Cádiz, an Underrated Corner of Spain

Over the course of two hours, I was given a whirlwind introduction to Cádiz’s historical importance — why, as a gateway to the Mediterranean, it was so sought after by successive civilizations. I saw the place where the first Spanish Constitution was signed in 1812 and learned of the powerful Cádiz families who, during Roman times, had reserved box seats at Rome’s Colosseum. I saw the little pieces of trivia that make history stick, like a nondescript corner that once housed a famous brothel catering to the sailors who passed through. And the bishop, who under cover of darkness, was known to don a cloak and visit it.

Walking along the long stone promenade that lines the coast, we came across a beach that looked familiar. Remember that opening scene in “Die Another Day,” when slow-motion Halle Berry emerges from the sea, while Pierce Brosnan as James Bond looks on, in what is supposedly Cuba? It’s actually Cádiz, its blend of seaside fortresses and colorful buildings used as a stand-in for Havana’s Malecón.

But, I also got other perspectives on the city. Like so many other European cities, Cádiz is feeling the pressures of growing tourism. My guide, Pablo Alvarez Cadenas, a musician, pointed out stone townhouses that had been cleared out by Airbnb owners. He showed me another house, where a single old woman is the last remaining holdout of the original Cádiz-Cádiz-Cádiz residents who had all been priced out by rising rents.

“I think there would be protests if she’s ever forced to move,” Mr. Cadenas said. “I hope more controls are put in place.”

One of the reasons the province of Cádiz is on this year’s 52 Places list is food, as chefs in the area are innovating with pork and fish, the base ingredients here. I tried out a few of the white-tablecloth joints, but came away remembering the noisy, cheap tapas bars that have been around forever.

What makes Andalusian cuisine so delicious are the ingredients, and sometimes less is more. Why go crazy with reductions and infusions when freshly caught sardines sprinkled with olive oil are enough to elicit moans?

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