For your journey by car between the two hotels on our Costa de la Luz walking holiday, we suggest a drive south along the coastal road. This not only passes the fishing village of Zahara de los Atunes and some fantastic stretches of often-deserted sandy beaches, but also affords the opportunity to call in at Cape Trafalgar, scene of the encounter between British, French and Spanish fleets in 1805.
‘Trafalgar’ was only one element of the many campaigns that dominated the period 1803-1815 and which pitted the fledgling French republic against a shifting coalition of European powers who had been alarmed by the outcome of the French Revolution.
In 1805, the First French Empire, under Napoleon Bonaparte, was the dominant military land power on the European continent, while the British Royal Navy controlled the seas. The Battle of Trafalgar (21 October 1805) was an engagement fought by the British against the combined strength of the French and Spanish navies, during what became known as the War of the Third Coalition (August-December 1805).
Twenty-seven British ships led by Admiral Lord Nelson aboard HMS Victory defeated 33 French and Spanish ships under the command of French Admiral Villeneuve. What was perhaps most remarkable about the battle was that, although the Franco-Spanish fleet lost 22 ships, not a single British vessel was lost.
Trafalgar was later regarded as the most decisive naval battle of the war. It conclusively ended French plans to invade England, and confirmed Britain’s dominance of the High Seas.
The victory itself, moreover, was achieved partly through Nelson's departure from the prevailing tactical orthodoxy: although it was accepted practice to engage an enemy fleet in a single line of battle, parallel to the enemy, Nelson divided his smaller force into two columns and directed them perpendicularly against the enemy fleet, with impressive results.
In the course of the battle, Nelson was shot by a French musketeer and died shortly after, becoming one of Britain's greatest war heroes. Villeneuve was captured along with his ship, Bucentaure. Admiral Federico Gravina, the senior Spanish flag officer, escaped with the remnant of the fleet but succumbed months later to wounds sustained during the battle.
There is little reason for the Spanish to commemorate Trafalgar, so there is practically nothing here to mark one of the most decisive naval battles in history.
Our route notes do, however, include simple directions for a pleasant, half-hour stroll from a parking area along Zahora Beach to reach the lighthouse. Here you can contemplate Cape Trafalgar and the momentous events that took place upon the waves here over 200 years ago.