Pinched between the more-trodden beaches of Almería to the south and the heaving resorts of Valencia’s Costa Blanca to the north, Murcia is one of Spain’s least visited and, the peninsula of La Manga apart, least touristy corners.
Its name derives from the Latin murtae (mulberry). For centuries mulberry leaves fed silkworms for a flourishing industry that lasted until well after WWII, when local silk could no longer compete against man-made fibres.
Murcia’s 250km of coast is aptly called La Costa Cálida (Hot One). With over 3000 hours of sunshine each year, it almost guarantees an all-over tan, whether you spread your towel in the tourist pulls of the Mar Menor or in the quieter, much more Spanish resorts southwards.
So much sunshine means a dry, semidesert interior. Humankind has toiled over the centuries to put the little rain that falls over the region to best use. Muslims from North Africa introduced their irrigation systems: waterwheels, aqueducts and acequias (canals). This network, still largely extant, helps to distribute the stingy 300mm of annual rainfall, allowing intensive cultivation, especially of the citrus crops and grapes in the El Guadalentín valley and tomatoes by the tonne, grown in vast plastic greenhouses south of Cartagena.
The busy capital, also called Murcia, is a university town with a splendid cathedral. Cartagena, Spain’s premier naval port, is excavating, digging deep to reveal its rich classical heritage. Inland, Lorca, once a frontier town between Christian and Muslim Spain, is famous for its Semana Santa (Easter week) processions, and the unspoilt Parque Natural de Sierra Espuña draws climbers and walkers.