How to plan a weekend in Murcia, Spain

How to plan a weekend in Murcia, Spain

This article was produced by National Geographic Traveller (UK).

Wedged between the popular coastal destinations of Málaga and Alicante, the location of Murcia occupies a stretch of southern Spain too normally neglected by international travellers. Sea coves and tranquil beaches characterise its 155 miles of sunny coastline, past which lie hills, farmlands, dense forests and valleys most interesting for hiking. Reliably balmy year-spherical temperatures make the province a merely option for off-season travel — but even at the peak of summer, you’re now no longer likely to survey the crowds so normally learned in diversified Mediterranean regions.  

Murcia has witnessed a varied history — the Romans, Carthaginians and Moors have all left a legacy, which is evident in the area’s architecture, agriculture and festivities.

Gateway to this location is the metropolis of the same name — Murcia, a provincial capital with regular flights from the UK that has the energy of a gargantuan metropolis thanks to its college, but remains intimate and walkable. Stroll past baroque cathedrals along cobblestoned streets, or indulge in a tardeo — the afternoon tradition of hanging out with guests, typically with tapas, beer and stay music at terrace bars.

Day 1: Saints & metropolis strolling 

Wander thru the narrow alleyways of Murcia’s mature town, towards the magnificent Catedral de Murcia, which has the second-tallest bell tower in Spain. Audio guides can be hired for a history lesson on the church’s eclectic blend of baroque, Renaissance and gothic architecture. Exit thru the ‘Door of the Apostles’, carved with angels and kings from the Venerable Testament, to reach Calle Traperia. A hub for fabric merchants and silversmiths in the 14th century, it’s now peppered with boutique retailers. From here, it’s an easy walk to the metropolis’s nineteenth-century Romea Theatre. Account has it that a friar cursed the building, as it stands on the positioning of a used convent.

The location is nicknamed the ‘Garden of Europe’ due to its fertile soil and in depth farmlands — the produce of which can be viewed at Mercado de Veronicas. Browse the market’s seasonal fruit and veg — peaches and melons in summer, artichokes in autumn — and local seafood such as jumbo Carabinero prawns, sea bream and sea bass. A quantity of small canteens in the market will cook dinner or grill your chosen fish even as you sip on a café cortado. After lunch, seek advice from the Royal Casino — now no longer a gambling den, however a used gents’s club. Constructed in 1847, it’s designated a National Historical Building. The €5 (£4.30) entry rate allows you to admire its Moorish-model foyer, chandelier-hung ballroom and frescoes. 

Sooner than nightfall, take a 15-minute drive south of the metropolis up to the Sanctuary of La Fuensanta, a magnificent hillside church role amid orange and pomegranate bushes, housing the patron saint of Murcia. It’s a great state to admire views of the metropolis as the sky turns amber and pink, however don’t pass over the fine baroque details inside, including gold-plated Corinthian columns and frescoes depicting Murcian folklore. For dinner, head back to the metropolis to grab an exterior  table in El Secreto in Plaza de Las Flores — a packed with life square dotted with flower stalls and restaurants, with a small central fountain. Declare a beer and join the locals snacking on tapas such as pulpo al horno (baked octopus) while listening to accordion players who busk in the squares. 

Murcia is an normally neglected destination, which makes it the ideal destination to avoid the crowds. 

Photograph by venemama, Getty Images

Day 2: Cobblestone streets & canyons 

Power west about 30 minutes to explore the pilgrimage town of Caravaca de la Cruz, home to the Caravaca Despicable. This double crucifix, flanked by two angels, is believed to bear healing powers. The logo appears all over town, from the metropolis’s coat of arms to signposts, however make sure you drop by the Basilica of Vera Cruz de Caravaca to survey the original. A few metres away lies Calle Cuesta Castillo, a cobbled avenue famous for its annual Los Caballos del Vino horse race — a local tradition that can be traced to the time when the town was ruled by Moors. Learn more about it at the Museo Caballos del Vino, which displays the dazzling embroidered cloaks veteran by the horses during the celebration. 

Make a lunch stop in the mature town of Cehegin, a 10-minute drive east. Restaurant El Sol’s rooftop provides views over the cascading whitewashed properties and is a merely place to strive local wines from Murcia’s Jumilla location alongside calamares rellenos — stuffed squid. Use the leisure of the afternoon exploring extra north, amid rice paddies in Calasparra — probably the most prominent rice-growing regions of the nation. The road leads to Almadenes Canyon, a deep gorge where you can hike or join a rafting adventure on the Segura River with Cañon y Cañon. The location is home to river otters, turtles and herons. Tours typically stop at the canyon’s UNESCO-listed Monigotes Cave, scrawled with Neolithic rock art. 

The area between Caravaca de la Cruz and Murcia metropolis is home to such a high concentration of natural thermal springs that it has a ‘spa route’. Heading east back towards Murcia, a merely place to dip a toe is the town of Archena, where Romans learned springs and built the primary baths here around the second century BCE. The town’s historic spa complex, the Balneario de Archena, feeds off the mineral spring with sulphurous waters erupting from Moorish fountains. After a soak, head back to Murcia for dinner at Salzillo. This traditional restaurant specialises in regional dishes such as paparajotes — a Murcian dessert of batter-fried lemon leaves dusted with cinnamon.

Wander extra adventures along Costa Cálida

Hormigas Islands
Stable since 1995, this marine reserve bordering the Cabo de Palos peninsula is regarded as probably the most handiest diving destinations in Spain, if now no longer Europe. The marine lifestyles includes octopus, moray eels, eagle rays and, occasionally, sunfish. Posidonia seagrass meadows, gardens of corals and underwater rock pinnacles make dives all the richer, and it’s also general to survey substantial bait balls, which attract larger predators such as barracuda and tuna. Deep drop-offs can plummet to around 230ft and the waters also harbour shipwrecks such as El Naranjito — a cargo ship that sank in the Forties. Trips can be booked with dive operators such as Adventure Divers, which also provides snorkelling, paddleboarding and jet skiing.

In the far west of Costa Cálida, seek advice from Águilas, where the area’s wealthy neolithic history can be explored at the Águilas Archaeological Museum. Surrounded by unspoilt coves, the town is also an glorious jumping off point for dives around Cabo Cope. Estela Diving Tours provides day and evening dives. About a forty five-minute drive east is the harbour town of Cartagena, founded by the Carthaginians around 227 BCE. Take a guided walking tour to learn more about the town’s naval history and modernist architecture, and explore the impressive Museo del Teatro Romano — a restored Roman amphitheatre from the duration when Cartagena was a thriving Roman town, around the primary century BCE.

Beaches & boat charters
Playa de Levante, a vast expanse of white sand peppered with chiringuitos (beach bars), is one of Costa Cálida’s finest beaches. Declare a beer or tinto de verano at Bocana de Palos restaurant, with a share of caldero (Murcian paella). Or apply the easy hiking trail west from the beach to Balcon de Cala Flores. At the fishermen’s village of Cabo de Palos, another option is to hire a boat for a two-hour jaunt along the coastline. The boats near with a skipper and there are four routes to settle from. The pick is the one that takes in the Calblanque Regional Park, an area fringed with golden sands and rocky bays where you can stop for a swim and maintain an inspect out for dolphins.  

Printed in the March 2024 situation of National Geographic Traveller (UK).

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