The hot weather has arrived. And what do kids love to do best in the summer? Go to the beach. And who am I to deny them their dearest wish? Better than sitting at home sweating and wanting to kill each other, that’s for sure. With so many great beaches within easy reach of Seville, it seems rude not to.
So the last two Sundays (budget doesn’t stretch to nights away these days) we have put the parasols (yes, we have two), UV tent, enough suncream for my son’s entire infant school class, and sunsuits for the three of us (two kids and me, their father is light mahogany coloured already), and headed off towards Cadiz for some beach action. Normally, we’d go to Mazagon, as it’s so much closer, but with El Rocio happening, that direction was best avoided.
It’s a pleasant drive, along the carretera nacional (more direct than the autopista, and free) past rolling hills planted with everything from sunflowers to onions. You go past the town of Las Cabezas de San Juan, where apparently the Moors cut off the heads of all the inhabitants about 800 years ago (propaganda perhaps?). How ghoulish. You also pass windmills, which I love. And near to the coast, there are some beautiful old bodegas.
On our first outing, we went to a beach called La Jara. I’m not 100% sure if that was its name, as every tiny stretch of water where you can lay a towel seems to have a name around here, but that was the closest thing on the map . Anyway, it was near Chipiona – we could see the lighthouse – and it had an added attraction, which I find often lacking in straight, characterless, cliffless Spanish beaches (the Algarve wins out in that respect). It had corrales marinos, walled tidal pools with crabs, prawns, sole and countless other finned and suckered creatures. When the tide comes in, the animal are washed into the pools; and when it goes out again, they get stuck there, ready to be caught and taken off to a nearby restaurant kitchen for your delectation.
Not only did these make the beach look more interesting – plain sand-and-sea doesn’t really do it for me – it was also a perfect destination for a family expedition. The walls have a flat tops, and are made of limestone and piedra ostionera – stone with oysters stuck to it, which makes the surface rough. Great for not slipping, not so great for falling over on. But we had a wonderful walk, saw armies of crabs scuttling under rocks and into holes, to the children’s delight, and it reminded me of my beloved rock-pooling when I was a child. There were even some kids poking around in the rocks nearest the beach, buckets and nets in hand. Nothing like a small shelled beastie in a shallow bit of water to excite a wee one.
This beach scored high on accessibility – very short walk from car park; availability of cold drinks – kiosk in said car park; and uncrowdedness – said car park was of very limited capacity – yoh! Now that’s my kind of beach -“Sorry, we’re full up, can’t let anyone else in at the moment. You’ll just have to wait until someone leaves.” What it didn’t have was a chiringuito – I’ve now learned my lesson and will be taking sandwiches in future.
Last Sunday, we decided to try another beach. This was very close to the first one, next to Sanlucar de Barrameda at the mouth of the Guadalquivir. Don’t ask me exactly where, as we approached it along endless narrow residential roads, between high walls and fences. This time we parked in a beachfront restaurant car park (crap food, tried to overcharge us, never again). I think it might have been a place called Bonanza, as that appeared on the map, and I liked the name.
This one scored well for its soft sand and shade – we huddled under some tall grass-type plant while the parasols arrived. However it had litter – possibly brought over by the tide from the El Rocio hordes, across the river in Doñana Park. Spain was recently awarded 511 Blue Flags for its beaches, more than any other European country (although does it have more too?). The 66 here in Andalucia include two very close to our previous week’s destination: Cruz del Mar-Las Canteras, and Camaron-La Laguna, both in Chipiona. But no, unsurprisingly, this one.
This beach also had some dead fish, and even a jellyfish. Again, the rockpooling options were there: when the tide went out, lots of rocks were uncovered and left jutting out of the sand. Lots of locals were hunting for camarones, tiny prawns, with fishing nets. Wearing ugly, chunky sports sandals, I was able to negotiate these, but only after cutting my foot in three places going barefoot out of sheer stubborness.
There was a wonderful seaside villa here, called Marbella, a 1920s building with little balconies which stuck out over the beach. I love decaying grandeur – all those old colonial towns like Pondicherry in India, and La Habana. It clearly hadn’t been used in a while, but it didn’t take much imagination to see glamorous people milling about in gorgeous frocks, sipping champagne and comparing yachts. Very F Scott Fitzgerald.
Back down to earth, and that restaurant – so fabulously located, it has steps going down to the beach – had wonderful views and so much potential, and yet the food was worse than a school dinner. That is an unimaginable crime, on a coast that is crammed full of seafood – diminished in supply, but it’s still there. This week’s adventure was reaching the restaurant’s steps when the tide was in – you had to make a run for it before the waves got you. Running the gauntlet, if you like.
Always being a nosy cow (essential quality in a journalist, I was told many years ago), I enjoyed checking out the modern beachfront houses – not as marvellous as the F Scott Fitzgerald place, but not bad either. One had a Mexican flag – maybe La Reina del Sur lives there? Perfect spot for a bit of import-export. I wouldn’t turn my nose up at a place spitting distance from the soft sand, and I don’t think the kids would either, though I’d choose somewhere cleaner than this.