You may experience a kind of deja vu as you roam around the rugged landscapes of Cabo de Gata-Nijar on the coast of Almeria in southern Spain. This is hardly surprising, as it has featured in TV series, commercials, music videos and numerous Spanish and foreign films. In Lawrence of Arabia, Peter O'Toole strode heroically across the sands of Playa de los Genoveses, and Escullos provided the backdrop for scenes in the classic Bond film Never Say Never Again.
But the Cabo de Gata-Nijar Natural Park is more than just a good place for filming. The Spanish poet Jose Angel Valente summed it up perfectly as “A place where Nature seems to have found herself and where man can, in turn, find himself in her.”
The whitewashed villages of Almeria dot a unique ecosystem that boasts fine natural treasures. Here, a dusty walk in the heat and the sun – such as the five kilometre stretch from the small tourist town of Isleta del Moro to the spectacular volcanic crater of Majada Redonda – is well worth the effort. And, of course, if you're heading towards the coast, you can always expect to discover a beautiful cove at the end of the walk where you can cool off: Cala Chica, Las Negras, Rodalquilar...
The 37,000 protected hectares of Cabo de Gata-Nijar are home to one of least spoiled ecosystems on the Iberian Peninsula. The sea, in particular, is one of the most valued areas of the Mediterranean, with more than 1,300 animal and 300 plant species. Monsul Beach is the perfect destination to discover this for yourself and if you're a scuba fan, there's a marvellous natural show awaiting you under water with the natural dance of the seagrass meadows. On the beach itself, you may get yet another moment of Sean Connery deja vu as Monsul was the setting for scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The highlight of this unique space, though, must be the Mirador de Las Sirenas – 'the mermaid lookout'. From Cabo de Gata lighthouse, the southeastern point of the Iberian Peninsula, silence and light join together to cast a single spell over this volcanic landscape caught between sky and sea.
Where to stay
In Agua Amarga, El Cortijo Los Malenos offers peace and quiet in a tasteful rustic ambience close to the beach. Cala Chica, Nijar is an unassuming hotel in the picturesque fishing village of Las Negras. In San Jose, the Hotel Doña Pakyta is a charmingly refurbished farmstead with 13 rooms.
Where – and what – to eat
Given the privileged coastal location, it's not surprising that local cuisine focuses on fish and seafood. Caldo quemao and cuajadera – both dishes made with fish and local Mediterranean vegetables – are typical of the region; then there are gurullos – a cereal product made of flour and water that is sometimes substituted for pasta or rice – and the simple, but delicious, Andalusian style patatas a lo pobre – potatoes gently fried with onion and pepper. In Rodalquilar, the Posada El Ajillo serves traditional local cuisine. Another favourite for gourmets is the restaurant of Cortijo El Sotillo. At Morales in La Almadraba of Monteleva (Tel. 950 37 01 03), you can sample some of the best local fish, including the typical gallopedro – John Dory.
The network of watchtowers and small fortresses along the coast such as San Felipe or San Ramon are a reminder of the history of pirates and privateers and offer spectacular views out over the Mediterranean. Inland, in the desert of Tabernas, a few of the clearly tourist-oriented villages recall the fact that this is the home of the spaghetti western, where mythical movies were filmed, such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, linking the names of Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood with Almeria for ever.
Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata-Nijar