Sunday 4 August 2013

Faded glory

Algeciras port,
through the palms of Hotel Reina Cristina
Lonely Planet describes Algeciras thus:

... an industrial town, a big fishing port and drug-smuggling centre ... unattractive and polluted.

Then, with faint praise, they damn the place altogether: "it's not without interest."

How could you resist that?

The description is a tad harsh.  While the area around the port is manky and filled with tacky ticket offices for the ferries to Morocco, the town itself is worth a stroll up the hill.  Almost no tourists venture that far away from the port, so it's great for tourists who like to avoid other tourists – like me.

Plaza Alta
I had insider info from a Paris-based Anglo-Spanish friend.  During our many discussions about our various trips to Spain he had often mentioned that Algeciras was worth a stop-over, so I decided I'd give it a try this time.  When I told him I was planning to book the Hotel Reina Cristina he told me that he always stays there.  Another inspired choice!  He also gave me a detailed review of the tried-and-trusted cafés and bars in the town.  Unfortunately, I visited on a Sunday afternoon when most were closed.  I found an open café just off the rather pleasant Plaza Alta and had a caña and some boquerones en vinagre there.  Rather disturbingly, however, it's on a street named after the founder of the Spanish fascist party, the Falange – either him or his father who was a military dictator in the 1920s.  It's hard to choose which is more distasteful.

I'd be more charitable than Lonely Planet in my description of the town.  For me, it's not so much dirty – excluding the port area – as worn.  The old town reminded me a little of a place I visited last year near Porto, Matosinhos.  It's a working class suburb of the city, close to the industrial port, with small houses in narrow streets, and where many restaurants cook their fish on barbecues on the pavement outside the front door.  Very much down to earth, as is Algeciras, though the latter is many times bigger.

My hotel is really nice.  It's on a hill slightly removed from the town and the views of the industrial port are discreetly broken by tall palm trees in hotel's expansive gardens.  There is a large terrace divided in two; one part for drinks and snacks, the other for more formal lunch or dinner.  There is a separate terrace by the outdoor pool where you can also take drinks.

Hotel Reina Cristina,
The whole place has an air of faded glory, a reflection of the town, perhaps.  The rooms remind me a little of the Gresham in Dublin before the modernisation a few years ago (I suppose not many Dubliners have stayed in the Gresham, but I did while on a business trip around 2000/1).  It's very big – but only three storeys tall – with the rooms spread out in several legs extending from the core of the building.  When I had a problem with the air conditioning in my room, they changed me to a bigger and better room with a private balcony.

Conclusion on Algeciras: pretty it ain't, but it is worth a visit.

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