Almería in four days
The Alcazaba Fortress in Almería is the highest point of the capital city and the ideal place to begin your trip around the capital of this Andalusian province. The vegetation on the San Cristobal hill rises up to the fortress walls, standing in formidable contrast against the natural earth. Below the fortress lies a distinctly Mediterranean city with imposing architecture and a fascinating history of its own. Beyond the city limits, there are such Andalusian gems as Roquetas de Mar, Mojácar, Carboneras, Sierra de Gata and Cabo de Gata-Níjar National Parks and the famous Tabernas Desert.
Since there is so much to see, here is an itinerary that will help you get the most out of your trip to Almería:
Itinerary day 1
From the 10th century fortress – the most elevated part of the city – the Great Caliph Abderraman III controlled the entire region. This was the largest walled city of all Al-Andalus and it was considered an icon of Moorish good taste at the time. Its gardens, water cisterns, watermills, canals and irrigation systems are all depicted today in the excellent museum to the Moorish era. For the views it offers alone, not to mention the fascinating stories it has to tell, the fortress is the best place to begin your trip.
Six months into the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) Almería organised the construction of refuges large enough to protect 40,000 people, at a depth of 16 metres below street level, from the constant aerial bombardment of the Francoist air force and their allies. At the time, the majority of the 56,000 strong population had a place in the 4 km of tunnels and galleries that were eventually built in the refuges. After the war, the Francoist dictatorship took control of the country and the refuges were sealed indefinitely. In 2001, thanks to the many access points the refuges had in people’s houses, churches and markets, they were rediscovered with many original fittings and personal effects still in situ.
Not far from the marina (and the sea, of course) you can find one of the best restaurants specialising in Mediterranean cuisine. Club de Mar blends the old with the new, preserving traditional recipes but also innovating with them on dishes such as ‘Wreckfish and gulas with Greek cheese’ and ‘Grouper pie with a caviar sauce’. The wine and dessert lists are definitely worth a peek, too!
During the Caliphate of Cordoba (939-1031) Almería became one of the Caliph’s most important ports and, later on, it became a powerful region known as a ‘Taifa’. Its location was perfect and today, amidst the transatlantic ships and yachts, tourists can still find ferries from its port to Algeria and Morocco. Despite its bustling maritime commerce, the port is still a great place to relax and have a drink or a tapa beside the sea.
Also known as the Alquife Pier because of the minerals that came from the Alquife mines in Granada, the English Pier is an almost unique structure. Following the direction of the school of the famous Gustave Eiffel, this structure allowed trains to take the minerals to the ships docked in the port via a platform that reached into the sea itself. A feat of engineering ingenuity, the pier is exemplary in the world of the ‘architecture of iron and glass’.
The Archaeological Museum of Almería is invaluable to anybody interested in the history of Almerían culture. In the 19th century, coal deposits in the area made Almería rich but also unearthed countless amounts of archaeology, especially ceramics and other cultural objects and sites, such as the Chalcolithic site Los Millares or the Bronze Age site El Argar.
The old brick train station, with its vaulted windows and its façade of iron and glass, strikes an imposing figure in the centre of this beautiful city. Modernity mixes with the traditional, both inside and out of this building, in which you can get something to eat or drink, or simply wander around and admire its architecture.
The 3-kilometre long (and growing) seaside promenade is replete with bicycle lanes, market stalls, shops, bars and even restaurants right on the sea front. The small gardens and palm trees decorate and provide shade to this walkway, frequented by tourists and locals alike during the summer, and they also offer the perfect place to watch the sun go down over the Mediterranean.
This restaurant has garnered an excellent reputation for modernising traditional dishes, such as red prawns, dried octopus and the famous gurullos, a type of ‘pasta’ made from wheat flour, water and saffron. Among Casco Antiguo’s more modern creations are ‘foie gras with a sweet wine gelatine’ and ‘eggs slow-cooked at 65 degrees on a bed of potatoes stuffed with truffles and green pepper foam’. Casco Antigo has an excellent atmosphere and the prices are very good too.
Itinerary day 2
What better place to restore your tired senses than one of the most famous (and most traditional) taverns in the region? Tal Palo’s fame has spread far and wide and, although it’s often crowded, it’s well worth taking a trip here to enjoy an array of dishes – from hamburgers to risotto – in a relaxed atmosphere and at an excellent price.
This nature reserve is not only visually stunning, thanks to its beautiful landscapes, it is also home to an astonishing variety of flora and fauna. Thanks to its mix of habitats – sand dunes, semi-arid areas, wetlands, marshes and ponds – the park has become home to local birds like flamingos and an array of migratory birds, too. If you tire of birdwatching, though, the park also boasts 16 kilometres of virgin beaches and coves.
Roquetas de Mar is one town that will not disappoint. Its most attractive features are almost too many to name: the beautiful beaches La Serena and Las Salinas, the bullring equipped with its own bullfighting museum, arguably the best aquarium in Andalusia, the archaeological site of La Ribera de la Algaida and the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, are just some of the highlights on offer. It even has a water park named ‘Mariopark’! Certainly more than enough to fill an hour and a half!
Probably the most iconic building in Roquetas, Santa Ana Castle was once a meagre tower built to defend the citizens from the constant coastal attacks they suffered. Over the years the castle was built up into the fortress you can see today. Not only does it offer rooms with interesting information about the history of the castle, it also has exhibitions, open-air concerts, and the very best views of the city and beyond from the top of its ramparts.
Di Moderna has been featured in countless gastronomical guidebooks of Spain and it is certainly one of the best restaurants to be found in Roquetas. Here, diversity is the order of the day: offering fish, grilled meat, elaborate pizzas cooked in its very own wood oven, and all cooked with the very best locally sourced ingredients. Be sure to order one of its specialities: grilled octopus, ceviche or the shoulder of lamb cooked in the wood oven; you won’t be disappointed.
The first thing you realise when you look at this building is that it looks more like a fortress than a cathedral and, in fact, you would be right. Built during the 16th century, this temple of worship was originally designed to protect the citizens of Almería from the constant attacks from Berber pirates. Inside, the original rib vaults still dominate the ceiling and there is a stunning altarpiece and sepulchre made out of alabaster and commissioned by Bishop Fernández de Villalán.
Many photographers with National Prizes under their belts exhibit their works here and its shop specializes in beautiful books that feature some of the best photography from Spain and abroad. There is also a library and workshops on offer, too. Ultimately, the purpose of this space is to safeguard the memory of Andalusian photography by offering its visitors the chance to experience the artistry of photography through its exhibitions.
This museum is dedicated to the memory of Antonio de Torres, an Almerían luthier who designed what has become the traditional Spanish guitar. In order to better educate its visitors, this museum offers audio-visual and interactive exhibitions as well as rooms in which you can actually play the guitars discussed, including, of course, the famous Flamenco Guitar.
Itinerary day 3
‘Playa de los Muertos’ translates as ‘Beach of the Dead’ but this is far from the reality in this beautiful stretch of water. Despite the fact that it is quite difficult to get to by foot – a path not recommendable for children under 5 and people with reduced mobility – Playa de los Muertos has become one of the most popular beaches in Almería over the years due to its crystal-clear waters full of sea life.
A great way to get to know Almería is to find the best bars and restaurants that still maintain the culinary traditions of the region. As the name – ‘The Fisherman’ – would suggest, El Pescador offers some of the best fish and seafood dishes to come out of the Mediterranean. An octopus casserole called Cuajadera de pulpo, calamari, jumbo shrimps, red mullet, red snapper and John Dory are just some of its star dishes.
5 minutes by car (and 20 minutes by foot) you will come to the old volcano Mesa Roldán, in the crater of which you will find the tallest inhabited lighthouse in Spain and one of the best lookout points in the whole national park. The park itself is famous for the views of its landscape, so famous in fact that it was chosen as a place to film one of the battles in Game of Thrones.
Carboneras boasts more than 15 protected buildings, such as the San Andrés Castle, the watermill of Argamasón and the water cisterns of Ventorrillos. What’s more, around 75% of the town is actually part of the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park, so you can understand why it has become a popular tourist destination in recent years. Hiking in the nearby mountains and snorkelling off the coast of San Andrés island are just two activities that will bring you back year after year.
Located in Hotel Barceló Cabo de Gata, El Arrozante is famous for hiring the very best rice chefs in the country and this has resulted in one of the finest places to have paella around. You can try the more extravagant paellas, with lobster and cuttlefish, or just stick to the original ‘Valencian’ paella cooked to perfection. Whatever you decide to choose, there will be an excellent wine menu to accompany it. El Arrozante is probably the safest bet you will ever make!
Itinerary day 4
Just an hour’s drive from Almería capital is the famous El Playazo Beach, which also has one of the most famous naturist areas in its northern stretch of sand. With your feet in the fine golden sand you can admire the mountains of Cabo de Gata-Níjar to one side and, on the other, the famous Castle of San Ramón. An ideal place to start your day!
Between El Playazo Beach and the municipality of Mojácar you will find a farmhouse completely surrounded by palm trees and other vegetation. With its views of the coast, simply visiting this place is worth your time but if you take the time to sit, relax and try some of its Mediterranean dishes you will find it to be the perfect place to disconnect from the world.
Appearing on the list of ‘The Most Beautiful Villages in Spain’ Mojácar is the quintessential Andalusian village, with whitewashed houses that contrast with the colourful flowerpots that hang from their balconies and the deep blue of the sea beyond. Take the time to wander through its streets and discover Parterre Square, the old Arabic necropolis and the lookout point at Plaza Nueva.
Vera is a perfect mix of beaches and urban centre. Just walking through its streets you will come across the remains of Roman buildings, a fortified church to Our Lady of the Incarnation and the Church of San Agustín, which was part of a convent built by Carlos V between the 16th and 17th centuries. If you have time, take a trip to the Ethnographic museum and the bull ring, one of the oldest in Spain.
While in Vera, take the time to have one last traditional meal in Almería at La Perla del Mar. Its rice dishes (black rice and paellas), its casseroles, its octopus, prawns, and baked sea bass are just some of the traditional dishes prepared here that will leave you wanting more.