Anything But Paella

Rota – Spain or the USA?

Rota is a lovely coastal Andalusian town not far from Jerez and Cadiz. It is probably best known for its US Naval Base but it is a town worthy of exploration in its own right.

Rota’s first known name was Astaroth, which means Port of Asta. Asta was one of the main cities of the Tartessian civilisation. After the Roman invasion, this changed to Oraculum Menestei and later to Speculum Rotae. The Moors named it Rabeta Ruta during their rule, and finally the Christian conquerors named it Rotta, from which its current name is derived.

US Naval Station Rota, according to its website, is a joint Spanish and US Naval base. It provides support for US Navy and Nato ships and is the major gateway for USAF Air Mobility Command aircraft entering Europe. It isn’t just about ships though. Granted, you can see some military vessels moored up at the dock, but most of the activity seems to be in air. I tried to be careful with my camera as I wasn’t sure about the regulations but surprisingly there was a lack of “NO PHOTOGRAPHY” signs as we got to the fence dividing the public beach from the American sands beyond. There were a few helicopters around and we did see some C5 Galaxy, C130 Hercules and C17 Globemaster flights in progress. A highlight was the odd looking V22 Osprey with its tilting rotors. We had heard of a variety of stealth aircraft, both fighters and bombers, which could be seen but they were either in exceptionally good stealth mode or they were not flying during our visit!

The base currently hosts around 3000 personnel. This is significantly fewer than at its peak in the 1980s when around 12000 were believed to be based their. At times we felt as though eyes were upon us as we strolled along the beach, especially close to the fence, but perhaps there was a bit of paranoia on our part! They can’t be that secretive though as the full guide to living on the base is available in the public domain. Download it if curiosity gets the better of you!

It’s not just ships and aircraft on display at Rota. Look out to sea and you may just be lucky enough to see a submarine on its way somewhere or sneaking home.

The town itself is quite pretty in places. Walking along the seafront on both sides of the marina you get wonderful views out to sea. On a clear day I guess you may even see some of the African coast but it’s not like Gibraltar for proximity. In the main Rota has a very Spanish feel to it and other than a few clearly American bars and pizza restaurants, it’s easy to forget all about Uncle Sam while you are there.

Duck through one of the many gates into the old town and the Moorish influence is quite clear. Pretty plazas with fountains are waiting to be discovered. The municipal offices are located in the old Castillo de Luna. Tourist Information can be found a few narrow windy streets away next to the old market. Inside the Mercado de Merced are several boutique restaurants and bars, and very welcome public toilets!

We missed a trick on our visit though. Bodegas el Gato looks to be well worth a visit and it’s very disappointing to discover such a gem after visiting the town. The bodega has been in town since 1957 and their speciality is Tintilla de Rota which is produced from local blue grapes. This is also the only website I have ever seen that has shamelessly used the word autochthonous correctly in English, even if they have spelt it the Spanglish way!

Our visit was just a short day trip. There are accommodation options in town or you could enjoy a bit more luxury nearby on the Costa Ballena (the Whale Coast – that’s a new one on me). Having not visited this developing area, we’ll leave you in the safe hands of Molly from Piccavey to discover more!

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