Thousands of surfers make the pilgrimage to Tarifa, the wind capital of Europe.
There was a time when people in Tarifa cursed the wind. Standing on the Strait of Gibraltar at the southernmost tip of continental Europe, this town is the windiest in Spain, but until two decades ago few suspected that Tarifa had its greatest asset in the powerful easterly Levante and blustery Poniente from the west. Today not only is the wind’s power harnessed to provide electricity at the wind park which rises on the surrounding hills, but it has turned Tarifa into the windsurfing capital of Europe.
Thousands make the pilgrimage to Tarifa to experience its wide, sandy beaches, its challenging surf and the thrill of its force 7 winds. Bronzed windsurf enthusiasts from all over the world mingle with fishermen and village housewives in the medieval walled town of Tarifa. Equipped with wet suits, they can be seen practicing their favorite sport off Tarifa’s coast any time of the year, for January is just as good as August if you’re a windsurf fanatic.
The influx of visitors has endowed the area with a number of lively hotels, a booming nightlife scene, and new attractions such as whale-spotting tours and scuba diving schools.
Long before the arrival of the surf set, Tarifa became a household word in Spain thanks to the feat of Alfonso Perez de Guzman, who chose to sacrifice his son rather than surrender Tarifa’s fortress to the Moors in a siege in 1294. The Moors had captured the teenaged boy and threatened to kill him if Guzman refused to accept defeat. Instead, the knight defiantly flung down his own dagger at the besiegers from the castle’s battlements, shouting “Here, use this,” or words to that effect. It stands up as the ultimate gesture of Iberian bravado.
Guzman, who continued to battle the Moors until he was killed in an ambush near Gaucin in 1309, earned the sobriquet Guzman el Bueno (Guzman the Good) and the Tarifa castle became known as “Guzman’s Castle”, but it predates the man by more than three centuries. It was finished by the Moors in 960, and is one of the most outstanding examples of a fortress from the period of the Andalusian Caliphate.
Until recently the historical castle of Tarifa was off limits to tourists, for it served as headquarters for the military in charge of controlling the Strait of Gibraltar. Later it was handed over to the town and in 1996 it was restored and opened to the public. Restoration work has continued, and last year a new museum was added, devoted to the good knight Guzman.
Patronato de Turismo (tourism board) - Paseo de la Alameda, 11380 Tarifa (Cadiz), Spain. Tel. & Fax 34 956 680 993.
Nearest airport: Jerez (78 miles, 125 km)
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Copyright © 2000 An Andalusian Experience. Text by Mark Little. Photography by J. D. Dallet - A Freelance Spain production
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Copyright © 2000-2006 Mark and David Little & J.D. Dallet