If there is one country I am familiar with, then it would have to be Spain. From the white villages of Andalucia to the bigger cities of Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia, it’s a country I have visited over and over again. But there are still many corners I haven’t discovered and the province of Murcia was one of them. When I had the chance to house-sit in a remote mountain range near Cartagena, I didn’t hesitate. It would be the perfect opportunity to find out all about the best things to do in Murcia and its surroundings!
Anybody visiting Murcia or make that anybody visiting Spain, should start off in Cartagena! Cartagena was home to the biggest civilizations of its time and is therefore one of Spain’s most historic cities! The Carthaginians, Hannibal, the Romans, … name it and they have left their legacy in this southern Spanish city!
It’s amazing how few people actually visit Cartagena! Make sure you’re one of them and don’t miss out on the following attractions:
The Punic Wall
The Punic Wall is the first defensive wall of Cartagena. It was built during the 3rd century BC by the Carthaginians (Punic is a term relating to the Phoenicians-Carthaginians) to prevent a Roman assault. There are very few Punic remains in Spain. The wall is pretty small and is now kept under glass walkways. In the same room you can find various panels explaining the founding of Cartagena.
While you are there, check out the excavations of the Hermitage of San Jose. It goes back to the 16th century and what remains is the crypt of the monks, with bones and skulls resting in several stories of burial niches.
The visit will only take 30 minutes but if you are even remotely interested in the history of Cartagena, it’s a place you can’t afford to miss!
The Roman Theatre
The highlight of any visit to Cartagena, the Roman theatre was one of the largest theatres in Roman Hispania and had a capacity of 7000 people. The theatre was built in the 1st century BC, but only discovered and excavated in 1987! It is the end point to the museum tour. (you need to pay entrance into the Roman Theatre museum to see it, or you can walk along the upper walls for free if you’re happy to just have quick look from above) The museum itself is worth visiting for its archaeological value and builds up to viewing the actual theatre itself. Keep an eye out at the entrance for queues. When cruise ships get in, this is usually their first point of call, so you might want to visit some other time.
The Roman Forum
In the heart of the city lie the ruins of Carthago Nova. (Cartagena’s name during Roman times) With some imagination you can see two blocks, separated by streets, in which stand what used to be the thermal baths, the atrium and a shrine to Isis & Serapis. Covered walkways lead you from one site to another and the panels are helpful to give you an idea of what the area must have looked like back in the 1st century AD.
The Festival of Carthagineses y Romanos
I was very lucky to be in Cartagena when the city was at its most vibrant. Every year at the end of September Cartagena celebrates the festival of “Carthagineses y Romanos”. The celebration lasts 10 days and re-enacts the conquest of Cartagena by the Romans. Every day there are various battles and commemorations from the wedding of Hannibal and Himilce to the march of Hannibal to Rome. The whole city seems to get involved and you’ll see people dressed as either Carthaginians or Romans wandering about the historic centre all day and night long. The atmosphere during the festival is electric, it is simply put Spain at its best!
2. The best beaches around Murcia
A big part of the attraction of southern Spain is of course its climate and its beaches. And although not nearly as popular as the crowded beaches on the Costa del Sol, Murcia still has its fair share of “fun in the sun”!
I was really surprised to see that this corner of southern Spain stayed so off-the-beaten-path. Most visitors seemed to be Spanish or expats. These would be my 5 favourite beaches in Murcia:
One of the biggest stretches of sand in the area and home to a great chiringuito (beach bar).
The first thing that might struck you however are the heavily eroded sandstone formations on the other side of the road. They might look small at first, but the closer you get the more spectacular they look. It’s definitely worth having a wander about and be amazed at what nature can do. After that, grab a towel and give yourself over to an afternoon of sun, sand and swimming!
Cala Cerrada means “closed cove” and it is indeed closed-off to all forms of vehicles. The only way to access is to come in by boat or walk for about 45-60 minutes through stunning landscapes, starting from the Bateria de Castillitos (see below) It is so worth it!!! The beach is stony, so bring some cover and watch out for the jellyfish! If you are looking for peace and quiet in the most beautiful surroundings, this is it!
The drive up to Percheles beach is not the most glamorous one. You drive past industrial buildings and lots of greenhouses and wonder how on earth you are going to arrive at a beach this way.
But upon arrival the palm trees of Percheles make it worth the detour!
This is the only beach that we had to pay for (parking fee), not sure why. The first beach is broad and pretty busy, but if you continue right and clamber over a few rocks, you get to the quieter sections, which resemble more big coves than long stretches of beach. Some of them are nudist beaches. I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to figure out which ones they are when you stumble upon them 😉
My favourite beach! Calblanque is situated at the tip of the Calblanque Regional Park, a protected nature reserve. The area is known for its abundant bird life and flora.
In summer a bus service takes you from the parking area to the beaches. We were there end of September and had to find our own way. It was easy enough and well indicated.
Calblanque is a huge sandy beach with lots of space, so it never really gets overcrowded. Walk up the rock formations at the end of the beach for gorgeous views and please respect the cordoned-off areas. When we were there loggerhead turtles were hatching in the nearby dunes for the first time since the 19th century!
Not the most spectacular beach, but a very handy one if you stay in the area. Isla Plana is a small town, popular with the British expat community, but despite this, it has kept a Spanish feel. There are a few bars and restaurants and a big stretch of sandy beach and calm waters. The beach bars are great for a refreshing drink in between swims. Take a look at the tiny church at the end of the promenade.
3. The city of Murcia
No visit to the province of Murcia is complete without a visit to its capital city! Your first port of call should be its emblematic cathedral. The baroque façade towers over Murcia’s main square, plaza Cardenal Belluga, and the building is as impressive from the inside as from the outside. Inside you’ll discover 3 separate naves and a total of 23 chapels!
Have a drink on one of the many terraces on the square to take it all in and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere. The building opposite is the Episcopal Palace. With its Renaissance façade, it looks more Italian than Spanish.
If you only have a short time in Murcia, make the Real Casino your second stop. No, don’t worry, I’m not taking you gambling. The casino was first opened as a gentleman’s club in 1847. It has been completely restored to its former glory and breathes opulence! Don’t limit yourself to the outside. Inside you’ll be amazed by its Moorish-style patio and the central hallway, leading up to various rooms, decorated by dazzling ceiling frescoes.
Murcia is a typical Spanish city, which means it is lively and boats various squares to enjoy a drink and the summer sun. Take your time to stroll around and you too will fall under Murcia’s spell!
4. Caravaca de la Cruz
A small town with a huge importance! This town on the border between the provinces of Murcia and Granada is the fifth city where you can celebrate the Holy Year (Jubilee Year) in the Catholic religion, along with Santiago de Compostela, Santo Toribio de Liébana, Rome and Jerusalem. The reason for this is that the castle of Caravaca de la Cruz houses the shrine of the Santísima Vera Cruz, a piece of wood believed to come from the cross on which Jesus Christ was crucified. The cross can be found in a glass case in a chapel next to the altar, but it’s worth checking out the ornate and atmospheric church itself too. (Be aware that the church is closed between 2pm-4pm for siesta.)
The castle used to be a military fortress back in the 1700-1800’s and offers stunning views over Caravaca de la Cruz! It is situated at the top of the town and a relatively easy climb from the town centre through the narrow streets of Caravaca or you can take the touristy train that leaves from Plaza del Arco. The Plaza is the focal point of town and is fringed with bars, cafés and municipal buildings. It’s a great place for a drink!
It’s definitely worth spending half a day in Caravaca!
Plaza de España
Lorca was a city that I was really looking forward to explore! The beautiful pictures of the Plaza de España with its town hall and architectural treasures had really drawn me in, but unfortunately Lorca and I didn’t click. I visited during the Feria, the annual festival, which usually means the best time to see a place in full swing, but in Lorca it didn’t seem to get going till late in the evening.
A big tent was erected on the Plaza de España, making it difficult to observe its beautiful buildings and the town seemed overall pretty empty.
Don’t get me wrong, Lorca is definitely worth checking out and there are other things to do in Lorca apart from seeing the Plaza de España!
The Fortaleza del sol
The castle of Lorca was a defensive bastion, built between the 9th and 15th century that served as the border between the Christian Kingdom of Murcia and the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada. A mix of various towers, cisterns and exhibitions leads you through the history of the town and the castle.
There are two admission prices. The basic visit includes a free audio guide which helps to bring the place alive. You need to pay extra to visit the Torre Alfonsina and the Jewish settlement, which is only accessible with a guide.
Museo de Bordados del Paso Blanco
The highlight of the year in Lorca is the Semana Santa or Holy Week! I was very fortunate to attend the Semana Santa in Andalucia, but the one in Lorca is very different. The Holy Week in Lorca is a rivalry between the two main brotherhoods, the “Paso Blanco” and “Paso Azul”. Both compete in horse riding events and biblical processions draped in exceptional silk embroideries. You can see these broideries at any time of the year in the museums of one of the brotherhoods. I went to see the “Paso Blanco” one. Even if you are not in the slightest interested in embroidery, it is impossible to not be impressed by the skills and details showcased on the cloaks. Every stitch is made by hand and it takes thousands of hours to complete a cloak. The silks are especially dyed and the gold threads that are used are pure gold!
If that’s not enough to make you visit, then the Capilla del Rosario definitely will! The chapel is part of the museum and the attendant will light it up whenever you are ready to enter. Be ready to adjust your eyes: the gold is literally glittering from all sides!
6.Bateria de Castillitos
On the small headland of Cabo Tiñoso lies one of the few remaining gun batteries of the Cartagena area. The access leading up to the Bateria leads through some great mountainous scenery, but the road is pretty steep and winding so be careful!
The battery was deliberately built into the top of the ridge to render it invisible from the sea. It is decorated with crenellations and towers which makes it look like a medieval castle.During the Spanish Civil War,in 1937, the Bateria fired one shot against a Nationalist squadron. With the passing of time the guns became obsolete and the battery was finally abandoned in 1994.
Nowadays it’s a great place to enjoy the mountainous views over the blue Mediterranean and you can easily spend some time discovering the towers, guns and abandoned buildings. There are no facilities on site, so bring your own drinks and snacks.
After visiting Murcia, I was once again amazed by the diversity of Spain! The province of Murcia is an area that is still relatively unspoilt, but it’s home to so much history , to some fantastic beaches, not to mention vibrant city life! Next time you’re in Spain, do a little detour, I promise you won’t regret it!