Jul 31, 2009 2:48:15 AM
The top 10 travel secrets #1: Almería
Lonely Planet Magazine’s best-kept secret lies near the tourist-filled Costa del Sol - the undiscovered region of Almería, filled with national parks, unspoilt beaches and mesmerising desert.
‘Almería is ‘el culo de España’ (’the arse of Spain‘), according to locals. ‘People used to say it was closer to London than Madrid. At least you could get there by ship,’ explains Miguel Navero, a local novelist. That is exactly what has saved it. It was too far from motorways, airports and electricity lines for early developers to bother with.
Almería, with its wide open spaces, is one of the world’s great film sets. Peter O’Toole strode across Monsul beach in Lawrence of Arabia - one of hundreds of films shot around Cabo de Gata and in the extraordinary deserts of Almería’s interior. I follow the track towards the lighthouse. That rare Spanish sight, an empty beach, soon has me scrambling back down the hill. I slip on pebbles, scratch my shins on small thistles and try not to crush delicate-smelling camomile plants with their yellow flowers. My beach is stony but, a few yards out, I can see nothing but sand. A pair of seagulls, sat on a promontory of purplish rock, are the only spectators. I’m tempted to throw caution to the wind and sneak a skinny dip in the clear, cool seas.
Almería is a place of extremes. Its landscapes, seemingly in constant battle with the elements, impress by scale and severity. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Tabernas Desert, a natural park 40km inland from Cabo de Gata. Staring awestruck at the relentless barrenness of Europe’s only true desert, I realise this is a place that may never need protection from man. For man, on the whole, has been too scared to venture into it.
The sight of a cowboy dressed in a wide-brimmed Mexican hat seems, at first glance, to be a desert mirage. He turns out to be real - a lured drawing visitors to one of the film sets dotted around the desert. When Europe’s’ film-makers want a landscape to rival the deserts of Arizona or the Mojave, this is where they come - to a place were it rains just four days a year and temperatures soar to 48C in the shade, if you can find any.
It is not difficult to see why Sergio Leone brought Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef to these parts to make classic spaghetti westerns like The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Even scientists refer to these as badlands - uninhabitable and, for farming, beyond the scope of human ingenuity.
A track cuts through the scrub, past a circle of Indian tepees and into the permanent film set that is Fort Bravo. A horse gallops past me, charging towards a stockade where other horses await. A cloud of dust obscures the wooden buildings - from a fortified bank to a Mexican cantina - of the empty set.
The place has seen better days but there is a secret pleasure to having its streets all to myself.’
This whole luscious article appeared in its entirety in the July 2009 issue of Lonely Planet Magazine.
Wow. Number one! So, who got pipped at the post at #2?
If you like the sound of Almería, download the chapter of the province from our Andalucia guidebook.