ROQUETAS AND THE COSTA ALMERÍA - 2
I like driving along the coastal road from Aguadulce to Almería. It is a spectacular drive with the mountainside on one side and sheer drops to the sea on the other. The road hugs the cliff tops and passes through tunnels that have been excavated in the rock face.
Many different peoples have contributed to the architecture and culture of Almería. Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks and Romans have all left their mark, but it was the Moors that really put Almería on the map! In Roman times it was called Portus Magnus but later it was called al-Mariyah, meaning 'Mirror of the Sea'.
Approaching the city from the west provides a dramatic view of the town with the magnificent Alcazaba on the mountainside on the left and the port on the right.
"Almería - 2"
There are many things to see but the undoubted jewel in the crown is the Alcazaba. This enormous fortress dominates the city standing as it does on a hill overlooking the town and the sea. It was built in the tenth century but over the centuries it had further enhancements added such as a Moorish palace and, in the time of the Catholic Kings, a Christian palace.
The Cathedral is the other principal monument in the city. It was built in the sixteenth century and was designed as a place of prayer and of refuge. This was because the shores of Almería were continually under attack from Turks and Berbers and so the Cathedral was used as a place of safety as well as worship.
There are many historic buildings in the city - the excellent map provided by the Tourist Office identifies thirty-three key places of interest but there are many more places of historic importance or of architectural merit. Almería is a mix of old and new and, I think, the buildings are a delight to look at with their Renaissance and Mudéjar façades. They are often exquisitely decorated in pastel colours, usually two-toned and have ornate window grilles. If you like looking at tasteful architecture you will like Almería.
If you don't like architecture or museums, there are also beaches in Almería but you would probably be better off staying in Roquetas or Mojacar Playa!
The province of Almería is diverse. Whilst it is extremely arid in places, there are areas of stunning beauty:
There is the Almerian half of the Alpujarras - delightful pueblos blancos that seem to perch precariously on the south facing slopes of the Sierra Nevada - Alboloduy, Fiñana, Ohanes, Padules, Laujar de Andarax, Paterna del Rio and more!
There is the Tabernas desert - the only true desert in Europe. It is located between the great rocky masses of the Sierra de los Filabres and the Sierra Alhamilla. The scenery here is startling - the arid yellow ochre landscape contrasts with the vivid blue Almerian sky. It is also 'Wild West' country - dozens of spaghetti westerns like 'A Fistful of Dollars' were made here and visits can be made to 'Mini Hollywood'. If you have children you should take them there - they will enjoy it. I did!
"Almería province - Sorbas, Níjar, Calar Alto"
There are many other spectacular places in the province of Almería including the pottery town of Sorbas in the Karst en Yesos de Sorbas Natural Park. It is an area for potholing and exploring caves. Some of the houses of Sorbas appear to hang over the edge of a cliff.
Níjar is another town renowned for its pottery - and carpets. It nestles at the foot of the Sierra Alhamilla one of many mountain ranges in the province.
At the top of one of them - the Sierra de los Filabres - is the Calar Alto observatory - installed there because this area possesses the cleanest atmosphere in Europe.
"Sierra María-Los Vélez Natural Park"
Another spectacular area is the Sierra María-Los Vélez Natural Park and the historic pueblos blancos of Vélez Rubio and Vélez Blanco. To the north of these towns are UNESCO World Heritage listed pre-historic caves. In one of them - Cueva de Los Letreros - are cave paintings that were discovered in 1868 but which are about 6,000 years old. The symbol of the Indalo man was discovered here and it is now the symbol of Almería. Visit any
souvenir shop or jewellers in the province and you will see items with the Indalo symbol on sale. Buy one for a friend or relative - they are meant to give good luck to the recipient.
"Cabo de Gata"
The aforementioned Cabo de Gata Natural Park is less than one hour's drive from Roquetas. The cape itself is visible across the bay and beyond that there are miles upon miles of unspoilt beaches with secluded coves, sand dunes and much more within a protected coastal reserve. It is quite splendid. It is one of my favourite areas in the province of Almería. It is a nature lover's delight. There are thousands of different species there including the pink flamingo and the rare Italian wall lizard. There are eagles, kestrels, puffins, cormorants,
oystercatchers and storks. The extraordinary wealth of wildlife is unbelievable. There are some species that are unique to the park. This includes the dragoncillo del Cabo, which flowers all the year round. Europe's only native palm tree - the dwarf fan - is to be found here. In the sea, there are bream, grouper, prawn and squid. There are hundreds of species of seaweed, which are home to the many varieties of crustacean, mollusc and fish. Perhaps the reason for the great variation in wildlife is due to the diverse habitats in this natural
park. The 71,500 acres of the Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata-Níjar is volcanic in origin and comprises coastal dunes, steep cliffs, spectacular beaches, salt marshes, saltpans, arid steppe, dry riverbeds and a substantial marine zone. It is probably this ecological diversity that has led to the park being designated a UNESCO biosphere reserve.
""Roquetas de Mar también en invierno""
It is also only an hour's drive to the Alpujarras - that delightful area of picturesque white villages that cling to the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada. It is but half an hour's journey if one accepts that the mountain village of Enix is, in fact, part of that delightful region made famous by writers Gerald Brenan and Chris Stewart. Certainly, on arriving at the village in the Sierra de Gádor there is a sign welcoming visitors to the Alpujarra Almeriense. As far as I am concerned it is just one of the delightful mountain villages to visit whenever I wish to go for a short drive from the coastal resort of Roquetas de Mar which, incidentally has over 300 sunny days per year. No wonder the welcoming signs in Roquetas say "Roquetas de Mar también en invierno" - also in winter!