Where locals hit the water in southern Spain
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MatadorU student Janesa Suzanne asks around to find these 6 beach spots and swimming holes.
Playa de La Antilla, Lepe
Roughly 30km from Portugal, in Huelva on Andalusia’s Atlantic coast, is the small kite-surfing and fishing town of La Antilla.
I arrived there flying from Madrid, rolling joints in the backseat of a compact eco go-kart zipper, stuffed fender to exhaust with camping gear and musical instruments. The tides come up to less than ten meters from where beach-terrace tables are shoved into the sand.
On the menu at Restaurante Nuevo Oceano is choco plancha (grilled cuttlefish) with salsa maldita (translated for me by a local as “damn sauce”), cazón en adobo (fried marinated dogfish), and gambitas (in-shell prawns served cold and sprinkled with rock salt). Expect complimentary neon yellow licór de hierbas shots after dinner.
For a beachside campsite, Camping La Antilla is located just outside of town on Carretera La Antilla-Terrón. Online reservations are available, but as with many other things in Spain, just showing up should be fine.
Other than watersport and drinking, local activities include: slingin’ shellfish outside the supermarket, catching chameleons in the fields, and most importantly, waving at the passersby from the front porch.
Buses operated by Eva Bus (Portugal) and DAMAS (Spain) service La Antilla daily from Lagos and Faro with a transfer in Ayamonte.
Gorgo de la Escalera, Anna
Satiates my longing for a secret river spot. Though not entirely secret, neither is it overly frequented. After a long winding drive, I stripped on the rocks and jumped straight in. There was only one other small group there — the professionals, it seemed — with a parasol and surfboard (for the puppy, of course).
If you happen to slice your foot open on a caracolilla, Valencians will climb several flights of steep canyon stairs to search their car for possibly existing bandages, and without accepting wine or almonds in return.
Great rock jumps are perfectly and easily mountable. One can explore upstream for more pools, and downstream for a sudden waterfall (river shoes recommended).
Really the best way to find this swimming hole is to go to the pueblo of Anna and ask a local. We asked three before turning down the right dirt road; signage is poor.
From Valencia Ciudad, the regional train from Estacion Nord will take you to Xàtiva, and from there a local bus gets you up to Anna. The journey lasts about an hour and a half and will cost roughly 10€ each way. Dogs welcome, parking limited. Look forward to the auditory enjoyment of Valenciano — arguably the sexiest tongue on the Iberian Peninsula.
Playa del Pinet, Santa Pola
The road leading here is lined with miniature palms and lonely road signs depicting the image of a lone coffee cup.
In the less crowded morning hours, this spot is perfect for playing soccer or raqueta and working up a hunger for afternoon paella and orxata. The coast stretches its sandbars infinitely in both directions and lets the table legs of the terrazas reach right down to the edge of the water. Oh, and ladies — feel free! Tops are optional!
The coach running between Cartagena and Alicante stops in the pueblo of La Marina, and from there the local buses will drive you to El Pinet.
Playa de Guardamar del Segura, Guardamar del Segura
Somewhere along the bus route between Torrevieja and Alicante you will find diez kilómetros de playa. 10km of bronzed athletes, vibrant beach umbrellas, and the occasional bar pumping out dance music.
While waiting for my friend Pablo to finish his lifeguard tests, I walked up and down the beachfront paseo lined with cafes and restaurants. It was early, and though the staff were still flipping over chairs and setting out salt shakers, they didn’t hesitate to provide me with a very necessary café con leche.
Dramatic clouds and handsome swimmers in red shorts passed by frequently. I found a sand sculptor who, among Buddha and Jesus on the cross, had formed great mermaids and sea creatures. I dropped a coin in the basket and walked towards the water where I witnessed a large singing group in the middle of some sort of baptism ritual. Even at 9 in the morning with dark grey looming cloud cover, the water was a welcoming temperature and clear blue with soft tumbling waves.
Spotted: hungover beach kids tumbandose en la playa. Waiting for the sun. A fleet of kayakers appeared, making direct progress as they intersected the tides. I lost track of time lying there with the Mediterranean at my feet, and after a while, Pablo appeared and leaned back next to me. “Esta es mi vida,” he let out with a satisfied sigh. My thoughts exactly.
Embalse de Negratín, Zújar
I knew I’d like this place when a jeep full of kids bearing water guns relentlessly open-fired on us as we drove down to the shore. Plus, you can pull almonds right off the trees around the lake.
The area where we camped is usually a fishing spot for locals, though we were completely alone from evening until afternoon.
Getting there: The pueblo Zújar and the lake itself aren’t far from the main highway that passes between Lorca and Granada. We turned onto the main road going through Zújar and followed it into the campo. There are some farms around and even a few countryside hotels scattered through the hills.
Several dirt paths lead down to the water from the main road, and there’s enough space to park a van or pitch a tent.
Embalse de Iznájar, Iznájar
My favourite. Three young Frenchies picked me up while I was hitchhiking, and we camped in the eucalyptus grove parking lot of the lake’s campground for three nights. The campground, sailing school, and nearby tennis courts were all erected a little over a year ago and house great facilities — even a bar.
We invited a group of locals who are at the lake every day to a game of petanque, and they all jumped up exclaiming each one of them was the best player. This led to some serious drinking over several hours.
The next day, the same folks cooked us an amazing paella Andaluza right there in the parking area, as they had drunkenly promised the evening before. The lake itself is the largest reservoir in Andalusia — it’s green and surrounded by olive orchards. There are some unmarked trails that lead into the bordering hills, and you can swim to the anchored boats in the middle of the water to lie back and take the sun.