Getting to Know Rota, Spain

This is my second time in the small Spanish coastal town of Rota. The first visit I made was in the summer and for a short three days to visit friends and go to the beach. This time, I am getting to live with my friends in this great little beach town for the month of October, giving me loads more time to learn more about Rota and its history. You see, my style of traveling is a bit different and unusual. I tend to go places where I know people who are living there full time. Whether they’re long time locals or ex-pats, it enables me to experience the local people and culture of the area and get a taste for everyday life there.

My dear friend and host, Carolina. She’s like my Spanish sister to me🙂

What I’ve really enjoyed on almost a daily basis has been walking the beaches here, which are only four blocks away from where I am staying. The terrain of the beach is different than las playas (beaches) that I am used to in the Dominican Republic where my mother is from. Yes, there are tall glorious palm trees, although coconut free, and the sand is soft and grainy. Some of the differences though is that Rota’s beaches and most of the ones I have been to along the Costa del Sol, have sand dunes. Graced with tall grasses, shrubs, sand pines, and cactus, these rolling mounds of cream-colored sand are a fun canvas beholding varying shades of green. Wood walkways wind up and over the dunes, breaking off in either direction for enjoying other trails running parallel to the beach. I love how the ocean begins to appear at the end of the walkway as I draw closer, the horizon turning dark cobalt blue and sparkling like diamonds from the sunlight shinning down. Upon reaching the ramp that takes me down to the beach, the waves can be seen crashing into white sprays of foam and then receding back into another wave beginning to build. Anyone who has walked a beach knows how beautiful it is, not only to the eyes, but also to the ears and touch. The damp salty air from the wind blowing in my face…the soft cold embrace of sand around my feet, squishing between my toes as I walk just along the edge of the latest wave that landed on shore…the warm sun tingling on my skin…the shape of the water in the curl of the waves…and that amazing surreal feeling one can get when you stand still in the shallow waters of wave receding back into the ocean…starring down at the clear water with white bubbles, you feel like you’re actually moving yet you’re standing still as you see the water rushing over sand, pulling at the thousands of little grains, rolling them back into another wave. As you can see, I obviously love that feeling.

View of La Iglesia…

On a particular Saturday, I chose to walk west on the beach towards the peninsula end where Rota’s old historic center lies. I was delighted to see even from shore a picturesque tower that resembles a fortress and next to it, the steeple of a church building. These were just behind a stone wall that gave me an idea of how the town must have looked when hundreds of years ago, these walls were used to protect the village from both the natural elements and invaders alike. I was looking at the Castillo de Luna (the Castle of the Moon), which was built in 1295, and the Iglesia Parroquia Nuestra Senora. They are both located in the ancient Plaza Bartolome Perez, where every Spring the locals gather in Medieval costume to celebrate Good Friday. To top it all off, next to these landmarks is a lighthouse that stands tall and bold in traditional white and red. It is part of the old wall and just before one of the entrances to the marina.

El Castillo de Luna

What I was really surprised to learn, was how old Rota is. The nearby larger town of Cadiz is the oldest town still inhabited in Western Europe! Yeah…it goes way back. Rota itself was founded around the same time in 1104 BC by the Phoenicians and later went through years under Moorish rule. By the time 1248 rolled around, the Moors were slowly being driven out of Spain and the town became Christian along with the rest of the country.

Being in Rota has made me aware that I need to learn my Spanish geography a little bit better. Okay…maybe a lot better! I had this assumption before that this part of the southern coast of Spain (called el Costa del Sol) was also in the Mediterranean Sea. However, it is not and is actually on the Atlantic Ocean. It’s location has made it an important coastal defense all throughout its history, just like it’s neighboring city of Cadiz. They are both strategically built just before the entrance into the Mediterranean, also making them very close to the straits of Gibraltar and fascinating places like Morocco. Speaking of…hhhmmm…haven’t been there yet…I wonder if I should make a visit soon?

La Iglesia up close – the Church

In El Castillo de Luna

Even though I was first seeing this part of Rota on a Saturday, it was very quiet and hardly any people were out. The sun was shinning bright and warm, with a steady cool breeze in the air. I assumed it was due to the time of year. Since it is fall here now, it is a type of off-season in terms of the typical tourist crowds that otherwise frequent this area from other parts of Europe and the UK. It certainly didn’t bother me. Getting to walk without crowds was wonderful and I enjoyed having the plaza all to myself. The church was not open to peek inside, but I enjoyed a solitary quiet turn-around in the Ayuntamiento de Rota which are the local municipality and government offices housed in the Castillo de Luna. It was stunningly beautiful and I imagined what it would be like to call a place like it home…it’s beauty was not glamorous or obstintatious and instead it was simply rich with cultural intricacies and architectural splendor. It needed nothing more. The plaza itself has tall majestic palms growing stoic and strong among the couple of cafes there and around the beautiful mosaic design of stones and tiles that form a large circle in the center of the ground.

At some point, I was walking along the marina and could hear fantastic standard jazz songs floating through the air. I followed the music to its source which turned out to be…ready for a surprise? An Italian restaurant! I wasn’t surprised and laughed out loud at how I seem to draw all things Italian to myself. And I continue to miss Italy and look forward to when I can go back again one day. Since the lunch hour had come and gone, I got to savor a delicious glass of Montepulciano from the region of Abruzzo while getting to know the owner Luca and his colleague Christian. The glass of Italian red wine was so good, I had another and enjoyed a small bowl of fresh pesto spaghetti that Luca and Christian had made and invited me to join them in eating for their lunch. I had a blast talking with with them in Spanish and some tid-bits of Italian I had picked up while there in the Spring. We talked about our favorite places to visit in Spain and Italy and I learned that Luca is from Florence and Christian is from Sicily. They’ve been in Rota and had their restaurant, La Dolce Vita, for almost two years now. Why leave Italy for Spain? They simply wanted a slower pace of life and in Rota is where they found it. The decor, food, and wine was so good, that I took my friends Sara and Carolina there that night. Turns out, it’s one of Carolina’s favorite Italian places to eat at in Rota and each of our meals was wonderful. It was a great discovery and a place I need to visit again before I move on from Rota soon.

I know there is even more to see and still learn about in Rota. What I’ve seen so far has been beautiful and I’m amazed at how much such a little town can have. I suppose that is what happens when a place has been around for so many years and seen so many things take place. For now, I am glad to take my time and enjoy experiencing Rota a little bit like a local. Until I write more about Rota, enjoy more pictures below.

A side view of El Castillo de Luna

Sunset on the beach…

Trails on the sand dunes

Looking east towards the old historic center and tip of Rota

those beautiful details in El Castillo de Luna

Can you see the wind surfer?