Cabo de Gata Road Trip
For some time, we have been trying to find a few days to visit Cabo de Gata, a corner of Spain that really is a well kept secret. Since our last road trip to the Costa de la Luz, we have been somewhat consumed by work and the need to generate income, and the weeks have flown by! May, normally a seemingly long month, went by in a flash and here we are in the middle of June, no less. Summer in Spain has arrived with a degree of determination. It is fascinating to see how the climate changes, and there really doesn’t seem to be any gradual change. Summer arrived as if someone just turned the fire up to full power. Over the course of a couple of weeks, temperatures rose from a satisfactory 25 to in excess of 30 - today Granada hit 37 degrees, and this past weekend was not much cooler.
Anyway, I digress. This weekend we managed to arrange work so that we had a few days over which we could switch off and forget about computers and emails and clients. So, we booked a little trip eastwards to visit the area just to the east of Almería. This is a corner of Spain I have never visited before, and both Andrew and I have read and heard about deserts, unspoilt coastlines with miles of beach, cliffs and rock formations that have been featured in adventure films etc etc.
We have, over the course of the past few months, planned this trip more than once. I sourced a number of hotels in different locations so that we could, ideally, move from one part of the Cabo de Gata to another. A decision was made and the dates set, but we decided that we would base ourselves in one spot and just for a couple of nights. Many of the ‘boutique hotels’ on the actual coast were fully booked for our dates - it is June, and the holiday season has kicked off.
A name that cropped up time and again during our search was the Cortijo la Alberca, hidden in the hills above Níjar somewhere between the desert and the coast. Yes, the desert does exist! We made the right choice as both village and hotel were perfect, and we will describe both in a later post.
In the meantime, our journey…..
As previously mentioned, Almería lies to the south-east of us. It is the name of the city and the province in which the city lies. Almería city is a thriving port, and used to be a place with a less than polished reputation. It certainly didn’t compare favourably with the other Andalucía big guns of Cordoba, Sevilla, Málaga and our own Granada but, as with many places in Spain, there has been a slow, and quiet regeneration that continues, and the city is now becoming a destination in its own right, and not just an airport feeding other areas of the south-east of Spain.
Between us and Almería lies the Sierra Nevada, not the easiest obstacle to hop across, but it does provide a great obstacle around which to drive. We decided to do the circuit and drive to the north of the mountains on the way there, and follow the coast road on the return trip.
The northern route involves driving up to Granada and the cross to Guadix. We have visited Guadix a couple of times, and we can’t quite decide if this a place worth exploring more. Guadix is famous, today, for its cave houses - homes that were built many centuries ago in the other-worldly sandstone cliffs that zig-zag around the town, and which form homes today. The town has an impressive cathedral surrounded by what appears to be a network of rather charming old streets, but we haven’t yet found the time to get out of the car and have a nose. We ought to.
We did, however, venture off the main road and into the village of Purullena, for no other reason than it was nearly time for a coffee and there was a sign that stated the village had a Cave House Museum.
Purullena as a destination probably wouldn’t make it into the best guides. It is a working village, but we did get a good coffee, and around the village there were signs of troglodyte life - little homes carved out of the ruddy-coloured cliff faces. On the high street of the village sits the Cave House Museum, still owned by the family and opened as a small museum showing the nature of cave houses today and in years gone by. We had to visit, and when we entered the courtyard, a couple of generations of the family were sitting there, outside, surrounded by assorted wildfowl - a noisy goose and few chickens in a coop. It didn’t dawn on us at that stage that this family live here and clearly have to move out into the yard when visitors poke around inside their home! What a chore, ensuring that your bedroom is tidy every day when the museum is open!
A charming idea and one that demonstrated fully what it might be like living in a cave. This was, certainly in this case, a sizeable home, extending deep into the cliff. Ceilings were high, walls whitewashed and the interior was very cool. Every comfort was here - cosy bedrooms, sitting areas and a kitchen. In the older parts, photos sat alongside antique farm machinery showing the lives of previous generations of this family, and their use of this cave as their home. The place was full of artefacts that told so many stories of a hard agricultural life in years gone by. Well worth the small entrance fee, and thanks to the family for letting us have a look inside their home.
Purulllena also seems to be a small centre of ceramics, and there were a number of showrooms filled with inexpensive Spanish pottery. We did succumb to the temptation.
We wanted to get to the desert for lunch. Just to the east of the Sierra Nevada, and to the north of the city of Almería lies the desierto de Tabernas, one of Spain’s semi-deserts. Almería is the peninsula’s driest corner where annual rainfall can be as little is 156 mms. This is evident as soon as you leave the Sierra Nevada behind, and the landscape is as barren as the most barren thing….We are in June and the earth is scorched, dusty and devoid of any green trees. I would say it was a pretty unforgiving place, but its claim to fame is that this was the location where Sergio Leone filmed many of his Spaghetti Westerns. If you are very young, you will no doubt have no idea what a Spaghetti Western is or who Sergio Leone is.
The Dollars Trilogy are probably the best known of these westerns – A Fistful of Dollars (1964), For a Few Dollars More (1965), and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) – as well as Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).
Today, the film locations have been turned into ‘theme’ parks - Fort Bravo, part of the Texas Hollywood and nearby Oasys, or Mini Hollywood - an episode of Doctor Who was filmed in this part of the world! Game of Thrones has also used the location, as well as many more films and television programmes over the past 4 or 5 decades.
We didn’t stop at the location theme parks, and headed instead to the village of Tabernas for lunch. This place had the air of the town that time forgot. In the centre, we visited a bar right beside the church and its pretty square, and grabbed a drink. Some of the gentlemen of the village were sitting in the shed playing dominoes, and the games got quite heated at times! I don’t think I have seen a domino used in contest for many a year, but it appeared to be a big sport in Tabernas. The tapas was uninspiring (the chorizo tasted oddly of fish), so we decided to walk up to the ruins of the Arabic Castle that sits on the hill above the town, and from here we could see a very large swathe of desert spread out around us in one dry, brittle and arid, but still awe-inspiring, landscape.