STRETCHED OUT on the white sand, I watched a Spanish kiteboarding instructor run past me down the beach, yelling, "Work eet! Work eet!" into a walkie-talkie transmitting to the helmet of a tawny Swede ripping her candycolored kite through the azure sky. Awesome conditions, I thought. I really should get out therejust as soon as I finish my nap.
Welcome to Tarifa, home of the extreme siestaperhaps the only place in the world where you can climb, bike, and kiteboard all in one day yet still have a hard time finding an open tapas restaurant during the collective afternoon snooze. Strategically located between the Andalusian mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, and a mere eight miles north of Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar, this little nub of southern Spain was named after Berber raider Tarif ibn Malluk, who blew through here in a.d. 710. The town has been considered prime real estate ever since, tempting everyone from the Phoenicians to the Arabs to stake a claim. But the tiny eighth-century Moorish fortresswith its population of 15,000, maze of steep cobblestone streets, and shady courtyardshas remained relatively undisturbed, thanks in part to the ruthless consistency of a blustery 20-mile-per-hour wind. But this breeze, topped off with the town's Africanized tranquilo vibe, makes windsurfing and kiteboarding enthusiasts ecstaticso much so that they've started up a small juggernaut of rental shops and boutique hotels. Here's how to make the most of Tarifa and its mighty wind.
Tarifa sits on the exact point where Europe splits the Mediterranean from the Atlantic and where the offshore levanter and onshore poinente winds collide. The happy result? More than 300 days (January through March tends to be rainy) of kiteable breeze. Get a lesson, a massage, and a seaside bedroom or a suite with an adjacent garden at the Moroccan-influenced Hurricane Hotel (doubles from $98; 011-34-956-684919, www.hurricanehotel.com), halfway along a series of linked white-sand beaches that start right in town and stretch seven miles north. If you're already kite-proficient, launch from the table-flat Playa de Los Lances. You'll have a clear shot all the way across the strait to Tangier. Pro rider Mark Shinn was one of the first to legally make the transcontinental crossing (landing in Morocco requires a permit), in 2001.
Legend has it that the gap between Europe and Africa was pushed open by Herculeswhich might explain the multipitch limestone crag at San Bartolo. Check in with Girasol Outdoor Company (011-34-615-456506, www.girasol-adventure.com) for intel on the latest of the 250 sport routes, rated 5.6 to 5.14; time your visit to coincide with one of their monthly full-moon climbing trips. From the top of the 262-foot Placas Grandes route, you can spot Morocco's 8,000-foot Rif range, and the ruined remains of the Roman village of Baelo Claudia are just one bay away.