¡Nos vamos a la playa!

It's that time of year again when you pile bags and bags of stuff into the car boot: swimming costumes, towels, sunhats and suncream (and sunsuits if your kids are blanquitos like mine), buckets and spades, beach parasol, folding deckchair, cold box replete with water, soft drink, snacks, sandwiches (if you're English), and in our case, a UV tent (not as daft as it sounds. I suffered from endless bouts of sunburn, heat rash and blisters as a child, so anything for mine to avoid it), and everything else you need for your day/weekend/week/fortnight/month at the beach - after all, Andalucia has 800km of coastline, so you'd be mad not to,especially with this heat. Then, car refuelled and ready to go, you set off, all excited about heading off to enjoy the sun and sand, until you find yourselves in a nose-to-tail jam before you've barely left home. That's the situation on most coast-ward autopistas in Andalucia, it seems. Whether you want to go from Granada to the coast, from Seville to the beaches of Malaga, Cadiz or Huelva, it's a nightmare. And when you get there, the same thing happens: you leave the dual carriagway, to find yourself in a bottle-neck to get into the town itself. On Saturday, for example, which marked the start of the second quincena (fortnight) of July, there were queues of 14km heading out of Seville on the A49 towards Huelva, while the Malaga autopista, the A92, had 17km of traffic at a standstill. Yesterday, a whopping 20km leaving Malaga, and 11km going back into Sevilla. A new road, 25km-hiperronda Las Pedrizas (AP-46), is planned to ease the weight of traffic entering Malaga from the north, from Antequera. But, like so many obras across Andalucia, the the 500-million-euro road was paralizada for some months, due to lack of funds, and is now, needless to say, massively behind schedule. Other blackspots are the coast road between Nerja and the Costa Tropical of Granada province, which, when completed, would make a clear run from Malaga to Motril. Also, the first 15km or so after leaving Seville has roadworks (they're increasing the lanes to three in each direction, at long last), so cars grind to a halt when they've barely climbed the hill up out of the city into the Aljarafe. If you're leaving Huelva to go to two of its most popular beaches (though not my personal favourites, by any means), Matalascañas or Punta Umbria, you will inevitably slow to crawling pace as you near your sandy paradise. At least if you're going to Matalascañas, or neighbouring Mazagon (my beach destination of choice), you've got the wild beauty of the Parque Doñana to look at out of the window as you sit impatiently, grinding your teeth and tutting. Look out for the lynx underpasses. I just love the idea of those beautiful wild cats padding through the tunnels to safety on the other side, as the queues of cars rumble overhead. "Lots of cars today, dear. All those humans off to the sea again. Must be Saturday. Fancy a bit of rabbit chasing?" One of the biggest projects, the much-hyped SE40, would carry traffic to the south of Sevilla, thereby allowing cars to pass directly from Huelva to Cadiz, without hitting the horrible SE30. Its future is also in doubt. Anyway, here is my hot tip: get up early, before breakfast (Eek! but what about my tostada con aceite, jamon y tomate?", I hear you ask, outraged. Just take it and eat it in the car), and head off about 9am. That way, you avoid the traffic. I've done it the last two Saturdays heading Huelva way, and the roads have been virtually empty. And the parking was fine. And we had plenty of space on the beach (for the first few hours, at least). So pack your beach bag the night before, set the alarm for 7am and you'll be laughing. Happy sandcastles!
Blog published on 19 July 2010