I absolutely love the Almeria region of Spain, an attraction which grew slowly after my dad became a regular resident, drawn there by the clear skies for his first love – astronomy.
It’s not an obvious place to love – much of it is desert away from the 100km of untamed coastline – and most tourists are drawn to the glittering fun palaces, beach and bars of the coastal resorts.
But there is so much more to see if you are willing to get in a car and explore – or even cycle though the heat in summer makes this an unattractive option.
This is the only area of Spain with a true desert climate (with the driest climate and clearest skies in Europe) and you need air con!
So here are just six suggestions:
1. Relive those cowgirl fantasies at the Oasys (previously known as mini Hollywood) theme park in the desert setting of Tabernas in Almeria province where many a famous film was set. It was originally built for Sergio Leone’s A few dollars more and used as a set for many other films including The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and The Neverending Story. An episode of Doctor Who was even filmed there. Film sets and scenes from them are open for visitors. The whole Almeria region is very popular as a film set,(Laurence of Arabia, Cleopatra) and used a location for series including Game of Thrones.( Tabernas, Cabo de Gata)
2. The protected wildlife reserve at Cabo de Gata – Spain’s largest coastal protected area – is a magnet for wildlife including birds, has a number of viewing points and is perfect for a picnic on the sweeps of perfect beaches (OK, I mentioned beaches!) and to while away time admiring the scenery. Away from resorts generally there are plenty of wildlife-spotting opportunities across Almeria. I’ve spotted tortoises and wild boar living in the wild. (never touch a tortoise they are very vulnerable)
3. You can visit the extremely atmospheric subterranean system of concrete air-raid shelters used during the Spanish Civil War in Almeria itself – tours are available from the site at the Plaza Manuel Pérez García.
4. Another for history-lovers and film buffs, the 10th century Alcazaba of Almeria is a fascinating fortress used extensively as a set for films including Conan the Barbarian, Indian Jones and the Last Crusade, Never say never again and TV series Queen of Swords. The Moorish fort is the second largest fort in Andalucia, after the famous Alhambra.
5. Visit the cave houses of Guadix. The region of Almeria is famous for these dwellings set into the rock throughout history – a strategy to escape the heat of the day and keep homes cool. They are not just a piece of history as hundreds of cave homes are still lived in today – you can even buy them as holiday homes. I looked at a couple when I was helping my dad house-hunt. (not great if you want windows!) The small city of Guadix in particular is famous for the cave homes set in the hills and many still lived in.
6. It’s hot – so go underground. The caves at Sorbas (Cuevas de Sorbas) are located in the Gypsum Karst Natural Park of Sorbas, a landscape of surface and underground rock formations declared a Natural Area of Protection 1989. The caves are open for visits by guided tour and you can walk, climb and crawl to admire the remarkable rock formations.
FUN FACT: John Lennon wrote and recorded the demo of Strawberry Fields Forever right here in Almeria, while in the area filming ‘How I won the war’.