If you are in Vejer de la Frontera, the amazing Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia are less than an hour away by car and are well worth the trip! Located beside the small coastal village of Bolonia (and only a short distance northwest of Tarifa) this coastal settlement dates from about 120 BC and lasted about 600 years before Roman dominance in Spain finally waned. Its reason for being was as a major fish-processing town for the abundance of tuna that lurked in these waters. A brand new Visitor's Centre has been opened (with an entrance fee of only 1.50 Euros per person) and there are lots of partially restored parts of the community to explore on foot in this very scenic spot. It is not open on Mondays and some public holidays but we were able to get our fill of it as we returned from Vejer to Tarifa for our final night on this Atlantic coast of Spain. I have described these ruins in more detail in the Off The Beaten Path tips on my 'Tarifa (Cadiz)' page.
By this stage of our trip to Andalusia we had already either seen or been in several 'white' villages during our travels, but this was the first time we actually had accommodations in one of them. This was the scene that greeted us from our hostal balcony as we checked it out - with Vejer's architecture in the foreground and the distant small community of La Muela lit up by sunshine across the valley on its small plateau. If you look closely, in the bottom left corner is the round shell of a now roof-less traditional windmill while on the distant horizon at both left and right are the tall white towers of today's modern wind farms. According to Wikipedia:
"The whitewashed villages of Andalucia are impressive historical monuments in themselves, and their people still live according to age-old traditions, inherited from their Iberian, Roman and Moorish forefathers. Many of the villages near the coast have become fashionable resorts, while still conserving their ancient charm, whereas others, lost in the highlands of Andalucia, remain rough and ready olive-farming towns, with a special appeal for the adventurous travellers. Most Andalucian towns began as fortresses, which stood along the ever-fluctuating frontier between the Christian and Moorish realms, as is apparent in the names of such towns as 'Jerez de la Frontera', 'Arcos de la Frontera' and 'Morón de la Frontera'."
As for us, we seemed to be almost continuously lost as we tried to negotiate our way along their typical narrow, hilly, winding and all 'white' streets no matter if it was day or night! Still, it was always fun because the places are so small that eventually you will find your way out, just as we did in the streets of Vejer (2nd photo).
As happened at many locations in Spain, following the conquest of Vejer by the Christian forces of King Alphose X in 1248, the original Moorish mosque located here was heavily modified as it was replaced some time in the 1400s by the present-day church of Iglesia Parroquial del Divino Salvador. As a result, it is still possible to see both Mudejar and Gothic aspects in its architecture, including the still standing minaret but now converted for church bells! Another carryover from those long-ago times is the huge water basin located beneath the church (big enough to paddle around in a dinghy) just in case of a seige of the fortress. In our case, because everything was so tightly packed within the defensive walls, it was difficult to get a really good overall view of the church.
Nevertheless, by trying different small walking lanes surrounding the church we did manage to get quite a good feel for it.
The weather had been improving all day long, so as soon as we had checked into our hostal in Vejer de la Frontera we quickly left the hilltop for the short drive to Cabo de Trafalgar on the nearby coast. There are actually two capes there, the one with high cliffs in this view and another smaller one at sea-level where a lighthouse is located (2nd photo). The name of the cape originates from its long-ago Moorish name of 'Tarf al-Gharb' meaning 'Western Cape', but my interest originated from childhood days of reading accounts of the British Royal Navy and its battles. Probably the most famous one took place off this cape in October, 1805 when 27 British ships-of-the-line took on and defeated Napoleon's combined French/Spanish fleet of 33 ships-of-the line. This turned out to be the most decisive naval battle of the many years of warfare between England and Napoleonic France, but it also cost British Admiral Horatio Nelson his life.
There is a small sandy car park at the cape as well as a fairly long walk from there along the beach toward the lighthouse. The wind was still blowing strongly so we had fun watching several windsurfers as we walked along the spit of sand leading out to the lighthouse. A large but shallow body of water on the landward side of the trail provided a place for hundreds of sea gulls to float but we were amazed at the antics of a small dog who just kept running at them through the shallow water. The birds simply lifted off when they saw him coming and settled somewhere else but this dog just kept on running at another batch - I was amazed at its endurance! We walked around the fenced-off lighthouse and then enjoyed watching the big waves for a while before heading back to Vejer. On our drive to the Cape we were very surprised to see two huge dark brown Egyptian mongooses quickly cross the highway in front of us. It was quite something to have a glimpse of these largest of all African mongooses, with a body about 48 cm (4 ft) long and a weight of about 3 kg (7 lbs)!
One of the easiest things to do in Vejer is to simply walk around the town on its narrow cobbled streets taking in the atmosphere of the tall white buildings that hem you in. There is nothing that is simply spectacular but taken together it makes for an enjoyable experience, especially in late-December when we had the streets almost to ourselves. At about 17 C, the temperatures were not bad as we left the church by walking down this lane that still had a weatherbeaten Star of David symbol etched into the one of the stones beneath the arch - indicating that we were now entering the old Jewish Quarter of the town.
During our walk, we did encounter one large group of young lads in a small square that looked like they were Boy Scouts of some sort getting ready for a hike with a couple of their leaders. As soon as they spotted we tourists they began to put on a 'show' for us! As we continued on, it was amazing to see all the nooks, crannies and doorways where people actually lived in this part of Vejer. This was the last of our tours in Vejer - we then headed outside the city walls to find a breakfast spot and then we were off down the coast again as we made a second attempt to view the 2000-year old Roman ruins at Baelo Claudia, just outside Tarifa.
By the time we had driven up the coast from Tarifa, with stops at Bolonia and Zahara de los Atunes thrown in, as well as a drive to Cape Trafalgar after checking into our hostal in Vejer, we never really had the time to explore this historic town until the next morning! We did not have a lot of tourist competition on Tuesday, Dec. 30th so took our time hiking up the short distance to the defensive gates, walls and towers of old Vejer. Evidence of settlement here goes all the way back to the Phoenicians at around 400 BC, followed by Roman conquest in 216 BC and their eventual ouster by Vandals and Visigoths around 500 AD. Although the Moors took possesion of Vejer in 711, they were finally driven out by Christian forces in 1248 and it is the Christian defensive fortifications that provide the bulk of the present day historical architecture in Vejer.
We entered the fortified area through Arco de La Segur along the north wall and located beside the very old church of Iglesia Parroquial del Divino Salvador. We had some great views out over the surrounding valleys from the stone ramparts of the wall as we watched huge vultures glide on the updrafts and took note of the many distant wind farms. However, one had to be careful about stepping back too far to get a better angle for a photo - there were no guardrails to prevent stepping off the parapet and falling ten or more feet onto the cobblestone streets inside the walls. After exploring this little part of Vejer, we moved on for a closer look at the old church located just across the small plaza inside the walls.
Standing with it's strong light mounted 51-m (167-ft) above the Atlantic Ocean, the circular lighthouse at Cape Trafalgar is quite impressive. Although originally built in 1862, it had eight ribs added to the exterior in 1926 to provide more support for the tower because of a larger light that was being added to the structure to help guide shipping in this northwest approach to the Strait of Gibraltar. A single-story keeper's house is attached at ground level and the entire area around the lighthouse is fenced and locked - but it is still possible to walk completley around the lighthouse free of charge. There are also a few displays discribing what happened not far off this coast during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805.
The lighthouse sits almost at sea level, which is quite unusual in my experience. In this case, it is perched on a low outcrop of sandstone which is also home to an old Moorish watchtower dating from the 800s. We had a good look at this old tower and watched the waves below for a while before we went down to the beach for a closer look before returning to Vejer.
About one week earlier, we had made an inland drive through mountainous countryside while travelling the A381 superhighway from Cadiz to Estepona - and had been quite impressed by the scenery then, even if we did not have time to stop. This time, we were back in the same area but much closer to the Atlantic coast and again found that this lesser developed part of Spain had a 'wild' look that appealed to us. As we turned off the N340 highway onto a lesser used road to Zahara de los Atunes, we had this view of the long driveway leading to a large old hacienda. It had an amazing expanse of fields surrounding it and must have quite a story to tell.
Nearing Zahara we spotted a nice prickly pear cactus beside the road (2nd photo), so stopped for a closer look. They are now very common in Spain and are believed to have been introduced to Europe from the New World when Christopher Columbus brought a few back when he returned in 1493 - for many years their consumption was considered by sailors as one way of warding off the dreaded 'scurvy' sickness. The final scene was taken a short time earlier as we crested a mountain ridge near Bolonia, a bit further south. The rugged mountains and lush fields, combined with a bit of wild weather made driving around this part of Spain quite enjoyable.
I think that Zohara and I most enjoy just wandering the old streets. Instead of only running between the tourist sites, we like to take the back alleys and out of the way streets to see where the local people live and work. It gives you more of a "feel" for the place and can sometimes bring you into some surprisingly beautiful places. Here on the streets of Vejer de la Frontera we even found traces of our Jewish heritage in the form of a Magan David (Jewish Star) pattern, made from stones.
The last photo of the workers doing repair work on the street reminded me of the same back home here in Israel. Observing them was like a flashback....notice how many of them are standing with hands on hips, apparently helping by guiding their fellow workers instead of actually getting their hands dirty...we have a saying in Israel that when the roads are being repaired you send out a team of 8 so 1 will actually work, the rest are "managers"....
ahhhh, shades of home ^O^
We arrived in Vejer de la Frontera specially to visit the Molinos (or windmills) that are located here. We were suprised to find (after having visited windmills in Holland) that they were not very well maintained and the park that had been built around them was littered with garbage and the walkways half destroyed. A pity since they are very unique and beautiful in their own right and deserve to be displayed better.
You can walk along the edge of Vejer, along the paseo where there is a large walkway and instead of seeing the sea as in other towns in Cadiz you can see rolling hills. In April they are green and in summer yellows and browns. Whenever you see them they are a beautiful site different to the sea but just as nice.
There are several cafes and bars with terraces along the walk way which you can sit out at and enjoy the view.
I stayed in a hostel along here too which gives you an even better view from higher up.
The photos attached were taken in April.
Around the town you can also see old mansions dating back to the 18th Century like the one in the photo. These almost always contain Andaluz patios containing a great flower display. Many will also have signs saying if they have taken part or won prizes in the regional patio contests.
The contests are held all over the region being judged on their flower displays. Not only the mansions have patios which take part, in fact most houses have them. Be sure to look through every door way you see open. The contest is held in spring time and this is the best time to come to see them: May, June or even July.
You can see the doorway to the Mansion of Enrique displayed in the main photo attached as well.
You can still see the remains of the city walls from the time where the moors controlled the town and were fighting off the Christians who were trying to re take it.
Most of the walls that remain have been restored in the 1970's, which if you ask me is obvious taking away from the feeling of oldness, but saying that they are pretty and impressive anyway.
In the main photo you can see another one of Vejer's famous archways built into the city walls. This archway or entrance to the city is Puerta Cerrada.
All around the town you will come across examples of the old walls.
El Divino Savlador got it's name from when the Christian's reconquered Vejer on the 6th August, it is now a catholic parish church, but it hasn't always been that way.
In the past it has been a Muslim Mosque and a Jewish Synagogue too. you can still see the influences in it's design such as the minaret and a peeling away design of a star of David.
It has two very distinct sides to the church displayed in the two photos attached. They really seem to be two separate entities built at different times. The fist part is Gothic built in the XVI century, the second is the remains of the old mudejar church that never got to be replaced or modernised.
Both have three juxtaposed naves and inside you can see a collection of 17th Century paintings.
Behind the yellow and White building in Plaza España you will find this delightful street leading to the Arabic tea room and restaurant. It is brimming with flowers and has won prizes in the regional flower and patio contests.
It is interesting not just for the flowers themselves but for what they are placed in or on, such as the backs of chairs made into a shelves. There is also other interesting features such as a wooden figure.
Please note that the person living a house along the street has put an awful lot of work into it and doesn't appreciate people taking cuttings from the plants or touching them. There are several signs in Spanish stating so.