It’s weird, or maybe I’m weird, but of all the places I could visit in Andalucia, during the summer, I just keep getting dragged back to Rota. No one actually physically pulls me there: no Paco, or Ramón, or Pepa, but the place itself hypnotises me magically from Seville every time summer comes around.
This summer was a particularly hard one, what with my wife in hospital with pneumonia, but even before that I had real bad craving to get to Rota. It wasn’t just the beach, but the perfect seaside town, where I’ve started to feel at home, calling me back yet again.
Maybe I’m just getting old and prefer not to risk having a disaster holiday. Back in the day, when I was young, free, and my back was hairier, I’d never have gone to the same place 3 years in a row.
It’s just, to me, Rota has everything I need. Hotel Caribe, up the far end of town, is decent, if a tad old with a cruddy breakfast. But it’s just a short walk to the beach, a perfect beach which has perfect sand and a perfect amount of space per person, even if the sea is a little cold at times for small people, like my kids.
It’s also because I have great memories there with my wife and kids. I like to compare the photos to previous years and see how we have all changed, how they have grown, how we have aged, and how less hairy my back gets (my wife makes me wax it before we go, for suncream applying purposes).
Even now as I sit writing, looking out to my patio, I have this urge to be there again; chilling on the beach, making star shapes in the sand, and watching military planes and helicopters shoot about while my son ducks for cover.
So this year, when we finally got there, I had a massive smile on my face straight from the off, and it stayed there until we got on the bus again.
Rota is not for every tourist, but if you want to experience life on the beach the way Spanish people do it, then get down there. The beach doesn’t really start to get busy until about 13.00, when we are normally running in to escape the heat. There is space, and plenty of it if you’re prepared to walk for a few minutes.
The main beach in the town can get crowded, and I’m talking about the start of September. I’ve never been in July or August when it will definitely be packed.
There are two other beaches which are a lot less crowded. One is in a cove by some woodlands just next to the port. I’ve only ever walked up and had a stroll by this one, but it looks chilled and there are a couple of chiringuitos to swing on mojitos after lunch.
Our favourite one is to the right side of the town. The best thing to do is walk right to the end of the beach until you find a wooden walkway which winds through a lovely green wooded area. We usually take the first left exit to the beach, but there are plenty of others. Here you’ll find less people, more space, and lashings of peace and quiet.
The main reason I love this spot is because there are small sand dunes which you can run up and then roll down again. You get your sticky suncream skin covered in sand, then run in the sea and wash it off. Isn’t that why everyone goes to the beach?
This year one of my best moments was running up there with my kids. We had a race to the top, and several races down. I let my kids win, once or twice.
The view from the top is spectacular. You could stay up there reading a book, or swigging a cold one as the sun sets – the best sunsets on the beach are when they go over the sea, or the end of the beach, and in Rota you won’t be disappointed.
The sea was rough at times, and my son found out the hard way. For the last two years he hasn’t ventured in, mainly because it was cold. But he surprised me when he went in this year, up to his hips, almost straight away. Then he made his first sea mistake.
A bit later, I was already in, and I left him back by our towels with my wife playing in the sand. Anyway, he ran in, just as a wave was coming. I didn’t have time to get to him, and the wave took his head under a little. Needless to say he was petrified of the sea from then on. He was so badly affected he wouldn’t even get in the swimming pool. I was gutted because I’d hoped to play with them more in the sea this year. They were fine on the sand though; happy making sandcastles and throwing sand at each other, and anyone else who went past.
The highlight for beach time fun was on the last day. I went off with my snorkel goggles, and no snorkel, to try to find my son a crab, but all I found were a couple of shells. Anyway, on the way back, as I got to the shore, I saw a massive blob of transparent muck on the sand. Then I realised it was a jelly fish. It was huge, maybe ten kilos, and about half a metre wide.
“Mate, come and check this out,” I said.
“Look, it’s a jelly fish.”
“Wow,” he said, running over to it with me.
Then I realised having a massive splodge of poison floating about on the shore could possibly ruin some people’s holidays. So I started to warn anyone I could, and with that begun the commotion.
The splodge became a celebrity. Beach goers took photos of it, poked it, prodded it, stamped on it, and one guy even tried to wrestle it.
Luckily, word got back to the lifeguards. So these two dudes in yellow t-shirts and red shorts came over fully prepared to get rid of the poisonous splodge with their cameras. At first I thought they were just going to take photos, until the bigger of the two whipped out some white raving gloves.
He kicked it about a bit so he could get under it, picked it up, and just held it there so his mate could take a photo.
“What are they doing, Daddy?”
“I’m not sure, mate. Taking photos.”
Then they walked off with it, as you do, and threw it in a bin.
“Where’s the jelly fish gone?”
“In the bin.”
“Because it’s dangerous, and might sting people.”
“Ah okay. Can we make a castle now?”
I’m not sure whether throwing a jelly fish in the bin is standard procedure, but it solved the problem of potentially ruining people’s holidays. I dread to think what they would have done had it been a whale.
So, now you know the best beach spots, I guess I’d better fill you in on the restaurants.
Our favourite restaurant was Panes Popoli, last year. We had such great service there we were a bit gutted this year, it really went downhill. The tapas were great and they dished out large portions and decent amount of wine per glass.
So why did the service go down?
After we ordered the food, all the grub came out with lettuce and mayonnaise, we asked if they could change one for chips, for the kids. So they guy said he’d bring out a plate of chips, perfect. Then the kids wanted ketchup, and so did I, so we asked for ketchup. He brought out 5 sachets.
The food was great, but when we got the bill we were surprised to find they’d charged for the chips, bread, olives, and also the ketchup (50cents). From the impression he gave he was saying we could have the chips, when I asked why we were being charged another woman said they don’t do changes. Then when I asked why we were being charged for ketchup, she said it also costs her money, fair enough.
I was a bit annoyed, especially as we went 5 or 6 times last year, and the food is top notch. But I told myself to calm down, she did have a point that she pays for the ketchup. I took the extra 3 sachets in case we went back.
But as the holiday went on, we asked for ketchup, and bread, and olives in all the bars, and it was only them who charged for the ketchup, and most bars gave us olives free, and some also gave us bread free.
On the last day, just before we were about to catch the bus back to Seville, we went back to Popoli, to give the waiter a second chance, but he annoyed us again. We didn’t ask for chips or ketchup by the way.
When my wife asked to change the cold bottle of water for a normal temperature one, he took the bottle and checked it wasn’t open (fair enough) and also asked if we’d opened it (rude). When I asked for the bill (I did it before we’d finished eating because I knew they would take ages) he took my fork and plate and started to pack away, but there was still loads of food left and I was obviously still eating.
I sort of felt sorry for him. Poor guy, probably a nice chap, when he’s not at work with fussy guiri customers. I do recommend it though, and next year we’ll probably go back, but take our own ketchup.
La Caleta: Right on the beach front, great food, great views, great service.
La Terraza was great, the media raciones were huge and we couldn’t / shouldn’t have finish them.
My favourite though, and we went twice, was El Perejil. Great meat, and I love the drawing of the cow on the wall which shows exactly where each piece of meat is from.
Don’t forget the train
The highlight of Rota though, especially if you have kids, or even if you don’t and fancy a laugh, is the Train. It’s a musical train which drives round the city (and probably drives the locals round the bend) at night, through the main avenues past the bars and restaurants and also up to the other beach.
Each time we have a different experience, and it all depends on the crowd. Our best trip was last year because the crowd were so much fun, and drunk, and so were we, probably.
The idea is you wave to as many people and shout adios as loud as you can (when we went past Popoli I shouted for a plate of ketchup). It’s 1 euro for kids under 3, and 3 euros for the rest (that’s the train, not the ketchup, but I’m sure Popoli would try to charge you that if they could, maybe if it had been Heinz).
So, if you want a trip to cosy, reasonably priced beach town with decent restaurants, fun nightlife, and a safe, family environment, where you can shout adios while going round on a train, then try Rota, just an hour or so from Sevilla. Maybe I’ll see you there next summer.