Costa de Almeria – Carboneras, Mojacer, Garrucha, Vera Playa, Palomares, & Villaricos
We have always wanted to visit Spain and in particular areas that as boomers we may be able to retire to. One of the many places we read about for both its beauty and the people is the Costa de Almeria region in Andalucia. In particular the area around Mojacer, Villaricos and Garrucha. We have been fortunate in applying for housesitting that we had an extended stay in Palomares which we loved and on our return we got to stay on an Olive Farm further inland.
Originally known as the Costa del Sol that name became attached to the area around Malaga Province and specifically Almeria the city. The Costa de Almeria runs east of Almeria City and includes the Cabo de Gata-Nijer Natural Park, Carboneras, Mojacer, Garrucha, Vera Playa, Palomares and Villaricos.
The Province of Almeria includes the majestic Sierra Maria-los Velez with its snow-capped mountains, which is also a nature reserve and the Cabo de Gata-Nijar Nature Reserve. Both areas are known for the flora and fauna, which includes deserts, sea caves, a vast array of wild life and fauna. In one area of Spain, you can conquer mountains, swim in the Mediterranean’s deserted waters, and tour the desert.
The area of Andalucia has some of the absolute prettiest villages in Spain. Romantic bouganvillea covered alleyways and whitewashed villages perched high on the mountains and hills, tucked into little valleys. This article on the Most Beautiful Villages in Andalucia by Sonja of Migrating Miss blog shows of some of her favourites from Salobrena to Mojacer.
The greatest advantage of staying in this area is the ability to travel around Andalucia, this means you can easily get to Seville, Barcelona and Granada which are absolutely amazing destinations. If you would like to explore this area further head over to head over to Lavina’s Continent Hop website to see an itinerary for a week in Spain for those destinations.
Almeria’s name comes from a time when the Arabs occupied Spain. At that time, it was known as Al-Mariyya, which means watchtower. This area was the first line of defense against enemy forces. The capital city Almeria with its Moorish castle, Alcazaba was a major harbour and principal stronghold of the Moors kingdom. The Alcazaba is the second largest fortress in Andalusia after the Alhambra in Granada. There is a lot of evidence of the moors in the region from the architecture to the agriculture and food of the region. There are also many Roman and Greek Archaelogical remains along the coast alongside relics from the days of the Crusaders and Christians.
Starting at the Cabo de Gata – which is a nature park there is very restricted road access but the area has many tiny fishing villages where you can get a beer and tapa before you hike to its secluded beaches for swimming. The coastline is incredibly rugged and care must be taken when swimming due to rip tides in some of the secluded bays. There are amazing views of the Mediterranean Sea and coastline from here. The Cabo de Gata is the perfect place for hiking and bird watching.
Down the road, going east from the Cabo de Gata you will find Mojacer Playa. The playa area encompasses miles of beautiful groomed beaches, chirinquitos, beach bars and plenty of little cafes and bars from which to people watch. Mojacer actually encompasses two areas. The beautiful whitewashed village clinging to the side of a cliff is Mojacer Pueblo and the area that runs along the beaches is the Playa these are around 2km apart but there are good transportation options to get between the two.
Mojacer Playa is the place to be for the Spanish in the summer months of July and August but during the rest of the year, the Playa has a great population of ex-pats that live here year round, Mojacer has apparently the largest population of expats in the country. During the 60’s when Mojacer’s population dropped to 1000 people they began to give away land to anyone who promised to build. This sparked the local economy and many artists and new residents moved in. This gave Mojacer a great boost and the tourists began to arrive to enjoy the local beaches and restaurants.
Local legend claim that the cartoonist Walt Disney was born in the area and immigrated to the United States when he was a child.
This depopulation of Mojacar continued until the 1960’s when it reached critical proportions with only 1000 residents living in the area. Local leaders then decided to give away land to anyone who promised to build upon it. This offer proved to be the spark, which rekindled Mojacar’s economy. New residents began to appear and the town soon became a thriving artists’ colony. It was around this time that the symbol of Mojacer – Indalo man was found near Vélez Blanco. Indalo man was a cave painting of a man holding a rainbow over his head. This became Mojacar’s lucky symbol and you will see it represented all over the area.
Mojacer pueblo remains true to its Moorish past and can only be really explored on foot. There is an elevator above a parking site on the edge of the pueblo, which will take you up to the old town where you can explore its beautiful streets on foot.
From Mojacer you can travel the road east to Garrucha. This is a port city and if you are on the beach in Mojacer, you will see the container ships coming in to off-load and load up the great vegetable riches of the region. Garrucha is a lovely small Spanish village, there are less expats in Garrucha but the population is growing because it is more a village than Mojacer Playa is.
The harbour is the central point of Garrucha as it is a working fishing village and that comprises a great deal of the local economy. Garrucha is famous for it’s locally caught red prawns and on the quayside, you can buy all manner of fresh fish in the morning.
The harbour is surrounded by the promenade that is over 2km long and is lined with palm trees, restaurants, cafes and bars. The evening hours bring everyone out to walk the promenade and have a beer or cafe in the small venues along the harbour. On Friday there is a fantastic market held one street up from the harbour promenade were everything from undies to oranges can be purchased.
North of Garrucha is the inland town of Vera with its famous bullring but further east is Vera Playa. Vera Playa is famous for its nudist beaches and hotels as well as the Dream Beach festival that takes place every summer and brings in over 100,000 visitors. Just north of Mojacar is Vera Playa, which also has a nice beach. Part of the beach is reserved for nude bathing. The resort is fairly unique in that some of it is dedicated to naturism including a number of apartments where you can wander around naked and we saw many of them….lol…
Slightly up from Vera Playa is the little town of Palomares, which is famous because of the hydrogen bomb incident that took place in 1996 a B-52 bomber from the US, collided with a tanker in the sky above Palomares. The accident killed all four crewmembers of the air tanker and the B52 broke apart killing 3 of the 7 crew and dropping its payload of non-nuclear explosives on Palomares. Two of the bombs detonated on contact, the third stayed intact and the fourth was dumped into the sea.
The area is cordoned off to this day and each year several of the villagers are taken to Madrid for testing to see if there have been any ill effects from the dropping of the bombs. Fortunately, there have been absolutely no incidences of ill health or physical affects from the bombs. Nearly 50 years later the US has signed an agreement to clean up the site in Palomares.
The village itself has benefited from that incident, as it is a very wealthy little area with many beautiful homes. The town square has a lovely selection of restaurants and a great centre area where many treat themselves to tapa and beer and people watch. Palomares has a shop of every kind from bakeries to pescadaria (fish shop) and a village market every Wednesday.
It is home to many ex-pats that gather in the square on a Saturday afternoon to meet friends and listen to some live music. The beach is a bit of a hike from the centre of the village but this is a lovely friendly village to just hang out in and meet lots of people.
From Palomares travelling further east you will arrive at Villaricos. Villaricos is situated in a unique position on the mouth of the Rio Almanzora and the coast. Villaricos is another fishing community but it has several unspoilt beaches to swim from. The countryside around Villaricos is stunning with the entire coastline sheltered by the dramatic Sierra Almagrera Mountain. There is a lovely seafront promenade, which is surrounded by restaurants, cafes and bars where you can people watch for hours. There is also a small population of ex-pats here who love the peace and quiet of the area.
From festivals like Dream Beach (the best electronic music on the planet apparently) at Vera Playa which takes place every August on the beach to Moors and Christians Ferias that are held all around the area the Costa de Almeria area is rife with celebrations.
During the summer months, many of the small villages and towns host Cine de Verano or movies on the beach. You can also take part in Noche de San Juan, which is celebrated on the shortest night of the year with bonfires and picnics on the beach. A curious tradition along the Costa de Almeria is the El Entierro de la Sardinia or the burial of the sardine, which brings to a close the carnival season.
Cuisine, Culture and Movies
Naturally being a seafront area, much of the food of the Costa includes seafood from fried and grilled fish to octopus and of course, the justly famous Garrucha red prawns. Many dishes have a distinctly Arabic flavour and couscous is quite common here.
Andalucían cuisine includes an amazing selection of tapa and the agricultural industry here produces superb fruits and vegetables, which are used in dishes such as gazpacho and eggplant with local sugar cane honey. There is a great variety of soups, stews and salads from tabernero, a spicy tomato stew, and sopa moruna, a soup with vegetables, lentils and cilantro). Other typical dishes include migas, which is fried breadcrumbs with garlic and chorizo, papas a lo pobre (fried potatoes topped with a fried egg and/or roasted peppers).
Many a Hollywood film has been shot here, the Tabernas desert just up from the coast is the only European desert and it is a classic arid landscape that has proved to be a brilliant location for films, TV shows and documentaries.
Classic spaghetti westerns such as ‘The Good, the Bad and The Ugly’ were filmed here and the town of Tabernas has developed a thriving tourism business known as ‘Mini Hollywood’ comprised of several of the old film lots now converted into living museums. Other filming include Game of Thrones, documentaries like “The Hunt for Bin Laden” was filmed here and the movies with Christian Bale film Exodus Gods and Kings was filmed at the Taberno de Castillo an Olive farm in the desert.
The Andalucia area is famous for its many cave houses and homes. This Spanish cave area starts from up at Granada in Northern Andalusia down to Cuevas del Almanzora just around the corner from Palomares. In areas near to Baza (further north towards Granada) there are entire neighbourhoods of cave homes or casas cuevas. The Wagoners Abroad got to experience living in a cave and you can too through Air BnB.
They owe their existence to the region’s peculiar geology – eruptions of rock formed from the sediments of a prehistoric sea. The region’s cave-dwelling tradition began with the Moors, but most were built (or carved) in the 19th century by peasant farmworkers. And thanks to the user-friendly nature of underground life in a hot, dry climate, it’s a tradition that’s never died out. The number of modern cave-dwellers in the Granada province runs into the thousands.
We definitely fell in love with the area and hope to come back again and perhaps even make this area our retirement home.
Where would you like to retire to?
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