Huelva: Unspoilt nature on the Atlantic

The area between Lepe and the Portuguese border offers plenty to see and do

Many international tourists – as opposed to Spanish ones, who tend to be more in the know about their immediate surroundings – bypass the Costa de la Luz on their way through southern Spain to the Algarve. In doing so, they miss the lovely, unspoilt area around Lepe and Ayamonte, which are not only worth visiting in their own right, but offer easy access to numerous areas of natural beauty or sightseeing interest.

What to see

The town of Lepe is well known for its magnificent beach resort at La Antilla, for its modern strawberry cultivation, for its annual “Romería”, or pilgrimage, and not least for the popular humour associated with the town. For many years, Lepe has been used in Spanish jokes to typify a backwater whose inhabitants are not known for their intellectual powers (as in “Why do ‘Leperos’ plant olive groves on the beach? To get anchovy-stuffed olives”). The Leperos themselves, far from taking umbrage, took advantage and have made their town a centre for humour, cashing in on the town’s fame to organize joke-telling contests and invite top comedians to perform there.

The most significant monuments are the cupola of the 13th century San Cristóbal chapel, the water cistern of the “Casa Palacio”, the monument to sailors and the 5th Centenary park.

Nearby Isla Cristina is known for its fishing trade and pleasure harbour, and for its eight kilometre long beach, and also for the modern religious statues in its main churches.

Nature lovers will want to head into the area between La Redondela and Ayamonte, at the mouth of the rivers Guadiana and La Ría Carreras. The vegetation here is unique, with pine trees, eucalyptus and sea thistles, and the fauna is varied and includes spoonbills, gannets and red bills. Nearer the sea, the dunes are perfumed with lavender and rosemary.

Islantilla, and the golf club of the same name which is one of the major attractions for tourists, are situated in the middle of a natural park right alongside the Atlantic. The 27 hole golf course opened in 1992 and boasts a lovely colonial style clubhouse – and green fees which will not break the bank! It is much used by golfers from across the border who arrive via Faro airport, and recently by Costa del Sol players who find the area makes a pleasant change and, with the new road network, is much “closer” to home than it used to be.

The experience….

A recent visit to the area in spring threw up the pleasant surprise of being able to see numerous storks, perching on the telegraph poles and nesting high up on church towers, and occasionally making their distinctive loud clattering noise.

Another bonus, at any time of year, is the chance to visit Portugal. The trip no longer involves the uncertainty and frustration of long waits at the border, and for a quick visit, there is no need to change currency or language, as the Portuguese near the frontier are quite at home with pesetas and Spanish. Towels, towelling robes and matching slippers are a good buy, and on the gastronomy front there are cod dishes and the famous “vinho verde”, or a bottle of souvenir Port.

For the increasing number of Costa del Sol residents visiting the Costa de la Luz, crashing waves and Atlantic sea breezes come as a refreshing change, and a stroll along the sea front at dusk can be a bracing, and even solitary, experience.

How to get there

By road – straight across the bridge from Portugal at Ayamonte, with none of the former queues at the border, or from the other side via the “Fifth Centenary” road between Huelva and Seville. The nearest airports are Seville and Faro.

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