Sleepover: Dar Cilla

A bed for the night in Spain
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The Independent Travel

The location

The location

On one of the two main roads that lead into Tarifa, Andalucia's cool surf capital, within easy access to Jerez, Malaga and Gibraltar airports. A hotel on a busy thoroughfare? Don't despair. Park the car, get the room key and take a look inside. Dar Cilla may appear to be a faceless mansion block from the outside, but the attractions of this traditional Arab townhouse lie within. A labyrinth of corridors and staircases lead to patios, terraces and living spaces, decorated from the bazaars of Tangier, just a ferry ride away across the Strait of Gibraltar. Once it housed a number of families, now it accommodates different permutations of holidaymakers - singles, couples, groups of friends, and, during school holidays, families.


You can't beat the view of Morocco from the top terrace. It's glorious. And it's what inspired the owner, Zoë Ouwehand, and her late husband, Floris, to buy and restore this crumbling ruin set in the town's 12th-century city walls, and later extend it into today's hybrid establishment that offers the comforts of a hotel and the independence and convenience of self-catering apartments. Such flexibility is what draws families here during school holidays. Plus, it is excellent value for money.

The comfort factor

Taking her inspiration from neighbouring Morocco, Ouwehand has literally carried furniture and ornaments home from Tangier to decorate her open-house hotel. Iron lanterns, lampshades and candlesticks, polished plaster, tile-topped tables, ornate mirrors, patterned ceramics, floating linens, and elaborately painted and dark wood furnishings play out the North African theme. The seven self-catering apartments range from a single bedsit to a family suite, each with access to a terrace, patio or balcony. The best choice for families is the maisonette, which has two bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, with washing machine, two bathrooms, private patio and roof terrace.

The bathroom

Different rooms, different bathrooms. So find out whether yours has a bath or shower or both. All are tastefully decorated, spotlessly clean and supplied with plump towels.

The food and drink

Use your kitchen for snacks or light meals. What about dinner? The town still lacks good dining options, though El Souk, at Mar Tirreno 64 (00 34 956 62 70 65;, deserves a recommendation. For breakfast, Dar Cilla has its own Café Gusto, which offers a delicious hot and cold selection, freshly prepared before your eyes.

The people

Ouwehand, her manager, Martina de Rijke, and the staff are very welcoming. The atmosphere of the "dar" encourages socialising. Your fellow guests are likely to be a diverse lot, thanks to the variety of accommodation on offer, and you'll probably meet them at an impromptu complimentary barbecue or tapas evening on the top terrace, which are thrown often.

The area

Wave, kite or wind-propelled, all kinds of surfing (and other watersports) take place off blustery Tarifa. Too energetic? Sunbathe on one of the excellent dune-lined beaches along this coast: El Palmar and Bolonia are my favourites. Explore the town's pretty old quarter, where there's some good shopping. Or travel further afield to the local white towns of Vejer de la Frontera and Medina Sidonia. Tarifa is a gateway to Africa, so take a day trip to Morocco.

The access

Numerous steps make it difficult for people with limited mobility. Children are welcome during the school holidays, but check outside those times. No pets and no smoking.

The damage

The maisonette, sleeping four, costs from €170 (£121) a night. The family apartment, sleeping five, costs from €100 (£71) a night. Extra beds from €10 (£7) a night. Single and double rooms are also available. Minimum stay three nights. Negotiable rates for stays of more than one week in the low season.

The address

Dar Cilla, Calle Cilla, Tarifa, Cadiz (00 34 653 467 025;

Kate Simon travelled around Andalucia courtesy of (0845 225 0845;, which offers a week's car hire in Andalucia from £89.