERA & MEDINA SIDONIA
- Authentic rural charm â€“ pretty Moorish hilltop towns with narrow, windy streets and whitewashed houses covered with flowers, offering spectacular views of beautiful scenery.
- Beaches – a short, easy drive from the Costa de la Luz (Vejer is 15km, Medina Sidonia is 40km), with its fabulous sandy beaches.
- Wine – the sherry bodegas of Jerez de la Frontera are 70km away from Vejer, and 35km from Medina Sidonia â€“ go on a tour and tasting of this misunderstood but versatile wine, unique to the area.
- Gastronomy – fantastic tapas bars with spectacular views to the Atlantic â€“ don’t miss the blue-fin tuna season in spring.
- Sport – watersports mecca Tarifa is just 50km from Vejer (75km from Medina Sidonia) â€“ you can take a day-trip from there to Morocco.
The Costa de la Luz, an untouched area of southern Spain
The real Andalucia, with charming and historic towns full of pretty white houses, reached along quiet roads
The pueblos blancos of Andalucia are well-loved by those in the know â€“ visitors who adore to explore ancient, characterful villages, sprawled spectacularly over hillsides, white houses and churches clinging to the steep slopes with commanding views over the surrounding fields and valleys, hidden alleys and courtyards revealing bursts of multi-coloured floral exuberance.
Built many centuries ago by the Moors in strategically defensive positions, these hilltowns offer an intimate view of Spain’s intriguing past, with Arabic and Roman remains. But this rich heritage lives harmoniously alongside modern-day gastronomy â€“ their tapas bars and markets have an impressively inventive offering for such small towns.
Medina Sidonia has a long history stretching back to Phoenician times â€“ the engineering feats of the next settlers, the Romans, can still be seen today. This is the seat of the oldest dukedom in Spain, which dates back to the 15th century. The first Duke of Medina Sidonia was a descendant of the famous Guzman El Bueno, who held off the Moors in the siege of Tarifa and was rewarded by the king with vast tracts of land across Spain and lucrative tuna-fishing rights off the Cadiz coast.
The Medina Sidonia line has continued to this day, with the current 22nd Duke of Medina Sidonia; his mother, known as the Red Duchess, was a feisty and fearless aristocrat who gave away much of her land to rural cooperatives.
Today you can still see city gates from the Moorish era of the town, and the magnificent Gothic Santa Maria la Coronada church, built over the remains of a mosque. The elegant Plaza de Espaí±a is a good spot to soak up the local atmosphere, while admiring the renaissance Ayuntamiento (Town Hall).
Vejer de la Frontera is also perched atop a hill – so close to the Costa de la Luz that you have amazing sea views from the town, right across to Morocco. One of the coast’s most popular beaches, El Palmar â€“ a 12km stretch of golden sand â€“ is just a ten-minute drive away.
The main square is a delight: a pretty palm-shaded plaza called Plaza de Espaí±a, whose delightful tiled fountain is decorated with famous colourful ceramic frogs. Medieval city walls and the Moorish alcazaba (castle), along with some arches, are still standing; you can climb up and walk along the turreted battlements in places, such as in Casa Mayorazgo; look out for the town of Medina Sidonia in the distance (Vejer was also was also ceded to Guzman El Bueno as a reward for recapturing the town from Moors). Worth visiting is the Iglesia del Divino Salvador church, with an unusual combination of Mudejar and Gothic styles.
These two towns, which are located around 30km from each other, both have a delightfully dry, sunny climate. Located in Cadiz province, they have excellent access: Medina Sidonia is close to the super-scenic A81 motorway, while Vejer is reached on the A340, a fast dual-carriageway road.
This region of Cadiz province is bordered by the sea to the south and west, and the Sierra de Cadiz-Alcornocales Natural Park to the north and east.
ENJOY LEISURE PURSUITS IN STUNNING NATURAL SURROUNDINGS â€“ UNSPOILED HILLSIDE AND COASTAL SCENERY
You can enjoy superb watersports and horse-rides, or pop across the sea to Africa
With its beautiful unspoiled coastline, this is an area whose beaches are begging to be explored. The Costa de la Luz one of Spain’s foremost areas for watersports, with surfers heading to El Palmar and Los Caí±os de la Meca near Vejer, while Tarifa is world-famous for windsurfing and kitesurfing, with its strong onshore breezes blowing across the Straits of Gibraltar from Africa. Another scenic and close-to-nature activity is horse-riding â€“ either along the beach itself or in the seaside pine forests.
A popular family excursion is whale-watching, with boats leaving Tarifa port, and nature-lovers can also enjoy bird-watching in Marismas de Barbate wetland close to Vejer. The more adventurous can take the ferry across to Morocco, for a Tangiers day-trip, where you can enjoy this ancient city with its hillside medina and souk full of vibrant spices and colourful leather goods, as well as the traditional teapots and pretty decorated tea glasses.
For art aficionados, just outside Vejer is the Fundacion Montenmedio Arte Contemporaneo, an open-air sculpture park.
GASTRONOMY IN A REGION RICH WITH SUPERB SEAFOOD AND UNIQUE WINES
Local beef, tuna, and wine-tastings at a bodega in Jerez
Local gastronomic delicacies in this area not to be missed include prime retinto beef, from cows which graze on nearby pastures, as well as hanging out on the beach; and atun de almadraba, the tenderest tuna you’ve ever tasted.
The tuna is caught in an ancient system of tunnels and nets, invented by the Phoenicians, Mediterranean traders and settlers, in around 800 BC. Today it is one of the most sustainable fishing methods – only tuna of a minimum weight are taken.
In April and May these seaside towns hold tuna routes, so you can try the prized fish prepared and cooked in a range of styles, in different restaurants – tartare (raw diced) or sashimi, to get the full effect of the juicy flavour and light, silky texture.
Retinto beef comes from the Sierra de Retin mountains, and is known for its soft, lean meat with a nutty taste, thanks to a diet of acorns. Visitors are often surprised to see these horned cows lying on the sandy seaside.
In the area around Jerez, known as the Sherry Triangle â€“ between Jerez itself, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria â€“ palomino and PX grapes are grown in the sandy albariza soil, which are then made into the various different types of sherry, each of which pairs perfectly with different types of food, from fino or manzanilla with cheese and fish, to oloroso with red meat, and PX with desserts. The solera method of blending sherry is unlike any other â€“ learn about it on a fascinating bodega tour, which finishes up with the all-important tasting.
FOOD AND WINE GOODIES
Discover traditional local produce to take home, in bodegas and markets
It’s worth making the trip to Barbate, a fishing town near Vejer on the Costa de la Luz, to buy atun de almadraba products, with all variety of cuts, from neck and cheek to belly, preserved in glass jars and tins, as well as mojama (dried tuna, known as jamon of the sea) â€“ look out for Gadira and Baelo shops. If it’s Saturday morning, don’t miss the market, which has the freshest fish, straight from the morning’s catch.
When in Jerez, after your bodega tour and sherry tasting, why not buy a bottle of your preferred wine? Drinking a glass of vino de Jerez at home will transport you back to your sunny, relaxed holiday in southern Spain.
Medina Sidonia continues the Moorish tradition for pastries and sweets â€“ alfajares, tubes of honey, almond and dried fruit, are the local speciality, while the crumbly lard biscuits of Vejer are called vejeriegas.