SPAIN 3: CALA DEL ACEITE TO GIBRALTAR
Naked with Nelson at the bottom of Europe
After leaving the nude resort of Camping Cala del Aceite, we drove through woods of Mediterranean pines to the unprepossessing resort of Conil de la Frontera. At its southern extremity is the mouth of the Rio Salado and a bridge leads to a vast beach which is practically all naturist. This is the Playa de Castilnova, named after a fortified tower halfway along its three kilometres of fine white sand backed by scrubby dunes, patrolled by single men.
At some point further east this merges with Playa Palmar. To get to this end we drove around to the straggly settlement of El Palmar itself and turned right to where the road ends. Here an older tower marks where nudism starts (or finishes if you’ve walked from Conil). El Palmar is a fascinating ‘end of the world’ sort of place with a shack-style bar every few metres along its three kilometre-long beachfront. What a place for a pub crawl! It is also a kite-surfing centre with guys and girls clad in Billabong and Quicksilver.
At its eastern end the cool designer labels vanish, and it becomes nude again for most of the way to Cape Trafalgar. This is Playa Mangueta and it only gets dressed up once more at Zahora village where a reef protects the golden sand. After here there is another kilometre of open sand with acres of scrubland behind. This is Playa de Zahora and is the naturist beach which is sometimes referred to as Trafalgar Beach.
After threading through narrow lanes bordered by palms, cacti and bamboo we found our way into Trafalgar itself. The Fräulein and I prefer the beach on the farther side of the cape, Caños de Meca, which is listed everywhere as naturist but is not as nude as the western beaches we had just visited. It is, however, extremely pretty and the mud baths are a bonus. Despite the kite-surfers (who can do for naturism what myxomatosis did for rabbits), this beach retains its nudity - which is almost de rigueur in these parts.
When visiting Trafalgar it is almost mandatory to walk out to the cape itself with its lonely lighthouse. Here we followed a wooden walkway around the islet to look out at where Nelson, England’s greatest admiral, met his fate, and carved his name into the national consciousness. For me, to imagine that great sea battle and the devastation to seamen and ships which took place just beyond where I stood, was as poignant an experience as I could cope with. A lone seagull wheeled overhead. Mariners used to believe that each gull carried the sole of a dead seaman. I wondered... could it be?
At the far, eastern, end of Trafalgar’s Caños de Meca, the beach is said to be almost exclusively used by gays as it is just below a ‘men only’ hotel. This it may be, but apart from some quiet coves well to the east of the resort, there didn’t seem any evidence of naturism to us. So we pushed on through the Parque de Breña towards Barbate and just before this tourist port is a lovely beach, Playa Hierbabuena. There is good off-road parking here and a new boardwalk system to the beach which is not officially naturist but, so underused off-season, that its far end should easily qualify it to be clothes-optional.
Our next stop was one of our favourite places in Andalusia, Zahara de las Atunas. This, when we first knew it, was a scruffy little fishing village but it seems to be getting smarter by the year. Fortunately, at the time of writing, it hasn’t lost its charm but I suppose that one of these days we shall return to find an Irish bar and a McDonalds there. To the west of the village is four kilometres of empty beach which is difficult to reach other than on foot. It has no name other than Playa Zahara and it would seem ridiculous to bother to wear anything on it wherever it is not easily accessed from the coast road. Then to the east, between the main village and its outlying area of new development, Atlanterra, nudists occasionally use the beach where it is backed by scrubland. I suppose it is only a matter of time before the two settlements are joined together by new hotels which will put a stop to that.
Driving over the elevated suburb of Atlanterra, even I, an architect by profession, was stunned by the quality and design of some of the houses here. This place is chic. And so is the beach below, Playa de los Alemanes (the Germans’ Beach). Despite being overlooked by some of those fine villas it has remained, at all but the busiest of periods, a naturist beach. In September we had no problems enjoying a naked afternoon here. Equally, just over the headland of Camarinal with its lighthouse, is the smaller and not overlooked Playa Cañuelo. As far as I am aware this is a perennial nude beach.
From here on, the rest of Spain’s Atlantic coast, although incredibly beautiful, is largely inhabited by designer-clad windsurfers. However, there are still a couple of naturist surprises. The first is at Bolonia, an atmospheric beachside settlement with cattle on the beach and an amazing Roman site, Baelo Caudia. Here a high dune system at the western end of Playa Bolonia is so vast that it is easy to use naked, despite the hoards of surfers who like to run up to the highest point. At the other end, if the wind stops sand-blasting the shore, there are three kilometres of beaches backed, first by verdant dunes then by wooded cliffs, which are all naturist. Some even ride hoses naked along here.
There are natural pools used in the nude just before Paloma Baja, which is a bit textile, but then further west, toward Tarifa, the tiny beaches become bare again until another huge dune system replicates Bolania’s. And this is where it all stops. There is only the kite-surfing capital of Tarifa, Europe’s most southerly - and windiest - place, with its fabulous beach and designer boutiques. Then it’s hills and sheer cliffs almost to Gibraltar - and, for us, the gateway to the Mediterranean.
Rayner Otter and the naked Fräulein are on an odyssey to visit every naturist beach from Calais to Greece. Read about their exploits every month in H&E naturist magazine.