I asked myself this question as I read an article in the Spanish press reporting on the choice of Cadiz province as 1 of the New York Times 52 Places to Go in 2019. The piece translated the “hip” used in the original to “cool” in Spanish. At the time, we had a trip planned to Vejer de la Frontera on the horizon and I’d thought I’d use the weekend to find out just how cool Cadiz is.
What the New York Times said
According to the New York Times, Cadiz province is living something of a “culinary renaissance” – good, I thought because we had a cookery class to look forward to. The author then talks about “hilltop white villages” that “lure expats with a blend of hip luxury hotels and art”. Good, I thought again because we were staying at Hotel V in Vejer de la Frontera and planned a second visit to NMAC. Tick, tick, tick. But would Cadiz be cool?
First the destination
The wind blows like it does nowhere in Cadiz making the real-feel temperature definitely cool, but as soon as we step into Hotel V, warmth envelops us. This boutique hotel in Vejer de la Frontera lies deep in the old quarter, tucked up a side street and not far from the church.
History oozes from every one of the stones in the walls and you’d almost think time had stopped back in the 16th century when the mansion was built. Original wooden beams soar across most of the ceilings. The occasional elegant arch graces an entrance and 4 stunning columns rise up from the central patio.
But seeing as we’re in a “hip, luxury hotel”, there’s a big dose of modern touches. Sleek porcelain floors, power showers, elegant glass walls, satin sheets that almost purr when you touch them and the fluffiest towels I’ve felt for a long time. A real treat and heaven on earth for two nights.
And then the pièce de resistance – the roof terrace complete with loungers and jacuzzi. And those views with a capital V. Yes, that’s one of the best sandy beaches in Spain to your right and yes, those are the other white villages that Cadiz excels at on your horizon. And if you think those are rice paddy fields just down below, you’re correct.
Back at the hotel, we’re also treated to a sneak peek at the well, converted into a cool massage parlour. The descent via the spiral glass staircase isn’t for the faint hearted but wow, it’s well worth the trepidation and wobbly knees. Cool? You bet.
Cool Cadiz cuisine
I’m a little out of touch with Cadiz cuisine – that’s on the must-do list for my next Fodor’s update – but Vejer de la Frontera flies the flag very high. For a smallish village there’s a surprisingly long list of foodie places. And to introduce us to them is Annie Manson, a Scottish foodie and a champion of all Andalusian cooking.
We meet Annie and the rest of the group – all from the sherry industry in nearby Jerez – in the centre of Vejer and start our tour of Vejer treats. First up is the cute market. No fish today due to that wind (still blowing a gale) but we get some strawberries from Conil and local bread before we head for Paco Melero.
😉 Vegetarians skip this section 😉
Cadiz province comes laden with some truly delicious natural produce and Iberian pork sits at the top of the list along with red tuna. Paco and his team specialise in pork products and when I say specialise, think “top of their game”. It might be just 11 in the morning, but Paco greets us with an amazing pork cold cut cake complete with ANNIE in pork fat letters.
Every single cold cut is as delicious as the next and while we’re feasting like kings on myriad delights, Paco invites us into the kitchen. This is where all the magic takes place turning Iberian pork into heavenly lomo en manteca (loin in lard), longaniza (sausage), morcilla (black pudding), salchichón (salami)…. Even the local cheese comes preserved in white lard. Needless to say, we all leave with bulging bags of purchases. Cool, cool Cadiz.
😉 Vegetarians – it’s safe to return 😉
And now to the culinary bit proper. Seeing as all her students are Spanish or long-term resident in Andalusia, Annie decides to give us a masterclass in Moroccan cooking. For the next couple of hours, we deseed pomegranates, preserve lemons, grind spices and freshly-roasted nuts, marinate chicken, roast aubergines and whisk eggs.
A good while and 2 bottles of fino later, we have prepared with Annie’s help another feast fit for yet more kings. And the different types of sherry paired majestically with every single dish. My highlights? The smoked aubergine salad and Moroccan chicken followed by the lemon macaroons dipped in aged Pedro Ximénez with fresh strawberries and dark chocolate. Oh the decadence and how cool is that?
After another heavenly night in those purring sheets, we breakfast on goat’s cheese, fresh strawberries, Iberian ham and fresh orange juice deep in lush leather sofas amidst the lovely antiques at Hotel V. Next up on our cool Cadiz calendar is NMAC.
A short drive up and down rolling Cadiz hills (and yey, the wind has finally dropped) before we reach the Montenmedio turn-off. We’re the only ones here and start our tour of NMAC, contemporary art and nature. You follow the guided path to one extraordinary art installation after another. We’ve been before but the second visit is just as good and as surprising as our first.
A long list of prominent international artists are the signatures behind the works that range from stone bridges, weird road signs and mirror brick walls to human nests, social benches and Franco on his horse. Marina Abramovic, James Turrell, Pilar Albarracín, Pascale Marthine Tayou, Fernando Sánchez Castillo and Olafur Eliasson showcase their work in the loveliest setting. Several of these artists are exhibited in the CAC art museum in Malaga, another hot spot for art in Andalusia.
Pine woods, little streams and cork oaks stand proud while birds sing their hearts out as we wander round. We won’t pretend we ‘got’ all the installations. A couple of them left us cold while others were just plain weird. But there’s something very, very special about walking through woods and stumbling across one fabulous art work after another. The James Turrell Second Wind ‘temple’ takes your breath away and Shen Yuan’s ceramic bridge is simply stunning. Cool? Oh yes.
The verdict on cool Cadiz
Featuring on one of the lists of the world’s must-see destinations for a given year is always a double-edged sword. I suspect the Cadiz provincial tourist people can’t stop smiling and that the locals are sighing deeply and hoping that being on the New York Times radar doesn’t mean they can’t get their daily fix of lomo in manteca.
But attract the right sort of tourism on the back of being on “the list” and there’s plenty to shout about for everyone. In our short trip to a (small) part of Cadiz, we experienced the very best the area has to offer. And we agree that, like the New York Times, “the province of Cadiz ticks all the boxes”. Including the cool one.
Handy info for discovering your cool Cadiz
Hotel V – boutique hotel in the heart of Vejer de la Frontera. Double room and breakfast from €160 a night. Roof terrace open Easter to October. Calle Rosario 11-13, Vejer de la Frontera. See website.
Annie B’s Spanish Kitchen – food and wine adventures in Southern Spain. Cookery classes with Annie at her home in Vejer as well as sherry tours and a tuna almadraba experience. Find out more.
NMAC – Dehesa de Montenmedio Ctra N340- km 42.5, Vejer de la Frontera. Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 2pm. €5 per person.
Paco Melero – Calle Relinque 22, Vejer de la Frontera.