The cradle of Spanish democracy offers glittering domes, midnight cocktails and a golden beach



The oldest city in Europe is a relaxed, breezy place with a unique Arabic-cum-Atlantic-cum Andalusian feel to it. Temperatures may be hot now (in August they can soar to 30c) but its location on the Costa de la Luz means that, as well as sunshine, it also gets plenty of cool breezes rolling in from the ocean.


The closest airport to Cadiz is Jerez, but the only direct flights from Britain are on Wednesdays and Saturdays from Stansted on Buzz (0870 240 7070, www. The next best gateway is Seville, served by Iberia (020-7830 0011) from Heathrow, or GB Airways (0845 77 333 77, from Gatwick. Iberia quotes a fare of £160.90 for travel over next weekend. From Seville's Santa Justa station, trains run hourly to Cadiz, taking around 100 minutes and costing £15 return. Jerez is even nearer and cheaper.


Cadiz is built on a knobbly circle of rock, connected to Andalucia by a long isthmus. Approaching the city on the long, modern Avenida de Andalucia can be off-putting, but behind the high-rises lies a broad stretch of beach and eventually you reach the ancient walls of the compact old city. Walk the warm promenades, like Campo del Sur (1) to get a feel for Cadiz. On one side lies the mighty ocean. On the other, the white houses and the gleaming dome of the Cathedral (2). Next go to Torre Tavira (3), at Marques de Real Tesoro, 10. This old watch-tower is the best place to view the cityscape, either with the naked eye or else through the lens of a camera obscura.


Find out about current flamenco attractions at the tourist office at Calle Calderon de Barca, 1 (00 34 956 211 313) which is right in the corner of Plaza de Minas, or at municipal tourism in the Plaza San Juan de Dios. We caught an excellent performance by Manuela Carrasco at the layer-cake Gran Teatro Falla (27). There were no castanets, just lots of hand-clapping, guitars and four young male dancers.


There's a delightfully simple way to pack a large number of sights into a single city walk. Start at the Plaza de Espana (24) or San Juan de Dios (22), and follow the red line on the street surface. En route you'll cover a good deal of familiar territory, but you'll also see such sights as Iglesia de Santa Cruz (25), the church the Earl of Essex nearly destroyed during an English raid in 1596, and a newly discovered Roman Theatre (26).


Try the Basque-Andaluz dishes at the traditional El Sardinero (22) at Plaza de San Juan, 4. Down at the other end of town, La Victoria (23) at Paseo Maritio, 27, does excellent paella and seafood in a lively bar.


The Catedral Nueva (2) is huge but, dating from only 1722, is not very old by Cadiz standards. Its distinctive golden dome is made of yellow ceramic tiles, and the interior, although suffering from decay, is unusually light and airy. In the crypt beneath, Manuel de Falla, the famous gaditano composer, is buried. Note, though, that if you're not a worshipper, the church and its museum annexe should be visited on Saturdays from 10am to 1pm. Another church worth seeing is the Oratorio de San Felipe Neri (21) in San Jose. Portrayed as the cradle of Spanish democracy, it was here in 1812 that a liberal constitution was framed in defiance of Napoleon. It's a lovely, oval church with two balconies running right around the dome.


El Faro (19), at San Felix, 15 (00 34 956 212 501), has excellent fish and a pleasant, if slightly formal, atmosphere. Alternatively, the highly recommended El Balandro (20), at Apodaca 22 (00 34 956 220 992), has a good maritime view, but stick to the fish; the non-fish dishes were disappointing.


In Calle Tinte you'll easily find the theatrical Persigueme lbanez (17) but, if you're down on Victoria beach, go to Bar Flamenco (18) at Paseo Maritimo,14, for a beer and a splendid view of the sea.


The Museo de Bellas Artes y Arqueologico (15) at Plaza de Mina 5, reminds you that Cadiz is over 3,000 years old. Look out for the Phoenician jewellery, phallic Roman key-rings and an impressive statue of local hero, the emperor Trajan. Simple and delightful are the tiny, 2000-year-old ointment bottles and upstairs are some interesting paintings. If there's time, visit the Museo Historico Municipal (16), at Calle Santa Ines. Its marvellous 18th-century model of the city reveals just how little the topography of old Cadiz has changed between then and now.


Walk along the top promenade to the Parque Genoves (12), which is small and lush with comfortable seats. Or, stroll on to the smaller and even more delightful Alameda de Marques de Comillas (13) and then lounge in the Plaza de Mina (14). Here there's often a high tide of youthful revellers on weekend evenings and the atmosphere is like a huge, informal cocktail party.


Plaza San Juan de Dios (4) offers several cheap hostales. Bahia at Calle Plocia 5 (00 34 956 259 061) is good and costs 8,300pts (£32) a night. For luxury, there are rooms at the Parador Hotel Atlantico (5), near Parque Genoves (00 34 956 223 908) for 15,000pts (£60). For something in between, try Hotel Francia y Paris (6) in Plaza de San Francisco (00 34 956 222 348; £40 a night).


Old Cadiz is so small that you can walk everywhere. However, if you want to get to the quieter end of the three-mile Playa de la Victoria (7), take the bus (1 or 7). Jump off after a mile or so and take any street to your right to find a magnificent beach where the sea is warm enough to swim in for much of the year. Alternatively, take a boat trip across the bay to see the 18th-century palaces of El Puerto de Santa Maria. Boats leave from the Estacion Maritimo (8) every 30 minutes.


Tapas make the obvious speedy lunch and, in Cadiz, big raciones are more common than little saucers of tapas. For a quiet corner try Cafeteria Parissien (9) at Plaza San Francisco 1. For something livelier try Aurelio (10), at Calle Zorilla 1, which specialises in calamares. In the same street, the Cerveceria de Puerto (11) also has lots of choice.