Cadiz’ Best Kept Secret

Posted on October 8, 2012

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Creative Commons: Andy R.

In the Southwest of Spain, located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, you will find one of Andalusia’s most beautiful cities; Cadiz. Situated on a peninsula, the city is almost completely surrounded by water and is home to beautiful golden sandy beaches, great seafood and a laid-back atmosphere. Though a popular getaway for many Spaniards who want to get away from the cities during the hot summer months, Cadiz is not affected by mass tourism and is therefore an ideal place to relax, breathe in some sea air and enjoy the sunshine without being surrounded by hordes of people.

After a long and hectic day of traveling, I arrived there on a sunny August afternoon. With no plan and no guidebook, I was free to explore the city with an open mind and without any expectations. I spent the day wandering around in the many cobbled streets, while marveling at the immense beauty of one of Europe’s oldest cities. I didn’t see many tourists around and although I had loved the vibrant energy of the cities I’ve visited before coming here, I welcomed the tranquility and enjoyed the salty tang of the sea as I strolled along the coastline.

Back at the hostel’s front desk, I struck up a conversation with Matteo, a very friendly Italian hippie who had lived in Cadiz for several years now. Upon asking about places where I could get a good late night dinner with my friends, he let me in on a tip that I will be forever grateful for.

Following his directions, the two-minute walk from Playa de Caleta led us to the corner of Calle Pericon. A crowd of young Gaditanos having a smoke and chatting away in front of the door indicated that we were at the right place.

Bar La Isleta de La Viña

At first glance it seemed like your average Andalusian bar. It was crowded, everyone was happily chatting away and despite the late hour, there were still a lot of people eating. The bartenders didn’t speak a word of English, but were incredibly friendly. Matteo’s words had led us in the right direction so far, so I followed his advice and ordered the Carne Al Toro.

Oh, the food… My mouth waters just at the thought of it. I’d had some really great tapas over the past few weeks but nothing even came close to that little piece of heaven, right there on the plate in front of me.

After dinner, I went outside for a smoke and quickly got into a conversation with one of the Gaditanos. At this point it was past midnight and the streets surrounding the bar had gone quiet. After a little while, a police car came by, telling everyone to go inside as there was no noise allowed at night. The group immediately fell silent and, almost routinely, everyone grabbed their glass and headed back inside.

The owner closed the doors and curtains and the volume of the music playing was lowered. Instead of dampening the spirits, this only added to the laid-back atmosphere as it was starting to feel more like an intimate gathering rather than a crowded bar. Ashtrays were handed out and cigarettes were lit. Little did I know that the night was only just about to begin…

The big corner table where we were seated quickly filled up with people and out came the guitars. Right then and there, we were treated to the most incredible night of live music in the most intimate setting I could have imagined. The place turned out to be full of Cadiz’ finest musicians and everyone took their turn to play or sing. As we sat there, singing along to Buena Vista Social Club songs, the owner passed rounds of free shots and charmed us with delicious homemade tiramisu. Unbothered by my horribly poor Spanish, some of the Gaditanos chatted with me, talking about the city and teaching me how to speak with an Andalusian accent in exchange for a chance to practice their English.

Another musician entered the scene and the crowd fell silent as he played some of the best flamenco I had ever heard. For the rest of my backpacking trip, every flamenco show I saw since that moment just seemed disappointing, because none of them would ever top that private show I got, right at our table in that tiny bar in Cadiz.

Music makes the world go round!

When the bar closed, we all filled our glasses and went down to the beach, where we spent the rest of the night jamming, talking and drinking (which resulted in me having a go at the guitar), having the time of our lives until I finally gave in and dragged myself back to the hostel at 5:30 in the morning.

I later realized that what happened that night was the kind of experience you always hope for as a traveler; a taste of local culture. You don’t always get it, but every once in a while when you find yourself without a plan, you may end up walking right into it.

Bar Isleta de la Viña doesn’t have an official web page. For more information, check out their Facebook page.

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