El Cancho

near Tarifa, Costa de la Luz, Spain Book from

Reviewed by Vanessa Barneby
Two wonderfully secluded beach houses (sleeping 2-6) on a hillside in a natural park, with views across the straits to Morocco
Just 3km from Tarifa, and a short stroll from the windswept beaches of the Atlantic, lies El Cancho - a pair of contemporary pre-fab beach houses on a grassy hillside, surrounded by rocky outcrops and pine forest. They were originally designed for Milan’s Salon del Mobile (1998) by Swedish architect Thomas Sandell and Wallpaper* magazine. The appropriately named Wallpaper House is a feat in compact living, although it sleeps 4-6 people; its design credentials are evident in the sleek wooden floors, perspex walls and ceiling adorned with woodland prints. Its smaller neighbour, the Boston Beach House, sleeps 2-4 and is less sophisticated but just as alluring, with an all-glass frontage. Both have simple, open-plan layouts that suit couples looking for a romantic hideaway, or groups of kitesurfing friends seeking to make the most of the area’s strong winds.

While the houses may be new builds, this is a real back-to-nature experience with eco-friendly ideals: solar panels provide electricity, whilst gas heats water directly from the mountain spring. The local farmer still herds his goats around the hillside, so you may have the enchanting soundtrack of jingling goat bells while you take a siesta. And you won't see a car - the houses are a short walk (across a stream, then downhill) from the parking spot.


  • Total solitude and privacy. The houses are a good distance apart and you're away from the main road and Tarifa town, though not completely cut off from civilisation
  • You feel at one with nature, sharing the hillside with cows, goats, pigs, owls and swooping red kites
  • Panoramic views over rocky crags to the sparkling sea beyond; on a clear day you can see Morocco from your hammock
  • BBQs on the terrace as the sun goes down, accompanied by the melody of goat bells in the distance. There are fully equipped kitchens, too
  • Kite- and windsurfing beaches aplenty; some of the most beautifully secluded bays in Europe are within a short drive


  • Wholly dependent on natural energy - without sunshine you may find yourself without power (although the owners promise "a limitless supply of tea lights and twinkling stars"). There's no air con, either
  • The open-plan sleeping arrangements might not suit everyone
  • The strong winds can be exhausting, but this is what many people travel to Tarifa for
  • Access is via a slightly treacherous single-track road, with the last 30-100m on foot; a car is essential
  • There were reports that the houses were feeling a little tired, but the owners assure us that an extensive 2016 refurb has freshened everything up

Best time to go

El Cancho is open all year round. May and June are the best months for wild flowers and empty beaches before the summer crowds. There’s a good party scene in the summer, but the main road can get very busy and the town is full of tourists. September is less crowded but still brings lovely weather, and the annual 7-day feria is quite something, with 500-strong horseback parades, rides, raffles and surfing competitions. The bird migration is from October to June.

Our top tips

Bring high-factor suncream (the wind can be very deceptive), a windbreak for the beach, walking boots, your binoculars and your iPod (compatible speakers are provided). Kite / windsurfing gear is useful if you have it, although there are plenty of places you can hire it from.

Great for...

Cheap & Chic
Great Outdoors
  • = Recommended
  • = Best in region
  • = World favourite
  • Beach Houses
  • 2 houses for 2-6
  • Self-catering (restaurants nearby)
  • All ages welcome
  • Open all year
  • Pool
  • Spa Treatments
  • WiFi
  • Pet Friendly
  • Disabled Access
  • Beach Nearby
  • Off-street Parking
  • Restaurants Nearby
  • Air Conditioning
  • Guest Lounge
  • Terrace
  • Garden
  • Gym
  • Daily Maid Service
  • Towels & Bedlinen
  • Board games
Room: Wallpaper House


The open-plan layouts apply to the shared areas and the sleeping arrangements. Décor is minimal but in keeping with the simplistic, contemporary vibe - and you wouldn’t want much distraction from the stunning landscapes outside every window.

The Wallpaper House has 2 double beds (one of which is totally private), and 2 singles built, cabin-style, into the corridor wall. The private double hints at an Asian aesthetic, with wooden floor lamps, decorative bamboo sticks and sliding glass doors onto a central courtyard. The second double (kingsize) is a cosy, walled-in bed with a long window at its foot looking onto the hillside; linen blinds can be rolled down to screen it off from the rest of the house. The ceiling above is adorned with large-scale images of woodland, reflecting the surroundings - or, perhaps, the surroundings of the Swedish architect who designed it. The wind makes for some interesting noise on your first night or so, but soon becomes a soothing lullaby for a sound night’s sleep. The bathroom has a shower, and there's a further rainfall shower outside. There's also a lounge with assorted chairs, floor cushions and sofas, plus a kitchen and an outdoor terrace with hammocks.

The Boston Beach House was built in Boston and shipped here. It's far simpler in design, but still stylish and modern, and romantics will love the all-glass frontage. You reach it via a small bridge, so it's completely private. Although the house does sleep 4 (in 1 double and 2 single beds), we'd say it's best suited to a couple, perhaps with a child. As with the bigger house there's a kitchen, indoor and outdoor lounging areas, a shower bathroom, and a refreshing outdoor shower.

Features include:

  • Barbeque
  • Coffee tea making
  • Cots Available
  • Food blender
  • Fridge
  • Full kitchen
  • Hob stove
  • Ipod dock
  • Terrace
  • Terrace
  • WiFi


El Cancho is completely self-catering and, while the kitchens aren't sophisticated, we wanted for nothing the entire week. Each has a decent-sized fridge-freezer, a 2-hob portable gas cooker, a blender, all the necessary cooking implements and crockery, an abundance of Tupperware, and an icebox for picnicking. You'll also find a few basics such as salt, pepper, oil and washing-up liquid, plus a bottle of wine for guests booking through i-escape.

We cooked virtually everything on the fantastic gas BBQ on our terrace - from pork and sausages over the flames, to chilli prawns and asparagus on the hot plate. Our fondest memories are of dinners outside under the stars, sitting on huge floor cushions at a table adorned with candles. There are also indoor tables (seating 6 in the Wallpaper House and 4 in the Boston Beach House) for rare rainy days, and if you’re staying in the Wallpaper House you can retreat from the wind in the sheltered central courtyard.

The food market in Tarifa’s Old Town is wonderful for fresh fish, meat and vegetables, and there’s a very good supermarket (Eroski) in the New Town. There’s also a lively bar and restaurant scene both in Tarifa and along the main road (the owners will give you a comprehensive list of recommendations). In the Old Town we loved Enca Curro, a tiny but famous tapas bar, and Karpanta, which has an international menu specialising in tuna. Also worth trying is vegetarian restaurant Chilimosa, while friendly bar and grill Vaca Loca (‘Mad Cow’) is perfect for committed carnivores.

Features include:

  • Coffee tea making
  • Food blender
  • Fridge
  • Full kitchen
  • Hob stove
Eating: Boston Beach House


  • Tarifa is a mecca for kite and windsurfers from all over the world, and surf schools can be found along the beaches; Valdevaqueros is one of the best

  • Keen bird-watchers need step no further than the terrace. The houses sit directly under one of the most important bird migration routes between Europe and Africa, and from October to June you'll see flocks of white storks, black storks, lesser kestrels, short-toed eagles, Egyptian vultures, sparrowhawks, red and black kites, marsh and Montagu's harriers, ospreys, buzzards, booted eagles and more

  • Go hiking: the house is within a natural park, so you can set off on foot for wonderful walks and breathtaking views. A small path takes you to a headland looking out over beaches in both directions - stunning at sunrise and sunset

  • Stroll along the beach or venture north towards Punta Paloma and Bolonia and you'll be able to walk to some gorgeous secluded coves

  • Try deep-sea fishing, or rent a motorbike and explore the countryside. Both of these can be arranged in Tarifa

  • Head to the Hurricane Hotel (opposite the turn-off to the houses) for a riding lesson, or arrange a hack along the beach at sunset

  • Have a round of golf: there's a course near Vejer de la Frontera (approximately 25 minutes' drive)

  • Take the ferry from Tarifa to Tangier in Morocco and visit the souks. Be warned though: they say the crossing is a mere 35 minutes, but you actually end up being on the ferry for almost 2 hours, so allow extra time

  • Or sit back and enjoy doing nothing at all. We relished lazy days swinging in a hammock on our terrace, watching animals roam the hillside and birds swooping in the skies above

Activities on site or nearby include:

  • Birdwatching
  • Boat trips
  • Fishing
  • Golf
  • Hiking
  • Horse-riding
  • Kitesurfing
  • Sailing
  • Shopping / markets
  • Surfing
  • Swimming
  • Windsurfing


Children are welcome and there are cots available to borrow. Kids will love the beach, the animals and the freedom of having so much room to play, but the terrain around the houses is quite rocky so it may not be suitable for toddlers.

Best for:

Children (4-12 years)

Family friendly accommodation:

The Wallpaper House has 2 double beds and 2 single beds. The smaller Boston Beach House has 1 double and 2 single beds, though we'd say it's best suited to a couple with 1 child.

Baby equipment:

Baby cots are available on request.

Remember  baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking

Kid Friendly:

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