Once a town whose wealth was based on the tuna fishing industry, Conil de la Frontera, on the Atlantic coast of Cadiz, has had to turn to tourism to survive. It was soon ‘discovered’ by the Spanish tourists from Seville and Huelva and its population now quadruples in summer from 23,000 to over 100,000 people. Spring and autumn are the best times to discover Conil; all the restaurants, shops and bars are open and the Spanish tourists are thin on the ground. Conil de la Frontera is a charming Spanish fishing town and resort.
The signs of the tuna fishing industry are all over town. The most prominent building is the Guzman tower, the only remaining part of a castle that was built during the 14th century by Alfonso Perez de Guzman “el Bueno” to accommodate the Dukes of Medina Sidonia, who owned Conil de la Frontera, and who came to the coast every year to monitor the tuna catch.
An arched gateway takes you into the old part of town. In front of the gate, in a small square, is a fountain with a sculpture honouring the role of the tuna in the town’s fortunes. The fisherman’s cottages at the north end of the town are all renovated, painted white and now have all modern amenities. A tourist guide candidly points out that the houses have all the services inside apart from a few that still depend on ‘wells of a primitive character’. Charming to observe, not so attractive if you are the one going to the well every day. The streets here are literally an arms width wide and follow the original mediaeval street plan.
Between 1540 and 1560 the then Duke of Medina Sidonia built the 7,500 square metre tuna fish factory, La Chanca. It was used for salting the fish and storing the boats and fishing gear. This building has been restored and is now a tuna fishing museum and a library.
The centre of the town also shows signs of care, the streets are clean and full of restaurants, cafes and bars. Not surprisingly fish in all its multifarious forms is dish of the day. Competition is so great amongst the restaurants that prices and quality are very reasonable, many display individual and unique menus.
Dotted between the eating establishments are souvenir shops but not your normal run of the mill souvenir shops, these sell handmade jewellery, quirky crafts, retro designer ladies clothes shops and handmade cake shops.
During the summer months Conil de la Frontera is a seaside resort. There are a few expats but they are vastly outnumbered by the Spanish, and little wonder. The paseo separates the town from a wide expanse of low sand dunes covered in native grasses and plants and a wide expanse of fine beach before you arrive at the crisp blue waves that roll in from the Atlantic. To the north of the town there is a small bay enclosed by low cliffs, Cala del Puntalejo, with golden sand, shallow waters and just far enough away from the urban area to be reasonably secluded.