La Isla Bonita: San Fernando, Cádiz

There was something in the air that night, the stars shone bright, Fernando.”

I can’t help but begin this blog entry on San Fernando, Cádiz, with the tentatively linked Abba lyrics that simply mention ‘Fernando’. Anti-chronologically, I will also make the first photo of this post the last I took in San Fernando which was a beautiful sunset that recalled those lyrics as we watched on, cerveza in hand, bare feet buried in the cool, powdery sand as the tide lapped in peacefully in soft, white frothy waves.

I have long loved the Andalusian province of Cádiz which is located in the southwest of Spain, close to the border of Portugal and views of Morocco from Tarifa. (Also see- El Puerto de Santa María and Algeciras)

My friend Chris and his partner (now pareja de hecho) Pilar and their Pomeranian called Lobo moved to San Fernando a couple of years ago and they invited me to stay at their beautiful house built back in 1874 complete with a well in the hallway, a spiral staircase, stained glass windows and a traditional Andaluz patio complete with patterned tiles (I have a thing for these types of tiles!).

The weather this April has been beautiful compared to this time last year when it rained almost the whole week I was in Córdoba. Temperatures have averaged around 26 degrees with a gentle breeze drifting over from the Atlantic coast which makes for pretty much the perfect conditions for wandering around without the need for a jacket or conversely, breaking out into a sweat.

San Fernando takes the form of a peninsula which is commonly referred to as an island, quite high up in the province of Cádiz, near Chiclana, El Puerto de Santa María, and Jerez de la Frontera. Cádiz capital is 30 minutes away via tram. Interestingly, San Fernando and Cádiz were the only Spanish cities that did not surrender to the French during the Napoleonic invasion of 1810.

It was the birthplace of the famed flamenco singer Camarón de la Isla (real name: José Monje Cruz) and as it happens, a local dish is called Tortillita de Camarones, a thinly-fried shrimp fritter.

San Fernando is affectionately known to locals as ‘La Isla’ but it is actually a pensinsula/bay but ‘isla’ sounds more romantic! The RENFE train station is called San Fernando Bahía Sur (San Fernando South Bay).

San Fernando feels local and homely, not overrun with tourist traps or numerous markets peddling beachwear and suncream. The town centre is peaceful and the people were friendly and did not react in surprise to my accent despite the absence of many foreigners, as can often happen in certain places in Spain.

Wandering around for a couple of hours on my first morning was a great refresher for my Spanish which I have known now for 8 years but get few opportunities to speak it back home. Low-frequency words can feel rusty or take time to float the surface of verbal memory, and the clipped final consonants of the Andalusian accent mean you have to focus your ear but I soon found it all came back to me with muscle memory.

(See my blog entries on Spanish colloquial phrases here)

It’s a peaceful place with locals milling around and sitting with coffees on terraces, babies in prams, and fluffy dogs on leads. The beach is about 20 minutes away on foot and the main building of interest is La Iglesia Mayor de San Pedro y San Pablo (Church of St. Peter and St. Paul). From afar, the blue turrets looked almost Islamic, architecturally, however when I approached it transpired to be a red-brick, Baroque-style Catholic church. I didn’t go in as I saw several people by the doors and wondered if there was a service taking place, but Chris told me it is very attractive inside.

In the afternoon, when Chris finished work, we drove over to Chiclana to have lunch at a chiringuito (beach restaurant) where we shared choco frito (fried cuttlefish), grilled tuna, mejillones (mussels) and the aforementioned tortillita de camarones with a couple of glasses of verdejo white wine. The views were an absolute treat for the eyes, a palette of golden sands and sparkling aquamarine water with a glimpse of a remote island topped with the ruins of a castle, the occasional kayak punting past (one rower even had a dog on board!).

The next day, I caught the 30-minute tram to Cádiz capital and spent a couple of hours there re-appreciating just how beautiful it is with its Havana-like vibes and stunning cathedral, scattered with lofty palm trees and vast views of the rolling ocean. I walked for around an hour-and-a-half up and down the paseo marítimo (promenade) enjoying the fresh air before it started to heat up in the early afternoon.

I had had the idea of having some fresh fish near the waterfront and was searching for a chiringuito or tapas bar but strangely to no avail. Each time I found one, a fair distance apart, it was either closed or only open for drinks. I wished I was wearing a pedometer to see how many steps I’d done that day; it was lovely to just walk along and see the stunning coastline and waterfront again after a few years but by this time I was starting to feel hot and in need of something to eat.

In the end, I made my way back to the central square of Cádiz where the Ayuntamiento building is (town hall) which I had tried to avoid due to recalling poor quality food at inflated prices when I first visited in 2016. I sat down at a Volapié and ordered a plate of mejillones in a salsa picante which were surprisingly good, tasting of the sea and a hint of spice sitting in their pearlescent black shells along with a chilled glass of verdejo.

[As mentioned earlier, you can read more on Cádiz on an earlier blog entry here]

I then caught the tram back to San Fernando which had become quite packed at that time of day (3pm).

Later that evening, we got in the car and drove 10 minutes to San Fernando’s beach, Playa de Camposoto to watch the sunset as I mentioned at the start of this blog entry. The beach is long and wide, dusted with fine white-gold sand and framed with fronds of wild sea plants and shrubbery.

We propped up a deck chair each, I kicked off my shoes and planted my feet into the sand while we cracked open a can and listened to the music of the waves and watched the amber sun melt like liquid gold into the sapphire horizon.

The next morning, I caught the train back to my old second home town, Córdoba, with plenty of lovely memories and a wish to come back as soon as possible!


2 thoughts on “La Isla Bonita: San Fernando, Cádiz

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s