Dates: 14th May – 18th May
Distance walked: 51.17km
Having spent a week back at home in Aberdeen, a pre-planned pit stop arising from circumstances equal parts frustrating and unavoidable, we were longing for a return to warmer climates. Thankfully next up on our conquest of Europe was a trip to sunny Spain.
Our accommodation was a tranquil appartment complex within the unassuming municipality of Jacarilla, located in the Valencian Community in Eastern Spain. Here we stayed at the only place during our travels which is equipped with a swimming pool. As such, on our first morning we hastily got into our swimming kit and spent a cool forty five in the shaded, though sharply refreshing, water.
After a crisp start to the day in the chilly pool, we decided to heat up by dousing ourselves in Spanish sunlight whilst exploring the village of Jacarilla and nearby town Algorfa in the Costa Blanca region. Whilst the towns themselves are pretty sleepy the area is certainly not without its charms. The true beauty around here is captured on the walks between the residential areas.
Countless rows of fruitful orange trees stretch all the way to the foots of the hills which rise jutting out from the horizon. It’s a truly serene backdrop for squeezing in a round of golf at the La Finca Golf resort in Algorfa or discovering the grounds of the disused palace in Jacarilla, an amazing and unexpected feature of the small village in rural Spain.
After a lazy first evening in Costa Blanca we quickened the pace with a trip to the popular port city of Alicante the following day. Perhaps more known for its nightlife however it is also an excellent daytime excursion with a beach, marina and a scenic old town to discover. If you happen to be on a particularly tight schedule then I’d recommend forgetting all of those suggestions and heading straight for the true gem of Alicante which is Santa Barbara Castle.
The highest point in the city provides a stunning view for miles in all directions for those who dare make the trek up Mount Benacantil. We hiked our way to the summit however fear not, if that is not your thing then there is a road which leads directly to the top and free parking when you get there. Upon arrival there is a café and kiosk where you can grab a refreshment before touring the castle grounds.
There are a host of archaeological finds discovered at the site from throughout the ages, coats of arms from noble Spanish families and truly spectacular 360° views. All of which make traipsing up the gruelling Mount Benacantil well worth the effort.
Descending the hillside proved considerably more enjoyable than the steep route to the top and below the castle lie more beautiful sights. The beach and the marina made for dazzling eye candy as we took a leisurely stroll by, ice cream in hand, before spending some time in old town. Here there are plenty bars and restaurants to kill time in before the city comes to life at night. We opted for an early night instead and caught the train back, not before a few tall drinks by the marina though.
What trip to Spain is complete without a day spent at the beach? Luckily our appartment was only a 25 minute drive from the coast so a lazy day at Guadamar Beach was next up on our agenda. Sprawling coastline, golden sands and sparkling blue water adorn the coastal town of Guadamar del Segura and we spent the best part of our third day sunning ourselves and strolling along the 11km stretch of beach in the municipality.
Only a twenty minute train journey from Orihuela (the closest train station to Jacarilla) lies the gorgeous city of Murcia, the destination for our penultimate day in Spain. From the train station we walked towards the centre passing over the Segura river via the reassuringly named Puente de los Peligros or ‘Bridge of Dangers’ and past the lovely pastel-peach town hall making our way to the remarkable Murcia Cathedral.
A Roman Catholic church in the Plaza Del Cardenal Belluga exhibiting beautiful architecture from its masterful Baroque main facade to the Renaissance and Neoclassical bell tower and the Gothic interior. It’s free to enter and inside one can behold the marvellous artwork and holy relics on display whilst those of a religious persuasion can observe or partake freely in a ceremony within the chapel.
With neither of us being religious, after such an ecclesiastical experience we felt the urge for something a touch more sinful. In the square directly outside, we found exactly the kind of indulgence we desired in the form of chocolate a la taza, the Spanish take on hot chocolate.
After drinking, or perhaps more accurately eating, a cup of the sickly sweet treat we had not quite been deterred from seeking out some more Spanish cuisine for lunch. The restaurant, Tapas Los Zagales is a 92 year old establishment which exudes authenticity and specialises in the tradition of tapas, small and inexpensive dishes perfect for sharing a light lunch.
We shared plates of bite sized sandwhiches, croquettes, meatballs, pork and patatas bravas within the rustic eatery and then set off in search of a place to continue our spree of indulgence with some alcoholic beverages. Plaza de las Flores, named so because of the flower market which runs through the day, provided the ideal setting for us to take in the city known as Europe’s orchard over a glass of strong liquor.
One last must see area within Murcia lies in the tiny region of Monteagudo, an hours walk or 15 minutes by bus from the city centre will take you to one of Spain’s lesser known, but quietly impressive castles. A statue of Jesus which bares semblance to the famous Christ the Redeemer monument in Rio de Janeiro sits atop a hill to create a powerful scene contrasting with the quaint hamlet below.
Unfortunately those charged with looking after the site have neglected to maintain it so much so that the monument is in a state of disrepair, making access difficult as the visitor centre is closed and climbing to the summit is dangerous. There is however a museum at the foot of the hill and stopping by even if just for the view alone is more than worth the bus fare there and back to central Murcia. A quiet evening back in Jacarilla wrapped up a busy day discovering Murcia.
Rather than a dip in the pool to start the day, on our last morning we travelled to the nearby seaside town of San Pedro del Pinatar for a dip in the mud. The warm water lakes at the Las Charcas mud baths are reputed to have healing powers for damaged skin and arthritic pain. The method involves walking out into the lakes until the sand below turns to a slick, black surface at which point you scoop some up and apply to your skin, thereafter letting it dry in to work its magic.
Even if you don’t fancy covering yourself head to toe in slimy mud for the potential dermatological benefits, it is a good bit of fun to watch others going to great lengths to do so. Alternatively, opposite these lakes is the Mar Menor lagoon and another beautiful stretch of Costa Blanca beach should you wish to cover yourself instead with some sun tan lotion and soak up the rays.
Before leaving San Pedro we shared a paella of mixed seafood and meat at Don Giovanni, one of the many beachside restaurants offering up fresh seafood and on our last evening in Spain we unearthed a hidden gem in our own back garden, La Cueva (The Cave).
Burrowing down through the opening of a stone wall on the outskirts of the village leads you to a charming outdoor bar complete with stone huts, a water feature and plentiful foliage. Here we sat well into the night sipping drinks and speculating on what Bologna would have in store for us the following day.