Road Trip: San Pedro del Pinatar and El Chaparral

11.June 2013

Our Journey

Tourists on the quest of the “real Spain” may not think the south coast of the country to be an appropriate holiday destination. But the Spanish south coast is delightfully whimsical in its twists and turns, and deserves more recognition than it perhaps receives. These twists and turns wind their way through some extraordinary landscapes, including the natural scenery of coast and mountain, and the rich fertile plains, the groves and terraces, that make southern Spain such a productive agricultural region.

Photo Credit: Caro Spark

Murcia, a region on the south east coast of Spain, is a place where natural scenery lies alongside fertile agricultural land. Its balmy climate and favourable geological conditions have led it to become a major food producer, with wineries, fruit and olive groves, and vegetable gardens stretching across the landscape. So well known is the bounty of Murcia that it is referred to as the market garden of Spain. Here all the flavours of Spain may be found – the sweet flavours of oranges, peaches, pomegranates and tomatoes, the sharp citrus and sour flavours of lemons and cherries, the saltiness of olives and the earthy richness of artichokes and fava beans. 

On the border of this land of plenty is the coastal town of San Pedro del Pinatar. In many ways a typical Spanish coastal town, San Pedro del Pinatar benefits from the warm, sunny weather and gorgeous surroundings characteristic of this area. This stretch of coastline is known as the Costa Calida, the warm coast; for many visitors there is little reason to wander far from the golden beaches and cafes.

San Pedro del Pinatar is actually between the coast and a remarkable coastal feature known as the Mar Menor – a large saltwater lagoon. Salt mining is an important industry in the area and has been since Roman times. The salt lakes attract a variety of nesting and migrating birds, including flamingos, and late summer and early autumn are especially good bird watching times. Other visitors take to the mud baths in the flats, said to cure various complaints including skin problems. The lakes are part of a larger nature reserve, which includes dunes, salt marshes and wilder beaches, along with the pine trees for which San Pedro del Pinatar is named.

Photo Credit: markpattison

The town itself encompasses the resort of Lo Pagán, where many tourists choose to stay. A lively ambience combined with superb facilities means there is little reason to stray if all you want is to soak up the rays on sun-kissed beaches – La Puntica and Villananitos are two favourites. The area is known for its high quality, clean beaches.

If you tire of the beaches and want to experience more of the “real Spain”, then pick up your car hire Murcia airport and head for the hills inland. Wind your way through the region, taking as little or as much time as you like.

Nestled in the mountains, about 40 miles from the city of Murcia is El Chaparral. This hamlet, with its income from olives, almonds, peaches, apricots and wine, is typical of inland Murcia. Situated in the region of Cehegín, it is a place where the fields meet the mountains, where a rich historical legacy can be seen in the cave paintings of the limestone massif, in the remains of Iberian pottery, and in Roman and Muslim buildings.

The mountains and rolling valleys of the region lend to it a charm and diverse landscape that makes it of interest from an environmental perspective. Several areas are officially recognised as providing important habitats for flora and fauna, including those which may be endangered or vulnerable. Large areas of the landscape are forested, including the Sierra del Burete and the Sierra de Lavia, and here you can find oak and juniper amongst the pines, as well as soaring birds of prey and mammals such as ibex. There are also aquatic ecosystems, grasslands and shrublands.

Photo Credit: nicholasjon

Whatever “real Spain” means to you, whether it is found on the coast amidst the palms, the beaches and the salt flats, or it is inland, in the fertile valleys and the fruit groves, or the soaring mountains, it can be found on a road trip in Murcia.

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