Having spent most of my adult life in places within two hours of the sea, we felt the itch to head to the coast for the weekend after our beautiful time in Sevilla. We were also searching for milder temperature during the oncoming heat wave.
Cadiz, an ancient port first established by the Phoenicians four millenia ago, looked promising. History says that Cadiz is regarded by many as the oldest, continually inhabited city in Western Europe including the Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Byzantine, Moors (where the name “Cadiz” is derived), Castilians, and very briefly (for 1 brief month of looting and conquest) by the British before Spain reclaimed it.
When we arrived, I was surprised. Cadiz is a small city. In a little over two miles, we could (and did multiple times) walk the perimeter through parks, posh hotels and stone walkways. The city surrounded on all sides by deep blue Atlantic ocean wasn’t like any other traditional “beach town” we had been to. While miles of beaches stretched along its northern tip and southern strip, Cadiz still appeared more like an ancient port to me, with large stone rocks holding up the walls surrounding the city, keeping the Atlantic waves from overtaking the cobbled streets filled with tapas bars, sea food taverns and flamenco. Cats roamed around these warm, stone walls, sunbathing and fighting seagulls for scraps.
Walking along the stone walkways and bridges, Cadiz almost seemed unwelcoming to outsiders, the old protectors from millennia past still holding the city’s guard.
Sitting on the walls of Santa Catalina, a pentagon shaped castle, I could imagine looking out – perhaps the way the Phoenicians did while they moored their boats in 1100 BC – inspecting the harbor for arrivals. While sun bathers and umbrellas scattered on any small area of sand in the famous La Playa de la Caleta, the town felt distinctly militaristic to me and was, compared to Sevilla, far more Spanish speaking; we were taking a weekend at the beach the way other families in Andalusia would, making for exciting and crowded plazas and markets.
Given our short trip, we focused on just a few activities, mostly food related or what would see on our evening walks without tickets (our weekend was too short to stand in a line). The famous San Sebastian was closed, so we took our tour by foot and mouth.
A beach town meant delicious fish. So we spent most of our meals eating some kind of creature from the sea, be in sushi at the mercado – the best we’ve had in Spain, and certainly one of the loveliest markets, tortilla de camarones – a Cadiz specialty of fried shrimp pancake, and every fish we could find en adobo – fried in batter.
Now, I have had my share of food related injuries, typically because I am impatient and far too excited at the sight of a tasty, buttery, hot, or crispy dish. To memory (and I probably missed a few) this has included 4 burns (one time, in excitement over hot and sour soup, I spilled the entire container on my hand), a trip to the dentist, a horrible incident of eating too many crispy, flakey croissants in Paris before discovering my lactose intolerance was far worse (I nearly missed a wedding), and one especially embarrassing incident of choking while eating bruschetta at a restaurant in a castle in Tuscany (I needed the heimlich. How was I supposed to know how crunchy those little pieces of toast would be?). I can say that standing at the tapas bar at Frieduria Las Flores, I can now add one more incident of burned finger while excitedly holding a fresh-off-the-pan tortilla de camerones to that mix. And like so many of the other incidents – except for when I dropped the soup – I regret nothing.
Other than touring the castle at Santa Catalina and walking around the town to take pictures outside of the Cathedral or plazas, we didn’t do any other traditional tourist activities. So the below are mainly food related favorites, which is, after all, the most important.
For fried fish and anything tapa related, Frieduria Las Flores, is hands down the best place we have ever had for fried fish considering the quality, ambiance, and price. As another plus, it did not feel touristy at all, especially with the lack of English speaking. It’s really a good thing the food was all so tasty, since we honestly didn’t know what we were ordering. The place is slammed all day, but usually the tapas bar is open. You can stand at the bar, feel local, and if you – like us – know very little Spanish, gesture and point at the delicious things coming out of the kitchens. We ordered 2/3 of the tapas menu, and the kind bartender, showed us the proper way to eat a whole caballa en adobo: with your hands. I think we must have been amusing because we got a few drinks on the house.
Gadisushi, at the mercado central, was out of this world. Beyond just sushi, I highly recommend going to this beautiful market. It was quite romantic to sit at one of the high tops in the market at sunset (it’s very casual), watching as each of the other shops began to open up around 8-9pm, their rainbow lights flickering on as couples, families and groups of friends begin to come back from the beach to grab a bite and drink. Our favorite was the bluefin tuna sashimi, which is pretty expensive in California and extremely affordable here. The quality was similar to Athen’s sushi, but with a lot more variety and a price that matched.
We went to several places for coffee and breakfast, a few times just to hide from the heat. Our two favorite cafes are Café Royalty and Monkey Café. One thing we noticed in Cadiz is the popularity of hot chocolates, and not the Swiss Miss kind, but very serious, thick hot chocolate which is available at any cafe you go to.
Café Royalty is more formal, and the focus isn’t as much on the food as the ornate interior decoration (there’s a baby grand piano and beautifully painted ceilings) and ambiance of the place. It was a really relaxing breakfast for us. Monkey Café, on the other hand, is a lot more casual with really tasty coffee, which is especially great when you pair it with some fresh baked pastries.
Finally, as you wait to build up an appetite to scarf down any or all of those recommendations, take a walk along the water before dinner. The sunset is amazing, and bringing me back to the red, orange and purposes from our time in Santorini.