Day 1 – Los Alcázares and Torre Pacheco
Leaving Totana behind, we made the short journey east to the coast, for a bit of a treat event. Our destination was the town of Los Alcázares, there to pick up Mummy Finch, Nicky’s mum, in the centre of town. She had flown out to visit us the day before and stayed overnight with friends, a British couple who had moved to Spain in their retirement 14 years ago. They, Ron and Margaret, turned out to be a wealth of information about the local area and this got us started on where to visit over our next five days.
The weather was back to its grim, rainy best, so after saying goodbye to Mum’s friends, the three of us began by taking a short drive to the northern part of the local coast around El Mar Menor, a large coastal lagoon and wetland area, stopping at the Salinas y Arenales de San Pedro del Pinatar. Here we had a quick lunch in Benny, and the girls had a sneaky gin, as we watched the wild sea and waited for the rain to abate a little.
We then enjoyed a bracing walk on the salt flats. There was a strong smell of rotting seaweed on the coast, so we stepped inland across patchy dunes to the edge of the salt flats where the lingering smell didn’t penetrate. The sandy paths meandered between clumps of prickly grasses, sea holly and multi-coloured samphire, the vibrancy of each muted by the dark skies above. Distant mountain peaks ran across the horizon.
We spotted many flamingos, waders, avocets and charranes mingled together on the pans. We saw masses of black, white and pink feathers settling, resting and then suddenly taking off in waves. We walked along the rugged coast of the salt pans, with windmills visible across the water to our right, and the garish strip of high rise apartments that lined the entire Mar Menor peninsula to our left. The contrast between the two views was overwhelming; one of a tranquil nature reserve set on calm inlets and the other of rough seas with tall, ugly towers imposing themselves on the horizon.
From here we went straight to our base for the duration of our stay in this region; Torre Pacheco. Slightly inland but central, this pueblo had several fancy golf resorts set on the edge of town. In one such huge complex, imaginatively named ‘Mar Menor Golf Resort’ was where we would find our apartment, a treat from Nicky’s mum for the days she was visiting us. Spacious luxury (with a washing machine and a bath) awaited us – wonderful.
After locating the apartment manager to gain entry, we then settled in, cooked dinner, opened a bottle and enjoyed the expansive rooms and balconies overlooking the golf course and swimming pools. This was such a change from our usual tidy little boxy home and we revelled in the relaxing break from our daily routine as we all caught up.
Day 2 – Murcia
The weather had brightened considerably, lifting our spirits and demanding that we readied ourselves for a day exploring the local region. Today we had scheduled in a trip to the district capital city of Murcia, around a half hour north of our base.
As was the norm for large cities, we had parking issues. We drove an entire lap of the city centre, hoping to find suitable parking, but there was nothing but underground lots that we couldn’t fit into. We then decided to give up and headed back out of the centre. This proved fortuitous and we were amazed that, passing just beyond a large ring road, the feel of the city suddenly became rural rather than urban and we managed to find a suitable place to park on a dusty side road. As it turned out, this was no further from the historic centre than many of the other parking spots we’d tried, so with a quick jaunt over a pedestrian bridge we were on our way. It took us less than ten minutes to reach the central historic quarter, so we were rather pleased with ourselves for this find.
The sun was out this morning, with clear deep blue skies, although the air still retained a chilly coolness. We walked first to the pretty town hall, surrounded with neat beds of bright red poinsettias, attractive stone water features and a large golden Christmas tree. The Town Hall itself was pink and white with gold tinsel surrounds added to all the windows. The adjacent square and the building colour made it a little reminiscent of the Casa Rosada in Buenos Aires.
Behind this square we found a tourist office to mine for information on future stops, then on exiting we suddenly realised we were in the main square, Plaza Cardinal Belluga, with the Cathedral right opposite us. The impressively detailed Baroque façade presented a beautiful view, lit with the morning sun, to really kick-off our Murcia sightseeing.
We walked along the central streets and pretty plazas, peering into small boutique shops and enjoying the buzz of the cafes as we passed. We peaked into the Casino building with its huge stained glass door leading to an internal foyer covered in intricate Arabic plasterwork and tiling, reminiscent of the Alhambra in Granada or the Alzácar in Seville. We turned right, following small streets and walked out past La Condomina, the bullring. For a bit of highbrow culture, we entered the Museu de Belle Artes, with galleries on several floors, that gave us a variety of historic paintings and sculptures to admire. The museum was closing at 2.00pm so we had to hurry through our visit.
Hungry from our exploits, we passed through the Plaza de Santo Domingo, noting the church and adjacent palaces, then around the Romea Theatre before we headed back into the maze of narrow streets in search of a quick bite to sustain us. We picked up some takeaway snacks and sat by the poinsettias at the town hall and enjoyed them with the warmth of the sun on our faces. We’d passed a very pleasant few hours in Murcia, and the weather had been kind.
On our return to the apartment, before settling in for the night we had a quick local walk to the nearest swimming pool of the twelve dotted around the grounds of the golf course. Nicky’s mum couldn’t resist a quick dip in the very cold water, showing up her daughter and son-in-law, the self-proclaimed hardy open-water swimmers.
Day 3 – Cartagena
The weather today looked reasonably fair, with white clouds providing a solid blanket far into the distance. Not much chance of sunshine, but we hoped rain would keep away as we explored today’s chosen town – Cartagena.
We parked in the harbour region then walked along the front of marina, with a light drizzle beginning to fall just as we reached the turn to head into town. We ducked into the nearby tourist office for a few moments, then across the street to visit the Roman amphitheatre. This site was only recently discovered following plans to build a new amphitheatre, which now ironically sits only fifty metres or so behind and above the ancient version. We enjoyed reading the history of the amphitheatre, and seeing the architecturally sensitive transition spaces from the museum to the main amphitheatre space. Much of the original stonework has been uncovered and set back into place, with some new supplementary pieces cut to match, recreating the overall vision of the original.
We wandered the streets of the city, more grimy and urban than Murcia, with less obvious kerb appeal. In one plaza dominated by huge trees, we found a popular tent housing a huge animated model nativity, complete with many other biblical and desert scenes, including a view of the Treasury building in Petra, Jordan. We walked up to the viewpoint near the castle that overlooked the port to the left, the town to the right and the previously visited Roman amphitheatre in front. This vantage offered us a good understanding of the layout of the city, and of its geographical position between sea and high hills behind.
We were treated to a rare lunch out in a restaurant overlooking the city hall; a lovely treat from mum. With full bellies we walked back past the marina, seeing the Batel Centre, a multi-coloured conference venue. The exterior was covered with striped and slatted dyed plastic tubing that created a rippling visual effect. The whole building was architecturally interesting, including the similarly coloured bent re-bars forming the entrance to the underground areas.
Later we drove out to Cabo de Palos, the lighthouse on the promontory at the south western edge of the region. We enjoyed a short walk up to and around the lighthouse and its coastline, dropping down some steps into a few inviting coves. We all quite fancied a swim as we saw the smooth waters of the sheltered bay rippling gently, but we didn’t indulge on this occasion.
Day 4 – El Carmoli (and an early Christmas Day)
The weather forecast had tipped us off it would be a grim, rainy day, so we’d decided, rather than visit far afield, to host an early ‘Christmas Day’ with Mum, as this would be our first Christmas not at home.
After a lazy morning start, the weather wasn’t actually looking too terrible, so we decided on a bracing walk to climb a nearby hill, an old volcanic caldera a short drive away. Volcano El Carmoli is one part of a chain of volcanic outbursts from over seven million years ago, around Mar Menor, La Manga and many islands of the Mediterranean Sea.
We parked up in the town and followed a scrappy gravel pathway upwards. The actual route, if there was one, was unclear so it was a bit of a scramble up the sharp basalt rocks. The painted and graffiti-covered summit post offered a good panoramic view back towards where we were staying, and out over the Mar Menor sea inlet and the hideous La Manga strip. It was a nice, revitalising one hour walk to the top and back, for a bit of fresh air and exercise. We stopped briefly at the local beach on the way home for a quick look, then back to the comforting warmth of our apartment.
We got home more or less dry, just before the heavens fully opened, and after a brief lunch we began an afternoon game of Monopoly, a traditional Christmas favourite. Snacks and alcohol played their part, with Mummy Finch finishing as the ultimate victor. We then had our tasty, and very English, roast dinner with all the trimmings. As it was a Saturday night, and for the first time in months we had UK TV available on satellite, we watched Strictly Come Dancing – the recognisable normality of everything was quite a treat.
Day 5 – Cobaticas walk and beach swim
With Mum’s flight home late evening, we still had most of a day available to us. The weather looked dry so we prepped to undertake a long coastal walk. We started in a natural park by the sea, then looped inland over undulating terrain which became more pretty as it offered views of the sea. After several miles, we saw rocky coves with sandy beaches ahead. We had worked up quite an appetite, so headed down onto one of the beaches, signed as a nudist beach, and sat on rocks with our picnic lunch.
For an early December day it was very pleasant and mild and a great spot with the sea gently lapping next to us. We continued on passing several sandy beaches before completing the circle and arriving back to Benny. We were all warm from having completed our hilly 9km walk so we chose to drive back down to one of the beach car parks for a splash and swim in the sea. It was pleasantly warm and beautifully refreshing and rounded off a lovely day.
We headed back to the apartment for an early dinner and for Mum to pack. We dropped her back to the airport for her flight home before returning for a final night in the apartment. We’d had a lovely few days of catching up with Mum, enjoying luxury and indulgence of the apartment, but back to life on the road awaited.