Once you arrive in Tarifa, which is signposted left off the N340 from La Linea, assuming you're headed for the old town or casco, you might want to park up and locate the hotel before you get lost among the cobbles and those winding alleyways that eat wing-mirrors for breakfast.
Gibraltar airport, a 45-minute drive from Tarifa, is on British territory, so it's a bright idea to walk across the border and pick up your hire car or head to the taxi rank on the Spanish side, La Linea. Internal flights from elsewhere in Spain will land you at Jerez airport, 120km to the west.
There are no rail services on the Costa de la Luz.
Country code for Spain: 34. Cadíz province: 956.
Moorish Spain by Richard Fletcher; The Fabled Shore by Rose Macauley; The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho.
Do go / Don't Go
High season sees the beaches packed with surf kids, though it's laidback compared with the other Costa dels. The coastal wind tends to keep summer temperatures from blazing too fiercely, but spring's nicer if you can't take the heat. The fiesta season around Easter is fun. Autumn is good value; winters are mild.
Tasty tapas with North African influences; fresh fish at beach-shack lunch spots; robust rustic fare at the ventas (country-style taverns) studding the coast road; anything from pizza to sushi around town. It's usual not to dine until about 22h, but that's what tapas were invented for…
Tarifa old town is eminently walkable, and even the surf shops and watering holes in the modern quarter don't call for a cab. If you're carless and need a lift to a beach or club, ask the hotel to book you one, or head to the rank on Avenida de Andalucía.
Service is often included, but leaving an extra five or ten per cent won't go amiss.
A jumper for the evenings. Sunglasses, shorts, sandals; leave the heels at home and bring Birkis instead. If you forget anything sporty, you can buy (and hire) all kinds of gear in the surf shops on Calle Batalla del Salado.
Iglesia de San Mateo's baroque façade hides a much older exterior. Out of town, relics of the region's Roman past can be seen at Bolonia (closed Mondays), aka the ancient city of Baelo Claudio, with its baths, theatre and temples to Jupiter and Minerva. Spain's own soul music, flamenco, thrives in pockets: Peña Flamenca Tarifena, Plaza Santa Maria, is a high-season weekend venue. To guarantee an authentic fix, turn up in August for the recently established festival, which matches celebrated performers with evocative venues (www.flamencotarifa.com).
Playa de los Lances, a walk west of the centre, is the main town beach; for a little less wind-chaff factor, drive a few miles west of town, turn off at the sign for Punta Paloma, and seek shelter/seclusion among the hidden coves or in the shadow of the enormous sand dune, at Playa de Valdevaqueros. There are good beaches at Bolonia, too.
Mala Mujer, 32 Batalla del Salado, sells womenswear that can only be described as funky and original. 100% Flowers, in the old town, sells pretty tops and dresses. Deco, 17 Calle Nuestra Señora de la Luz, sells appealing homewares and hats. Shop for Moroccan leather goods at the Bazar Hispano Arabe on Avenida de Andalucía.
The ramparts of the 10th-century invasion-repelling Castillo de Guzmán el Bueno; on a clear day you'll get a dusky impression of Morocco's Rif mountains. Open daily 11h-14h and 18h-20h/17h-19h in winter.
Check out the contemporary art shows in the converted grain cellars of Silos Gallery, 19 Calle de los Silos.
February Pre-Lenten masquerades and dancing for Carnival. April Processions for Semana Santa: the best days are Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Saturday; the fervour is pretty much spent by Easter Sunday itself. 24 June At Facinas, bonfires on the beach mark the fiesta of San Juan; it's traditional to paddle at midnight. 16 July Fiestas de la Virgen del Carmen, when statues of the patron saint of seamen are taken out in adorned fishing boat to bless the waters, to the accompaniment of horns and fireworks. July/August Flamenco en el Castillo festival (www.flamencotarifa.com), with genuine gypsy and flamenco musicians in town. Mid-August Fiestas de la Patrona de Facinas, a local feria. Early September The fair and festival dedicated to the Virgen de la Luz, the patron saint of Tarifa.