I was introduced to Ayamonte and Isla Canela in southern Spain in 2002 by two sets of old friends who had fallen in love with the area and decided to buy properties down there. Our three families went back a long way and there was huge pressure one me to join the scheme , but I was determined to keep an open mind. I had visions of British bars selling 24 hour breakfasts and ‘Kiss me Quick‘ hats; nothing could be further from the truth…
Situated on the Costa de la Luz, Ayamonte is a charming, still unspoilt town in Andalucia, linked by a road bridge to Isla Canela, where I have my bolt hole, a small island, a listed and protected national nature reserve and from there to 7 kms of unspoilt beach. This very Spanish town has become home from home for me, where mañana is not a form of procrastination to guilt trip about, but a perfectly acceptable way of life!
I fell in love with the town first I think. Drinking coffee in Plaza de Laguna in Café Galeria Passage, with churros bought fresh from kiosks just outside the market, taken steaming hot, brushed with sugar and cinnamon. Here all generations hang out together as grandparents sit on the benches and kids play around them creating havoc. Shopping in the indoor market (Mercado de Abastos), is a fabulous, just getting away from the ‘busyness’ of Northern Europe, learning to become patient, as I stand in line for what I would normally have considered to be inordinate amounts of toe tapping time, waiting to buy my fresh fruit, vegetables and fish.
There are wonderful simple restaurants and tapas bars, serving basic local Spanish dishes. It took me a while to get used to the Spanish eating hours (dinner after 9 o’clock at night, preferably ten!) And a different shared way eating (para picar – or family style as it’s called in the US) and serving courses often times in no particular order. Wandering around the streets is joy, in narrow calle with picturesque whitewashed houses, pleasant squares, Baroque churches with some traces of the Manueline style architecture, because of its proximity to Portugal. The town is of Roman origin and the castle has Roman foundations, an Arab tower and the remains of Il Duomo in Milan. Steeped in tradition, a highlight is during the week before Easter, Semana Santa where there are traditional parades, centuries old.
Barely 3 kilometres away is the Isla Canela beach. 7 kms of beautiful sand, with a promenade and cycle track linking the beach to the nearby marina, when I’m feeling energetic. I have always been intrigued that the Spanish are so lively by temperament and yet so orderly on the beach, with their little blue beach chairs, picnics and parasols. Even in the middle of August, there is something strangely peaceful about it! I love getting into Spanish rhythm and going down there at six in the evening after work and staying there until the sun goes down, drifting into beach cafes for sangria and tapas. It suits my body clock!
What I also enjoy is using Ayamonte as a base to explore places further afield. Seville is about 1 hour 15 minutes away when I need my city fix and Granada, Cordoba, Cadiz, Jerez are all worth visits. I’ve even taken the hydrofoil to Tangiers. The magnificent Doñana National Park is only 45 minutes away. So at the end of an extended stay, it takes me a while to get the sand out of my hair, the sangria out of my bloodsteam and brace myself for the return north! With only bags of the local herb tea, bought from the market squashed into my suitcase, to fortify me through the winter – it’s hasta luego!
Bio: Dorothy Dalton is an international talent management specialist and career coach working on both sides of the executive search spectrum from ‘hire to retire’.