Why go here?
Costa de la Luz means "coast of the light" and is so named for its expansive, golden, fine-sand beaches and dazzling brightness (thanks to 3,000 hours of annual sunshine).
This is the windy, Atlantic shoreline of western Andalucia, extending from the Portuguese border at Ayamonte, in Huelva province, to Tarifa, at the mouth of the Med to the south-east. But you should concern yourself with the eastern 160-mile stretch, in Cadiz province. Although cherished by Spanish holidaymakers, this part of the Costa de la Luz has only gradually been discovered by the British and other north Europeans. And they don't just come for the beaches. There's also the gastronomy and the cultural, historical and outdoor attractions that are within easy reach. It may be just along the coast from the Costa del Sol, but it might as well be a million miles away.
The great outdoors
There's a sandy spot for every wish – from secluded coves to watersports. Seek out a space at the cliff-backed calas outside Conil de la Frontera, or get a piece of the action at Playa de Valdevaqueros in the shadow of huge dunes. It's part of an unbroken stretch of sand that runs to Tarifa and is a favourite with kiteboarders and windsurfers. For a more bohemian vibe, head for Los Canos de Meca, but this area is also noted for its protected nature reserves, including the tranquil surroundings of Donana National Park and the Natural Parks of Bahia de Cadiz and La Brena y Marismas del Barbate. Explore them on foot, bike and even by boat. Families can head to the Aqua Sherry water park (wswinternational.com), between Cadiz and Puerto de Santa Maria, which has lots of slides, rides and a tidal wave pool for surfing, as well as a picnic area, cafés and restaurants.
The history trail
Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths and, of course, the Moors – they've all left their mark and the ancient history of the province is evident right all along the coast. Among the remains of the Roman city of Baelo Claudia, on Bolonia beach, near Tarifa, are the outlines of the factories that produced garum, a sought-after salty fish sauce. At Cape Trafalgar, contemplate the site of the naval battle of 1805 where Nelson defeated the joint Spanish and French fleets. Next year, the bicentenary of the signing of the 1812 Spanish constitution will be celebrated – visit pretty Plaza San Antonio, in Cadiz, where it was proclaimed. The Moorish legacy is most visible in the well-preserved, white hilltop towns such as Vejer de la Frontera, which is just inland.
The retail therapy
Self-caterers should make the journey at least once to the Saturday morning market in Cadiz – the huge seafood section is a sight to behold. Otherwise, don't go home without some of the famous preserved fish such as almadraba tuna (see Conservas de Cadiz). Pick up olive oil from the sierras and sweet biscuits and cakes made by the nuns in Medina Sidonia. Conil is known for its ceramics, while Vejer is a good place for wickerwork products. Tarifa is a pleasant place to while away some time checking out the trendy boutiques. Alternatively, there's good shopping to be had in the compact centre of Cadiz.
The inside attractions
In the coastal town of Barbate – once the dictator General Francisco Franco's summer bolthole – the Conservas de Cadiz factory (conservasdecadiz.com) includes a museum dedicated to local fishing traditions. There's a small exhibition and tastings of typical preserved fish products, as well as a shop. Escape the heat of the city with a few hours in the Museum of Cadiz, which houses an eclectic collection including Phoenician sarcophagi and a replica of local prehistoric cave paintings. A short walk away is the ascent to the Torre Tavira. At 45m above sea level, it offers 360-degree views and is home to the first camera obscura in Spain. Venture inland to the sherry town of Jerez, where a tour of the Bodega Gonzalez-Byass offers good value, including tasting and tapas.
The places to eat and drink
Nothing defines the gastronomy of the Cadiz coast more than seafood, sherry and sugary treats. You can try the best – king prawns from Sanlucar de Barrameda and specialities such as cazon en adobo and camarones – beachside, in almost every resort. The sleepy fishing village of Zahara de los Atunes is replete with eateries such as El Corral. At humble Casa Rufo, on Barbate's Paseo Maritimo, the seafood is fresh and fairly priced. If you're in Cadiz, call in to El Faro (elfarodecadiz.com), an award-winner with bags of atmosphere. The tapas come fast and furious: try the chickpea and prawn stew and red peppers stuffed with minced fish. Once the temporary chiringuitos appear on the beaches, they're the places to watch the sun drop, then party till dawn.
How to get there
The Costa de la Luz is easily reached by air: Ryanair (0871 246 0000 ; ryanair.com) flies from London Stansted to Jerez, while Gibraltar, Malaga and Seville airports are all an easy drive away and, between them, they are served by a vast selection of airlines and flights.