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Welcome to the Hot Coast or Costa Calida as the locals call it, a region blessed with over 300 days of sunshine every year and an abundance of fresh produce; no wonder it supplies the UK with most of its lettuce, lemons, oranges and artichokes. But there’s much more to the Costa Calida than just sun and food as you’re about to find out!
The Mar Menoris a natural phenomenon. Translated as ‘little sea’ it’s a vast salt water lagoon stretching almost 70 kilometres along the Murcia coastline separated from the Mediterranean by a narrow strip of land called La Manga perhaps better known for the nearby exclusive golf resort that carries the same name. The Mar Menor’s waters never vary much from an average temperature of 17 degrees and it’s just 26 feet at its deepest point.
Murcia’s beautiful 13th century cathedral is a must see and while you’re there just take in the pedestrianised old town with a gentle stroll down to the Segura river.
The ancient Phoenician and Roman port city of Cartegena is well worth a visit. Take the panoramic lift at Calle Gisbert for a great view of city and gaze in wonder at the roman remains around the city, the glorious restored amphitheatre and theatre museum in particular.
Il Corte Inglesis an institution in Spain and Murcia has two of them, with the biggest one on Avenida de la Libertad. Everything from shavers to sheets and bite or two too. Behind here in Jeronimo de Roda there’s a flea market offering a local souvenir or two, but for a more refined experience take in the shop windows all along Calle Jabonerias, but make sure you’ve got deep pockets if you want to buy anything! On the other hand, mix with all the locals and explore the treasure trove of scents and colours at the Verónicas marketplace on Calle Verónicas. All kinds of local produce including fresh fish and saffron.
For a bigger shopping experience, the Nuevo Condimena mall out on the N7 motorway will have everything and you’ll find some of the best selection of designer outfits at Habenerason the outskirts of Torrevieja.
In a region blessed with so many agricultural varieties its small wonder the cuisine is dominated by produce from the local farms and fishermen. Caldero, is a paella like dish cooked in an iron pot that’s made with local rice, paprika and plenty of grouper and monkfish. Zarangolo is a mixture of courgette, eggs, onions and olive oil all scrambled together, and my personal favourite is Paparajotesfresh lemon leaves dipped in batter and fried and then dusted with cinnamon. Delicious.
One of Murcia city’s local treasures is a hole in the wall bar called Los Zagales on Calle Polo de Medina which serves some of the finest tapas you’ll find in Spain. If you fancy more than the bite sized morsels then head for Los Arroces de Segis on the way out of Murcia on Carretera Santa Catalina.
Further afield, you can try the sea-fresh fish at Cabo de Palos, a quaint fishing village near Cartegena.
If you fancy splashing out for a more up market experience, one of my favourites is El Portalon on Carretera de Campoamor a Filipinas in Campoamar or Vinoteca, the InterContinental’s signature tapas and wine restaurant in the La Torre golf resort, part of the Polaris World complex.
Estrella Levante is the brew of choice in Murcia and you’ll certainly be appreciated by the locals if you choose a glass or three of this fine stuff. When it comes to night time drinking entertainment however, don’t even think of finding Murcians venturing out before 11pm so an afternoon siesta is highly recommended. El Bolo at 29 Calle Vara del Rey is a popular bar in the thick of the old town. Where you’ll get live music on Tuesday nights and cocktails on Fridays and Saturdays. One of the coolest bars in Murcia is Bar Warhol at 25 Calle Victorio. A great atmosphere and lots of Warhol and other pop art adorning the walls.
Both Cartagena and Murcia city have plenty of accommodation to suit all budgets, but there also options out of the cities too, particularly near the coast or on the two high end golfing complexes of Polaris World where you’ll find the 5 star Intercontinental and self catering villas or at La Manga Club with plenty of one, two and three bedroom apartments.
The Nelva is a great choice in Murcia city just a 20 minute walk from the old town.El Churrais another highly affordable hotel in a great location not far from the station and the city centre.
Both Murcia and Cartagenaare are lovely cities to walk around and just get lost amongst the narrow streets and the ancient Castillo at Cartagena will give you a good walk Be as one with nature at Calblanque, a beautiful protected nature reserve full of hidden beaches, rugged cliff tops and salt flats. A haven for walkers and lovers of wildlife.
Just driving through Murcia’s seemingly endless farmlands in between cities you quickly realise just how fertile it is here and why the cuisine is so fresh and varied. The Mar Menor is the jewel in the crown. Try hiring a bike and spending a day cycling all around it! While you here, take a drive along the La Manga and walk the strip with its myriad waterside bars and cafes.
Being close to Andalucía there is naturally plenty of Moorish influences. You’ll find elements of Flamenco with castanets and tambourine and of course the wonderful string sounds of the Bandurria and guitar. But traditional Murcian music is mainly used during religious services and festivals. Both Cartagena and San Javier hold international music festivals every year.
The sun – with over 300 days of sunshine a year, the Murcia region has some of the most intense sun in Europe. Make sure to carry a hat and plenty of sun factor!