Upon embarking on a lengthy European adventure, my husband and I decided to start our trip in the south of Spain. Milder winter temperatures entered into our decision, as did the appealing countryside and historical landmarks prevalent throughout the region.
Our first stop? The small city of Rota.
With a mix of Spanish and Islamic heritage apparent in the architecture, a temperate climate and affordable cost of living, the destination has provided a pleasant and gentle entry into a life of full-time travel. One thing vacationers will find obvious upon arrival is the casual nature of the locals. Real people live here. Individuals with an unforced friendliness walk the streets in accessible fashion choices such as leggings, ankle boots, jean jackets and ponchos.
It's also clearly a dog-friendly town, where the pets are as unpretentious as the people. Rather than a prevalence of perfectly groomed, pedigreed pooches, you'll see everything from mixed-breed rescue pups and mischievous Labradors, to greyhounds and boxers.
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All of these things combine to produce an end result of old-world charm with plenty of working-class authenticity. The fact that many of the most enjoyable things to do in Rota are available at no cost only adds to the value of the visit.
Sights: For a sense of the city's heritage, make your way to the historical district. It's easily walkable from most spots and boasts a castle, baroque-style churches, the old public market building and more.
These spots are all free to visit, along with the boardwalk trail in the local park and the municipal beaches that allow off-leash canine play. There's also a bricked promenade used frequently by locals for biking, jogging and fitness walks.
Sipping: In general, cafes are quite affordable in Rota. Inexpensive tapas abound, and half-sized orders are listed on many a menu along with their reduced price. One of the most affordable places to sit and relax is the outdoor patio restaurant in the plaza just outside the Castle of the Moon. They offer 2 euro pours of local wine that come with a free plate of olives.
For my husband and I, that resulted in a painless 4 euro bar tab and a comfortable place to rest after exploring the castle and a nearby church.
Similarly, the sangria shack on the beach near the marina sells 15 euro pitchers of this internationally known beverage that are large enough for both of us to have several glasses each. This same establishment also includes two free shots of honey rum with every pitcher you order.
Accommodations: Even the higher-end hotels are extremely inexpensive in Rota. In fact, the nicest place in town is a four-star establishment on the beach priced at less than 100 euros per night. My husband and I opted for the Hotel Caribe.
A three-star venue about a block and a half from the water, it goes for 50 euros per night for a double room. There are decent hostels in town as well for slightly less, but for only a few euros more we scored access to a pool and complimentary breakfast for two each day.