Through enthusiasm and bad planning we appear to be buying not one house but two. That’s a house each. Or at least the outer walls of a house and a ramshackle farm. Both need major work, or as friends sweetly put it, ‘un toque personal’, a personal touch. Just thinking about the amount of work each needs to be fully habitable is fairly exhausting, and then there is the paperwork, the optimistic trips to the two town halls, the two property registry offices, the two local electricity departments to tot up the cost of rewiring for each, and the scrabbling for money to hand out to everyone . . . the work required to generate the money . . . All so exhausting and unfathomable in fact that a day off was called for, and we’re sitting in the sun in the city of Cádiz a couple of hours away, people-watching, and just being tourists.
One of the oldest cities in Western Europe, Cádiz was Gadir to the founding Phoenicians, Gades to the Roman elite who settled in great numbers, and Qādis to the Arabs who ruled here from the 8th to the 13th century. Slightly less certain is that Perseus slew Medusa here in what was once the home of the Gorgons, and that Cádiz is more or less the site of one of the Pillars of Hercules. But the fact is that for all the history and mythology this city still feels like a secret. Plenty of tourists factor in a trip to Seville, many will get to Jerez for a sherry tour, but few make it down the narrow spit to the old walled heart of this top (hot) place with its wild beaches, narrow streets, and leafy squares. Oh, unless they come by boat. When we arrived, a giant floating planet was parked by the harbour wall and a thousand Thomson passengers were following men with flags down the gangplank.
It is hugely popular with Spanish visitors, however, particularly people living in the wider province of Cádiz – like our neighbours, Carmen and Montse, who regularly lock up the ancient doors of their village house and hurtle down the mountain, past donkeys and tractors, for a weekend of shopping, dancing, wine, and great seafood. And although there are plenty of sites – churches, museums, monuments – it has a lovely frivolous feel, with a good sprawl of tables and umbrellas outside the cafés, busy parks, and lots of people on the beaches (some even in the sea). The old city is very walkable, but with the sea on three sides and multiple identical plazas, it’s easiest not to have any specific destination in mind – except your hotel, that is. Hotel Argantonio, built around an internal courtyard with beautifully-tiled floors, is central, super-friendly, and a bargain at around €60 a double (C/Argantonio, 3).
Christopher Colombus sailed from Cádiz on two of his voyages to the new world, and it’s odd, having spent much of my life in the places he discovered, to be standing here by the sea wall, in the same place and the same light.