Quick Guide to Algeciras
10 reasons to love the city most guide books dismiss
Most guide books don’t have nice things to say about Algeciras, the ‘ugly industrial fishing town’ (Lonely Planet) that’s merely ‘a refuelling stop’ on the way to Tangier (Frommers Guide). But the guide books are out of date!
Algeciras is a smarter act these days and if you look beyond the dockyard you’ll discover that the first city ever built by the Moors in Spain has hidden soul.
Once upon a time, Algeciras was the belle of the ball.
Hollywood’s finest stayed at the ‘poster hotel’ during the first half of the 20th century, enjoying bedrooms with en suite fireplaces, polo, hunting, cricket and ‘the services of an English resident doctor’.
The Reina Cristina was the first luxury hotel in Spain and this Edwardian grand dame is still open for business. Check out the famous guest signatures on the gold panels in reception, belonging to Cole Porter, Ava Gardner Franklin D. Roosevelt, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Winston Churchill and a host of blasts from the past.
As impeccably connected as ever – to Madrid by train, Morocco by ferry, Ceuta by helicopter and Gibraltar by road – Algeciras is worth more than a one-night stand. Here’s10 reasons why.
The Flying Saucer Market Hall
The swooping octagonal roof of Mercado Ingeniero Torroja was the largest architectural cupola in the world until the Houston Astrodome stole the title in 1965. The shell is only 9cm thick at its centre and, with no visible support, it seems to hover above the market stalls like a flying saucer. An engineering milestone when it was unveiled in 1935, the original construction team were so worried it would collapse they refused to take down the scaffolding!
Best buys: Fresh seafood, Atlantic tuna, local fruit and veg, halal meats and Moroccan spices
Open Monday to Saturday, 08.00 to 15.00
2. Plaza Alta, Queen of Squares
Perched on a plateau in this hilly town with a ceramic frog fountain at its centre, there’s no finer plaza for shopping and people-watching. Head for one of the smart new cafes around the square or dive into the streets that radiate from all four corners – east for chains like Mango and Zara, west for quirky boutiques, downhill to the market (take the lift back up from the multi-storey car park midway along the seafront, you can’t miss its ivy-clad walls).
3. Trendy Tapas Haunts
The city never used to be renowned for its fine dining but these days it’s positively blooming with funky new places to eat. Many of the stalwarts have brushed up their act, too. These are among our favourites:
Entre Tejas: A hidden gem in a narrow side street with a highledy-piggledy interior painted in Moroccan colours and big blackboard of tapas treats. We love that it’s in Calle Bailen (Dancing Street) although there’s no room for a Strictly performance!
La Carboneria Great for Argentinean steak, empanadas (fried pasties with different fillings) and ambience. A popular lunch spot for office workers, it’s tiny inside and pavement tables are also at a premium so get there early.
El Querido For funky tapas – from interesting ways with goats cheese and hummus to shareable platters of sizzling steak. Dishes are conjured up from a tiny hole-in-the-wall bar and the restaurant literally pops up in the street around lunchtime, so dining is mainly al fresco.
4. María Cristina Park
Parque Maria Cristina is a perfect pause between bouts of shopping. Sand pathways meander between palms, horse chestnuts, acacias, cedars and pines. In summer it becomes an outdoor arena for concerts, plays and horse & carriage displays. Check out the caches of cannon balls secreted among the recently-excavated Medieval Walls of the 13th century Moorish city, opposite the park.
5. The Paco de Lucia Trail
A fun way to explore the city’s hidden corners. Follow in the footsteps of the great classical flamenco guitarist to all the places that became titles for his rumbas, bulerías and tangos. The trail runs from his birthplace in the city to his beach house in Rinconcillo and takes in the view from Carnero Lighthouse across the Gibraltar Strait, the inspiration for Punta del Faro, his most famous work.
Dine on the Trail
Enjoy Paco’s Punto del Faro views from the terrace of Puro Estrecho. This chic beach club 1-minute drive from the lighthouse has its own pool and gardens and a panoramic restaurant specialising in local fish and seafood.
6. It’s the Filling in a Natural Park Sandwich
If you like a hike, Algeciras is the place, hemmed in by two protected nature parks. El Estrecho Natural Park, protecting marine life in the Strait and the wild headland running to Tarifa, is the Med’s M1 for migrating birds. Or explore inland among the cork forests and prehistoric caves of Los Alcornocales Natural Park.
7. The Out-of-North-Africa Flavours
The Moroccan Quarter outside the gates to the port gives you a taste of Tangier without setting foot on a ferry. As the accent merges to Mudejar, look out for kebab kiosks, halal butchers, colourful cake shops selling sinful Moroccan pastries and teterías serving mint tea.
Ferries from Algeciras only sail to Tangier Med and Ceuta. For Tangier city, catch the (much faster and cheaper) FRS ferry from Tarifa. You can get the free FRS bus from Algeciras Port where seafront parking is more plentiful than in Tarifa. LEARN MORE
8. Ravishing Rinconcillo Beach
Playa del Rinconillo begins on the northern edge of town and runs all the way to the dunes and marshlands of the River Palmones estuary. With all that fine white sand you could be in the Bahamas! Paco de Lucia’s favourite playa is mobbed with kite surfers and holidaying Spaniards in July and August and practically deserted in winter but the views to Gibraltar and Africa are always impressive.
9. Mr Henderson’s Railway
Andalucia’s first rail link to the rest of Europe was masterminded by the British in the 19th century and the epic trip from Algeciras into the mountains of Ronda aboard ‘Mr Henderson’s Railway’ is as much of a must-do as ever. The line hugs the fringes of Los Alcornocales Natural Park, climbing to a height of 750 metres above sea level and stopping at quaint wayside stations where you can get out and have lunch.
Sir Alexander Henderson, the English Lord and railway enthusiast who financed the project, also built the hotels at each end of the line. The Reina Victoria Hotel in Ronda is the Reina Cristina Hotel’s younger sister. Today they’re run by different companies.
10. Sitting on the Dock of the Bay
Remember the old Otis Redding song? Watching the ships roll in across a bay whose beauty has been compared to Sydney Harbour’s is just as cool. For prime port views, head for the first floor terrace restaurant at El Corte Inglés.
If you’re still not convinced, check out this mind-blowing time lapse video.
ANLOES100 made this video using a Panasonic FZ100, 16 time lapse films and 13,000 photographs.
11. Fab Fiestas
Bonus point - we found another good reason to visit Algeciras in September: the fantastic Entremares Festival, a Spanish-Moroccan party in 19th century costumes celebrating the cultures on both sides of the Gibraltar Strait. Here it is in pictures.
Do you think Algeciras is worth more than a one night stand? Drop us a comment below.