If you are lucky enough to get orders to Naval Station Rota, Spain, one of the first things you will want to do once you’re settled is start exploring the local area! This small base in Southwest Spain is in a remote corner of Europe. Destinations like Madrid or Barcelona require a long weekend visit. However, there are many destinations you can reach in just 1-2 hours of driving. Each one is a wonderful place to take visitors for a taste of authentic Spain. Leave early, walk around the town for a while, enjoy a late lunch of tapas or local seafood, and then start driving home while the rest of the country is taking siesta. We have done all of these trips with small children, so they are family-friendly. But they can also be enjoyed with a group of adults.
When travelling in Spain, you will first want to read the tips in my book “Welcome to Rota.” This 200-page paperback book has all the info to help Americans make a smooth transition to living in Spain. It discusses everything from making the PCS move, choosing local housing and schools, where to shop and eat, how to order food from Spanish menus, cultural differences, the calendar of holidays, and much more! There is also a complete section on travelling. Highlights of the day trips selection are mentioned below, but please see the book for more details like when to go, how to get there, where to park, using Spanish phrases and currency, prices of attractions, and websites for reserving tickets.
Gibraltar is always one of the top destinations for visitors to Rota. This town, nestled at the base of the famous Rock of Gibraltar is actually a British territory attached to the Spanish mainland. A passport is required to enter. Once you walk across the border, you enter a quaint British town where they speak English and serve excellent fish and chips. Renting a taxi tour guide or taking a ride on the lift will take you to the top of the mountain, where you can see the marker for one of the Pillars of Hercules (the other is in Africa), and get amazing views of the harbor. The top of Gibraltar is home to a large group of wild barbary apes. These monkeys will jump on your head and steal your snacks or accessories, so watch out! You can also walk into the rock and see the natural Cave of St. Michael’s or the man-made Siege Tunnels. Gibraltar has an interesting history, from the time Spain sold it to England, throughout World War II and the modern era.
Sevilla is called Seville by Americans. This is the largest town near Rota, just over 1 hour away. The “Golden City,” was once the location that received all the gold from Spain’s territories in the New World. During the 1700’s, Sevilla’s architecture was exotic and opulent. Today, you can tour the king’s palace called the Alcazar Real. It is right next to Europe’s 3rd largest cathedral, which was formerly a mosque. The park and fountains at the Plaza d’Espana are a beautiful remnant from the 1920’s World Fair. Sevilla has many wonderful museums, including the History museum and the Toro d’Oro (Tower of Gold.) The ceramic shops in the Triana district are world-renowned for the beautiful hand-made paintings on ceramic bowls and vases. Further outside the city is a great amusement park called Isla Magica. In Sevilla, you can enjoy excellent food, especially tapas, and some fun outdoor markets at Christmas time. This city will be worth multiple visits so you can enjoy all it has to offer!
Ronda is often listed as a Top 10 destination in Spain. The town is most famous for its “new bridge,” Puente Nuevo, which was built 200 years ago. The bridge spans a deep gorge, and you can get striking views of the bridge from the sides or the bottom. Ronda is also allegedly the city that invented bullfighting, so you can tour its famous Bullring and Bullfighting museum. The small winding streets of the medieval town are fun for a stroll, or you can take a carriage ride, drawn by gorgeous Spanish horses. The Cliffside park offers gorgeous views at sunset!
4. Tangiers, Morocco
Yes, you CAN visit Morocco for a day when you are stationed in Spain! There are ferries that depart from Tarifa, Spain, and cross the Mediterranean Sea in about 1 hour. When you arrive at the huge port of Tangiers, you can meet with a private guide (arranged in advance) and be driven through the city to see the major sights. Going to Morocco means entering an Arab world. The language, food, culture, and currency are all different from Spain. You can ride a camel, drink mint tea, see snake charmers, buy fresh spices at the market, haggle for a deal on a hand-made sword, and join in the singing and music-making at a local tea house. This trip could be difficult for children, but if you arrange a private tour guide (highly recommended for safety), then they can accommodate for little ones. It is a long day trip, at least 12 hours round trip, but it is totally worth it to experience the culture of another continent.
5. Baelo Claudia
Baelo Claudia is the place to go if you want to see Roman ruins in Spain. This Roman city is 2,000 years old, and partially restored, so that you can see the aqueduct and walls, walk on Roman roads, see the pillars of the Forum, walk into the huge Amphitheater, explore the fish drying vats near the harbor, and even see old pipes underneath the floors of the bathhouse! There is also a small museum onsite where you can learn about the city, and see small artifacts like coins and pottery. (Larger statues and artwork are on display in the History Museum in Sevilla.) Located in the town of Bolonia, near Tarifa, the site of Baelo Claudia has amazing views of the Mediterranean. On a clear day, you can see Morocco!
Cádiz is the city right across the bay from Rota. You can get there by car, or take a boat from Rota. Cádiz has so much history: it has been continuously inhabited for 3,000 years, first by the Phoenicians, then the Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Moors, then finally the Spanish! So their History Museum is one of the best around. Cádiz is also a beautiful city, with a classic European feel. Many of the neighborhoods and churches, including the huge Cathedral, were constructed in the 1800’s. The huge stone fort on the Northern edge of the city was built in the 1690’s, and it overlooks Cádiz’s famous beach, Playa de la Caleta. A huge important monument is dedicated to the Constitution of 1812, which temporarily declared Cádiz the capital of Spain. This eventually led to the Spanish Civil War. Cádiz is a wonderful town for walking and eating. Whether you stroll through narrow streets or wide parks, and eat tasty seafood or ice cream, it is a town worth many return visits!
Jerez is only a half hour from Rota, and one of the closest major shopping areas. Some people visit it frequently for the large Mall, which includes an Ikea, at the Luz Shopping Center. But for tourists, Jerez is famous for 2 things: horses, and sherry. The beautiful, well-trained Spanish horses can be seen at the Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Equestre, in a show called “How the Andalusian Horses Dance.” It is truly impressive! Sherry, which is a fortified wine, can be found at any Bodega. The largest is Gonzalez Byass, home of the Tio Peppe brand. You can tour the bodega, learn about sherry, see giant barrels, watch them pour sherry several feet through the air from a venecier into a small glass, and then taste some yourself. Jerez also has its own Alcazar fortress, a cathedral, and plenty of flamenco shows.
Arcos is a small, quaint town spread out over a hillside. These white-walled villages are common throughout the Andalusia region. Arcos is unique for several reasons. First, it is the town of arches, because many of the buildings are literally supported by stone arches built across the narrow streets. Second, Arcos is famous for its running of the bulls festival every Easter. A live bull is released into the narrow streets, and runs downhill towards any volunteers (mostly men) who have climbed into the gated-off streets. When we went, my brother-in-law ran with the bull! It was crazy, but he said it was one of the greatest experiences of his lifetime. Arcos also has several churches, a small museum of Nativity scenes, and a convent of nuns famous for selling delicious cookies.
9. Zahara de la Sierra
Zahara de la Sierra is an old white village on a mountainside just over 1 hour from Rota. It is in the center of olive country, and you will see mountainsides covered in olive trees all around the town. This is where you want to go to buy the best Spanish olive oil. You can tour several olive mills there, which have been in operation for hundreds of years. The process of pressing olive oil is similar to making cider: the fruit is crushed with hydraulic presses until the extra virgin oil oozes out. Real olive oil has a delicious taste and strong earthy flavor. Taste some free samples, then buy a few liters to take home. The Spanish eat olive oil on everything, even bread! Zahara is located next to a large lake that is a great location for hiking or watersports.
Ubrique is famous for its leather products. The lower part of the town is filled with artisan shops that do custom colors, designs, patterns, and cuts of leather. You can purchase small items like wallets and belts, or truly special pieces like jackets, clothes, boots, and purses. The upper part of the town is worth a visit, too. The narrow roads and quaint houses are actually built into the mountain, and in some areas they creatively constructed homes around huge boulders. After a morning of shopping, enjoy a lunch of local game like rabbit and boar. This one can be a very fun, but very expensive trip, depending how many souvenirs you purchase!
So, if you get orders to Rota Spain, I hope you are able to check out all of these amazing places! You’ll find tons more tips and helpful info in my book, “Welcome to Rota.”
About the Author
Lizann Lightfoot is the Seasoned Spouse, a military wife who has been with her husband since before Boot Camp—15 years ago! Together they have been through 6 deployments and 4 different duty stations (including 1 overseas in Spain). Lizann spends her days at home wrangling their 4 young children, cooking somewhat healthy meals, writing about military life, and wondering where the family will end up next. She is the author of the book ‘Welcome to Rota,’ and of the Seasoned Spouse blog.
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