We had determined that we wanted to see the non-touristy spots as much as the big ticket items between sits, and so we found ourselves driving south to Las Negras, situated in the Cabo Gata Natural Park towards Almeria city. Driving the secondary roads was an adventure, but we struck nothing worse than any of our experiences with NZ ski roads.
It was hard to say goodbye to another furry family, but we have hopes of meeting up again sometime soon, and we drove on up the rambla and these familiar rural roads one last time and headed towards Mojacar for a coffee to see us on our way. From Mojacar, we took the coastal route as far as we could and the road to Carboneras alone was worth it. We marvelled at the engineers who design these roads and the retaining work that goes into them. Cuttings around mountains and the road overhanging the cliffside as it wound its way down from great heights amazed us.
Las Negras is obviously a summer resort, but in mid-May, it was very quiet. A few visitors wandered the waterfront and we could see that in the middle of summer it would be very busy. There are homes for rent, apartments, a campground and a good number of seafront restaurants, as well as others set further back. Our apartment was set in the hillside just out of the village and had lovely views of the sunrise over the sea. The roads in and out commanded amazing vistas of hills, rocky landscapes, the occasional pueblo Blanco, and views of the coast that took our breath away. Chris got lots of great cycling around the area, almost every ride started with a decent climb out of this valley. We needed to return to Mojacar on our first day for an emergency dentist visit for Chris who had lost a rather large filling. On our way back we detoured to see Tabernas – the desert area of Spain where a number of movies are made and they have theme parks set up to visit movie sets etc. The road to get here was more interesting than the actual destination. We saw a highway to nowhere running alongside the A7 with major tunnels running under mountains beside us and a toll booth ready for use, but this road wasn’t operating at all. It seems that Spain spent millions and millions of euro building roads and infrastructure that were never used. It seemed so strange that they would build a new major roadway right beside an existing 2-3 lane motorway.
Once we left the A7, we arrived into Sorbas and had to stop and take photos of these houses clinging to the cliffside high above us. Many hundreds of years ago, a river had cut the cliff away and there was now a dried up rambla meandering many metres below these houses. Onwards through dry and stony land towards Tabernas where we drove past the movie theme parks, the hour was getting later due to a couple of missed turns and abortive detours for coffee. Then back towards the coast, skirting Almeria and onto familiar roads again, up and down, we arrived back to Las Negras.
We have discovered the downsides of staying out of season – none of the restaurants opened before 8pm and some not until later again. But, there were no tapas bars open either to take away the hunger pangs so we waited on the seafront and then arrived at our chosen restaurant, usually before the staff were ready. We were almost always the first and only ones in the restaurant which felt a little strange. One night we waited until after 8.00 to arrive at the “#1 rated” Argentinian asador – it was all locked up but as we turned away we were told the staff were just arriving, so we wandered around for another 20 minutes to give them time to get things ready. Finally, we returned to this huge room, feeling very obvious – the only ones dining at this hour (and possibly the whole night). Unfortunately, the experience didn’t live up to its hype and gave us a new benchmark of poor dining experiences; it was a very expensive, very meaty, chewy, dry meal. I’m afraid we always compare everything beyond a bad experience to the worst. The comments go: “it’s better than France…” (coffee) and now: “it’s better than Martin’s…” (this dinner meal). The following night we found a paella – our first in Spain, it was a traditional Valencian paella with chicken and rabbit. Not as flavoursome as I thought it would be; it was fairly bland so I will look forward to trying out paella at other places on our travels.
Having skirted Almeria city the previous day, we now headed there to explore it properly – however, Chris was keen for a bike ride that morning so we planned to meet up somewhere along the road and continue the rest of the way together in the car. We worked out the best route for both of us, and it was a different direction out of Las Negras than we had been before – but what a lovely ride it was for us both. Breasting the top of a particularly steep climb, suddenly there was the Mediterranean sea before us, and the plains dotted with numerous white villages and stand-alone dwellings.
In Almeria, we headed for the castle – the Alcazabar. Finding the car park was another mission, driving through narrow back streets, sure we were going the wrong way until, almost by mistake, we found the patch of dirt that sufficed as a private income for some random guy. We paid over our €5 and got directions to the castle entrance. This huge fortress had survived from Moorish times around 955AD and had been added to when Ferdinand and Isabella defeated the Muslims in the 1500’s. There was lots to wander around seeing the archaeological restorations going on, and then to take in the views of the city and port beyond. Another interesting site we discovered was the cathedral, not your normal dominating tower in the city, but built more like a fortress to avoid an attack. It had a number of levels and was beautifully decorated inside, but was all about Mary much more so than Jesus.
Now we drove north to Elche, a town we had planned to stop off at when we flew into Alicante but ended up missing due to the cancelled flight. Elche was a surprise to us, we had expected little, but there was a lot to see. It is the date palm capital of Spain, with numerous palm trees growing in parks in the city and the largest palm in Europe. As well as the palms, there was a fabulous museum built around the remains of a medieval wall and tower. Then the church where we climbed to the top of the blue-tiled dome of the bell tower for views over the city. It was a great day exploring a place we had never heard of previously and possibly overlooked as a tourist destination.