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Rota, Spain: Beaches, low prices and real people make this a refreshing spot

By MYSCHA THERIAULT | TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE Published: March 31, 2016

When we embarked on an open-ended 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 abroad. One thing vacationers will find obvious 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 perfectly groomed, pedigreed pooches, you’ll see everything from mixed-breed rescue pups to greyhounds and boxers, with the occasional barking beagle thrown in.

These things combine to produce 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.

What to see

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 dogs and impromptu kids’ soccer games. There’s also a bricked promenade for biking, jogging and fitness walks.

What to sip

In general, cafes are affordable in Rota. Inexpensive tapas abound, and half-sized orders are listed on many menus along with their reduced prices. One of the most affordable places to relax is the outdoor patio restaurant in the plaza just outside the Castle of the Moon. It offers 2-euro pours of local wine that come with a free plate of olives.

For us, that resulted in a painless 4-euro bar tab and a comfortable place to rest after exploring the castle and a nearby church. Throwing down a fiver meant we were able to leave a generous 25 percent tip and didn’t have to wait around for change when we were ready to leave.

Similarly, the sangria shack on the beach near the marina sells 15-euro pitchers of this internationally known fruit and wine beverage that are large enough for each of us to have several glasses. It includes two free shots of honey rum with every pitcher you order.

Where to stay

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. We 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.

Of course, the Navy Lodge at Naval Station Rota welcomes U.S. military members and their families; find information at www.navy-lodge.com.

Deployed to Rota?

Deployed to Naval Station Rota? The base Morale Welfare and Recreation ITT (Information, Tickets, Tours) office leads tours to destinations within Spain and around Europe. MWR specializes in cultural and historic tours of the nearby Spanish cities of Jerez de La Frontera and El Puerto de Santa Maria, which feature flamenco dance shows, Andalusian horse shows and tours of the world-famous sherry wine bodegas. ITT also goes to Cordoba, Granada, Ronda and Seville, Spain. Farther afield, it leads tours to Gibraltar and Portugal. Visit www.rotamwr.com.

Two beagles wrap up on a beach run with their humans, and make their way home on the boardwalk in Rota's town's park. (Myscha Theriault/TNS)

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