Columbus sailed from here and Drake sneaked in to "singe the King of Spain's beard". Cádiz remains a city of intrigue and mystery …
Ntra. Sra. del Rosario
Carnival (it's a huge occasion in Cádiz)
Festividad de Ntra. Sra. del Rosario, 7th October
Los Tostantos, a festival of eating and drinking, 31st October
Cádiz, built on a narrow, fist-shaped spit of land jutting into and completely surrounded by the sea, is probably Europe's oldest, continuously inhabited city. A city which continues to evoke the romance and mystery of centuries of trade (some legal, some not so) between Europe, Africa and the Americas.
Founded by the Phoenicians around 1,100 BC. it is, first and foremost, a port - its history loud with broadsides and buccaneering, with armadas and sieges. Columbus sailed out of here and Drake sneaked in to "singe the King of Spain's beard". In Julius Caesar's day, salted fish was being shipped from here back to Rome.
It is a city made up of two towns, old and new. The old town is shaped like a fist smashing into the Atlantic, a place with cobbles under foot, balconies overhead and streets tight enough to keep secrets. The new town is the trailing arm, a sprawl of shops, colleges and apartment blocks that went up largely in the 1960s and 1970s.
In the Bond film 'Die Another Day', the old town pretends, plausibly, to be Havana. The city has often been compared to Havana, and after a couple of days strolling around, dipping in and out of the dense mesh of narrow streets, it is easy to see why. Visitors continually find themselves lost here as nearly every road ends at the sea, regardless of which direction it is heading in, north, south, east or west …
Literally crumbling - the effects of brine on its soft limestone - the city has tremendous atmosphere: slightly seedy, much of it in decline, but still full of intrigue and mystery.
One of the first impressions is the luminous intensity of the light reflecting off stone and whitewashed exteriors. Laurie Lee likened Cádiz to a scimitar "lying curved on the bay and sparkling with African light".
Cádiz has no grand designs or big-name architects. Walk around its cobbled streets, pickled in centuries of Andalusian sunshine, and it's the vernacular, the everyday, the ordinary that catch the eye - elegant mirador-fronted facades painted in pastel shades, blind alleys, cafes and ancient back streets imprisoned behind formidable fortifications.
Its heyday was in the early 18th century, when the Chamber of Commerce of the Americas was transferred from Sevilla, bringing with it wealthy merchants who built lavish homes and created a prosperous, glamorous society.
Much of Cádiz still looks as it must have done in those great days of the Spanish Empire, with its grand open squares, tiled alleyways, secret courtyards and high, turreted houses.
Built in the porous local stone and painted ochre, pink, pistachio green and duck-egg blue, some of these mansions are now faded and decrepit but others are now newly restored and pristine, bought by the fashion and design conscious of Sevilla.
Glassed-in balconies sparkle in the sunlight, framed by dainty wrought-iron balustrades painted silver or white. Many of these houses are topped with turrets from which lookouts scanned the horizon for ships with valuable cargoes, returning from the New World.
A city of intrigue and history, at the same time it's also very friendly - the people of Cádiz (gaditanos) are famed throughout Spain for their hospitality, humour and good nature. There is nothing swanky about Cádiz, but its people live well and the city has a lovely, laid-back vibe.
The seafood and the sherry is the best in Spain and Cádiz's reputation as a party town goes back to Roman times.
Very relaxed and easy-going, a place for mooching around and indulging in low-key, simple pleasures. It's a sort of Spanish "mini-Manhattan", a place to throw away the map and just stroll through its rod-straight streets, tightly packed alleyways and plazas large and small.
Squares like Plaza San Antonio and Plaza Candelaria make wonderful pit stops where you simply must sample the magnificent seafood and sherry of the tapas bars and cafés.
The fish and shellfish is some of the best and freshest in the world. Best eaten as simply cooked as possible, plain boiled shellfish, grilled or baked whole fish such as lubina (bass) or dorada (bream), or deep fried with a light flour coating, especially puntillitas (baby squid) and boquerones (anchovies).
To eat cheaply, head for Calle Zorrilla which has several tapas bars and street vendors, or the open air terraces of the restaurants in Calle de la Palma. For a splurge, the best place in town is Restaurante El Faro (Calle San Félix) and even here the food can be quite cheap, especially if you stand at the bar and eat only tapas.
Fino, a bone dry sherry from Jerez, or manzanilla, a similar wine from Sanlucar de Barrameda, is the perfect aperitif!
In between the eating and drinking, there's the Roman amphitheatre, the cathedral and the museum on Plaza Mina. The cathedral's tower provides spectacular views and the camera obscura in the Torre Tavira gives you a fantastic window on the city. Located in one of the towers originally used by merchants to watch out for their ships returning home from the Americas, it provides a wonderful, birds-eye view of the old part of town.
Cádiz's churches are filled with wonders such as the Goya frescoes in the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva, and a haunting El Greco in the chapel of the Hospital de Mujeres.
Stroll around the city walls, built to protect the city after the British attack and sacking in 1596. Start near the Plaza España on the north side of the city and follow the massive coastal defences all the way round to the Puerta de Tierra, which separates old Cádiz from the new city.
Take in the lovely Parque Genovés with its exotic flora shipped back from all over the world and the parrots which nest in them, the castle of Santa Catalina, the beach at La Caleta (which boasts Spain's best sunsets) and the magnificent Avenida Campo del Sur where the golden-domed cathedral dominates the skyline.
Buy local produce in the ultramarinos (delicatessens) that you find on almost every street. Bottled fruit, olives, sherries (of course) and other local wines, sheep and goat's cheese, hams …The food is mouth-watering and the shops themselves are a national treasure. The Central Market is also well worth a visit in the morning, especially the fish section.
The gaditanos are a happy crowd and make the most of their temperate weather by pouring onto the streets at every opportunity, by day and night. For night spots try the Playa de la Victoria beach area or, in the old town, the areas around Plaza San Francisco, Calle Rosario and anywhere in Barrio de la Viña (the old fishermen's district) where you'll also find flamenco bars.
Cádiz hosts one of the world's biggest winter fiestas, the pre-Lent Carnival celebrations. The city stops work for 10 days and devotes itself to singing, dancing, fancy dress and, of course, drinking. Revellers' sing their satirical, sharply off-beat songs, often of a political nature and with clever word plays. Thousands pour into the city but beware, there won't be a free seat in a bar, let alone a vacant hotel room.
One way to experience Carnival on the cheap, and perhaps the preferred way of Andalusian locals, is to board an afternoon train heading to Cádiz, spend the night singing and dancing, then catch the first train back in the morning (where the singing, dancing and drinking will continue unabated!)
As the official Cádiz web site says in its inimitable English, "Don’t just lick your ice cream to get cool. Visit Cadiz now!"