To one side are the menacing waves of the Atlantic, to the other, the mountains of Morocco loom on the horizon. Tarifa is uniquely positioned at the point where Africa meets Europe, where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean. The result is a unique, other worldly destination for those after an alternative to the traditional Spanish Costas further down the coast.
Tarifa is nestled at the southern most point of Continental Europe, facing Africa across the Straits of Gibraltar. Its remoteness results in a decidedly end of the world feel with an eclectic mix of Spanish and Moroccan influences. For a town which is on a more southerly latitude than either Tunis or Algiers, Tarifa feels disconnected from the rest of the Spanish coast. Buffeted by Atlantic waves on one side, Tarifa has developed into one of Europe’s premier windsurfing centres and has led to a myriad of windsurfing shops and schools growing in the town.
Tarifa’s dramatic position facing the often menacing Straits of Gibraltar has shaped the town historically, with numerous coastal defences dotted in and around Tarifa, in particular the Castillo Santa Catalina on its southern edge.
Many visitors to Tarifa are destined for the ferry terminal where ferries speedily depart for Tangiers, not stopping in the town. This is a shame, as Tarifa has much to offer, in particular in its often overlooked Old Town. The historic Puerta de Jerez on the Avenida de Andaluca, provides a doorway into the maze of atmospheric white washed streets that descend to the port. Notable landmarks include the Iglesia de Santa Maria which lies at the heart of the Old Town and its ornate and immense interior is worth the detour alone. Hidden away amongst the maze of narrow streets however, is the highlight of the Old Town, the Plaza Santa Maria. Accessed via a steep flight of steps, this Square could have been transplanted from Seville or any of the great Andalucian cities, with its mix of Arabic and traditional Spanish Colonial architecture. The Arabic curves and lines of the Biblioteca are an apt reminder of the proximity of Morocco across the Straits. Framed by palms and lemon trees, the building exudes the Moorish exotism of Andalucian Spain found in Seville and Granada. On the other side of the square, is the traditional Spanish colonial Ayuntamiento or Town Hall. Their juxtaposition, symbolic of the layers of history that characterise this corner of Spain.
A short walk to the southeast of the Plaza Santa Maria is a small landscaped area framed by traditional Colonial buildings that provides the perfect viewpoint out to the Straits of Gibraltar. From here, on a clear day the cliffs of Morocco are within touching distance. The Straits jostle with immense cargo vessels facing the Atlantic ahead, as well as the regular passage of ferries from the port below.
Returning to the waters edge, however, is Tarifa’s greatest attraction, its stunning white sand beaches, in particular the Playa de Los Lances, which seemingly extends forever to the west of the town. Even if not a wind surfer, the rolling waves provide a mesmerising backdrop to any tour of the town. To the east, stretches the Estrecho Natural Park, with its windswept coastal vistas, and certainly worthy of an afternoon’s excursion.
Tarifa, as it may now be apparent, is not your run of the mill destination. Relatively remote beyond the motorway network, the town is accessed via a single road that snakes its way down the hillside. Initial impressions may be mixed with shabby housing estates lining the roadsides, many with dramatic murals reminiscent of the banlieues of Paris. However, Tarifa, as with its history, is multi layered which catches the visitor unawares. Whilst the town is far from being off the tourist trail, there is still very much a feel that Tarifa is waiting to be truly discovered.
Tarifa: the windswept frontier
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“Tarifa is uniquely positioned at the point where Africa meets Europe, where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean.”