It is difficult to make a choice between southern Spain’s four coastal cities, Málaga, Cadiz, Almeria and Huelva have something to entice everyone and they can all justifiably claim to be unique.
Four of Andalucía’s provincial capitals are on the coast, which gives them an atmosphere that is quite unlike their inland counterparts. Many visitors are thrilled at the thought of being able to enjoy time on an urban beach as well as seeing the sights and enjoying fine restaurants and nightlife, but they may find it hard to choose between the attractions of Malaga, Cadiz, Almeria and Huelva.
The birthplace of Picasso
Malaga is the best known as so many tourists arrive at its airport, and it has become a favourite short-break destination. Crowned by its 11th century Gibralfaro castle and Alcazaba fortress, Malaga is a Mediterranean port with a buzzing atmosphere and some lovely old buildings including the Cathedral, which is nicknamed locally’ as ‘La Manquita’, meaning little one armed lady, because one of the towers was never ﬁnished.
Malaga is known for its museums and art galleries, particularly the Picasso Museum which is especially relevant because the artist was born in a house in the Plaza de la Merced. This is also open to the public and contains some interesting insights into Malaga’s favourite son. Also well worth a visit are the Contemporary Arts Centre (CAC Malaga) the Carmen Thyssen Museum and the recently opened Centre Pompidou Malaga in the city’s newly renovated port Muelle Uno.
The most African port city
In Moorish times, Almeria was the most important and the richest port in Andalucia. It still retains a strong African inﬂuence, and ferries regularly travel between the port and North Africa. Almeria has been relatively unknown to tourists in the past but this is changing now and it has developed as a lively, modern port city.
Almeria is dominated by two famous monuments, a 10th century hilltop fortress that could once hold an army of more than 20,000 and its 16th century fortified cathedral in the city centre. This was built for defensive as well as religious purposes and is almost unique because its corner towers were equipped with cannons with which to protect the port from Turkish and North African invaders.
Nowadays, Almeria has excellent shopping facilities, a wealth of art galleries and museums and some wonderful restaurants, many – not surprisingly – specialising in ﬁsh dishes.
Home of ‘La Pepa’
Cadiz is probably the oldest city in Europe outside Greece, having been founded by the Phoenicians three thousand years ago. The city sits on an isthmus and is surrounded by sea on three sides. Those who fancy a boat trip can take a catamaran across to El Puerto de Santa Maria and enjoy a stunning views of Cadiz and its beautiful golden-domed cathedral as they leave and enter the port.
The historic city centre is fortified and fascinating, with a maze of narrow streets that open onto lovely leafy squares. Cadiz is where the Spanish Constitution was declared in 1812, while the city was under siege by Bonaparte’s troops. This first Constitution is known as ‘La Pepa’: after its proclamation everything went wrong politically and it became illegal to even mention it. As it was proclaimed on March 19th, the Day of San Jose, and many men called José are known as Pepe, people continued to discuss the Constitution but referred to it as ‘La Pepa’, the feminised version of Pepe, to avoid getting caught. ‘
The Discovery of America
The city of Huelva, on the western coast of Andalucia, has been an important trading centre for centuries but its commercial success and important mineral resources have been outshone in the eyes of many by the city’s adoptive son, Christopher Columbus, and his Discovery of America. Tributes to Cristobal Colon, as the Spanish know him, can be found all over this city, but there are also plenty of other interesting monuments, buildings and museums.
Huelva city centre was almost completely destroyed by the Lisbon earthquake in 1755 so many places of interest are newer, but no less interesting for that. Huelva even has a British district‘, the Queen Victoria neighbourhood, built to a British design in the early 20th century to house workers ‘at the Rio Tinto mines.
Although it is not in the city, one cannot mention Huelva without El Rocio, the annual pilgrimage to a village of the same name on the edge of the Cote Doñana National Park. This tiny place is usually deserted but every spring about a million pilgrims descend on it, in traditional dress, on horseback or in gypsy-style caravans. Huelva city and this event can both claim to be unique.