Cabo de Gata: Volcanic mountains and beautiful beaches
by TeresaGlobalTravels Teresa Lynch
Having selected the Isleta del Moro for our short stay in the Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata, we drive down from the stunning and remote Sierra Magina. Our route takes us through the ever-increasing white plastic vegetable and fruit growing houses that have overtaken a great part of the coast in the Almeria area.
It is refreshing to leave the surrounds of Almeria behind, and as we enter the coastal parkland we feel a quiet and serene restfulness enter our world. We find ourselves entranced with the canvas which encapsulates this large area (460sq km) on the south-eastern tip of Andalusia, Spain. The area has been maintained as a desert landscape of utmost beauty and has not become overcrowded, unlike much of the Spanish coastal metropolis. This volcanic region houses the Sierra de Gata hills, rising to almost 500m high and which run out of the ocean along a narrow strip of land. The area is dotted with large wild aloe plants and only receives about 200mm of rain per year.
Casa Cafe La Loma
We arrive at our destination, an old Cortijo (farmhouse) converted to comfortable accommodation, with a breathtaking view along the coastline, situated on the hill just above La Isleta del Moro. Casa Cafe La Loma is quaint with several levels of outdoor terraces overlooking the sweep down to the ocean. The view offers an open expanse with many aloe plants; last seasons large stems bend sideways and are falling over, while the new season’s flower stems stand green and tall. Low grass and several paths criss-cross each other on the way down to the beach, taking us through the gum trees and small sand dunes.
La Isleta del Moro
The small fishing village of La Isleta del Moro is home to about 150 people. It sits between Los Escullos to the west and a small swimming beach to the east. Jutting into the sea between the small sheltered fishing port on the east side and the swimming beaches are the huge rock and island from which the village derives its name. The beaches continue with high rocky outcrops and a big bay curves towards the cliffs above Los Negras and Rodalquilar. On these cliffs is the popular viewing point Mirador de la Amatista (viewpoint of the Amethyst).
La Isleta has a characterful history full of stories of Arab and Barbary pirates who came here in search of treasure. However, these days, the main industries are tourism and diving. We watch the participants from the diving school snorkelling and diving right along the beachfront in the rocky shallows. Although this is a fishing village, only minimal fishing is carried out these days. One of the quirky industries in the area is the making of films and, while we are here, crews prepare the set for an upcoming ‘Terminator’ movie featuring, once again, the well-known actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
We enjoy some lunch in the village at a restaurant with a balcony strategically placed on the cliff edge over the beach. ‘La Ola’ is well known in the area and when we stop on the edge of the park to refuel our car, the attendant suggests that dining here is ‘a must’ and that ‘La Ola’ is the best restaurant in the area. He is not wrong and we relish the paella and local fish dishes.
Although it is hot and we want to swim it is not possible due to the water being awash with small purply pink jellyfish. They are not poisonous but their sting is very uncomfortable. An overnight storm clears the beach of the multitude of these ocean creatures and Manfred braves the cold water determined to enjoy the crystal clear blue Mediterranian sea. The beaches in the area are popular and a large car park on the cliffs soon fills up. The beach becomes busy, but not overcrowded, with sun lovers, striped sun umbrellas and topless bathers.
Over the next couple of days, we explore along the coast. First, we visit the seaside town of San Jose, passing through some other small towns and villages along the way. With the now familiar desert scenery, cortijos and old-fashioned windmills we are reminded of the story of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), Spains most celebrated novelist, where the main character fights the windmill thinking it is a soldier. We have to stop and take photos of Manfred using his walking stick to reenact this scene – just for fun!
The day is windy and the small beach not so welcoming with sand blowing all around. San Jose, where the population swells in summer, is a more affluent town with multiple low rise apartment blocks hugging the coast and surrounding hills. Later, we drive to the Playa de Los Genoveses, a long sweeping beach with cliffs at either end and a large car park set a long way back from the water. The sand is hot and white, the water is clear and blue. Again Manfred braves the ocean waves and enjoys a swim while I sit with our bags on the beach. Surf casters with their fishing rods line the beach and I imagine that on a less windy day that this beach gets quite crowded.
After a short drive east of La Isleta del Moro we arrive at Las Negras, a small fishing village named after the large black volcanic rock at the end of the beach, El Cerro Negro (The Black Mountain). The beach here is pebbly rather than sandy and one of the attractions for an avid photographer is the colourful upturned fishing boats pulled up on the beach. The main industry these days is tourism, with fishing providing fresh produce for the host of restaurants along the shore and the promenade along the beach. Curiosity and souvenir shops are found in the main beachfront area and the quaintness of this bohemian area is not to be dismissed.
On our drive back to our haven on the hill, we stop in the heart of the valley and the amphitheatre, semicircular town of Rodalquilar. Hailed as the most interesting place in the Cabo de Gato, art is painted on the walls of houses and shops to be admired by all. Rodalquilar is the town that serviced the mining of alum, used in the process of dying fabric and later gold (1880s-1990s) from the hills nearby. The mines are now a tourist attraction and this oasis in the desert with its plants, trees, flowers and botanical gardens, provides a change of scenery after the beaches of the coast nearby. The newer houses and the older mining houses, which are being restored, combine to make Rodalquilar an attractive tourist destination.
We stop at a bar and have a nice coffee at a streetside table. The owner is a Harley Davidson fan, dressed in leathers and a white t-shirt with a Harley on the front. A plaque on the outside wall of the bar lets fellow bikers know they are welcome. We chat with him as we leave with a good impression of the quality of the food scene in Rodalquilar. We look in a boutique clothing shop and the owner is a great source of information on the quality and style of clothing. She is typical of the friendliness of the people that this town is known for, and we purchase a few quality garments.
Although this visit is brief, and we only get to cover a very small part of the Cabo de Gata’s vast Natural Parque, we experience the quintessential flavour which is that of a welcoming friendliness, the desert, mountains, sea and untamed beauty. The 120sq km (46sq mi) of protected marine reserve which extends 60m (200ft) underwater is an extension of the mountains and provides varied and plentiful marine life which is said to be partially due to the offshore coral reef. Because the area is wild and isolated, with much of Europe’s original geological features, visiting here affords the traveller rest, recreation, sightseeing, shopping and of course good food. We leave with joy-filled restful hearts and head back along the coast through Almeria and inland to Mairena in the Alpujarras, the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.