A beautiful but windy mini trip to the Natural Park Cabo de Gata-Nijar
We needed a change of scenery so we decided to make a small trip to a nice place in the south of Spain. Michael came from the U.S. to Spain in August 2016 and had not seen it yet. It is called Cabo de Gata which means Cape of the Cat or if you wish Cat Cape and is only some 3 hours drive away from where we live.
The area has a category of V in Spain, which means protected landscape/seascape. It is the largest coastal protected area in Andalusia.
The unusual and driest area in Spain
The landscape is isolated and has some of Europe’s oldest geological features. On top of that, it has a really hot desert climate. The nearby mountain range, Sierra del Cabo de Gata, includes Spain’s largest volcanic rock formations and has cliffs that are 100 meters high. These cliffs have unique forms, make hidden coves and the area has some lovely white sandy beaches.
The international village San Jose
San Jose is the biggest village of Cabo de Gata. Its fort was constructed between 1733 to 1735. Of the people living here, about half are of Spanish nationality, followed by Italians, Germans, English and some other nationalities. There are 2 famous beaches, which will have many people in the summertime.
There is Bahia de Los Genoveses, which got its name when in 1147 a fleet of 200 boats from Genova landed in support of King Alfonso VII in his battle against the Muslims. Since then the Flag of Almeria has been the same as the state of Genova. The other famous beach is called Playa de Monsul.
We decided to stay for 2 nights so we would have a full day of exploring the area. Beforehand we had looked up the things we wanted to see and made a detailed plan for that day.
We left right after breakfast, around 10.30, and took the Mediterranean highway (A-7) which goes north towards Almeria. After a couple of hours in the car, we found a little coffee shop to stretch our legs then continued on. We arrived in San Jose around lunchtime (2 – 3 ish).
Before reaching San Jose we had commented already how different everything looked from where we live. It is about the driest area of Spain, so vegetation is sparse and the colors of the landscape were all different hues of brown and cream. The small villages were populated with little white houses, often only 1 floor high. I really got the feeling of being in another country.
The fact that it is so dry here has made this area a magnet for film production. The Almeria area is famous for the spaghetti western made there.
Exploring San Jose
We parked on the main street and had a little lunch. Afterward, we went across the street to the 1 star Hostal to check-in. It had a good clean room with a small balcony where we unpacked and did a bit of computer work.
Then we had a nice walk along the boulevard and small marina. A tremendous wind was blowing and it made a beautiful and rough sea and caused the sand from the beach to convert into a Sahara storm. We did not last too long and found refuge in a nice restaurant next to our Hostal for a good dinner with some wine.
The start of our day tour
The next morning we had a little breakfast, Spanish style and went on our tour of Cabo de Gata. As the area is really big you do need a car. We planned to first visit the Playa de Los Muertos, which means the beach of the dead.
We drove a bit inland to then turn to the right toward the town of Agua Amarga, which means bitter water. This is a small village on the coast. It only has some 400 inhabitants and a pretty beach some 500 meters long.
This little village has no real harbor and small boats are pulled on to the beach. Mooring balls for bigger boats are located about 100 meters away from the beach. We had something to drink, asked for directions and went on our way. Not long afterward we reached the parking place on top of the hill and saw the Playa de Los Muertos a long way down below us.
Playa de Los Muertos
In old times, probably due to the currents, this was the beach where sailors who had drowned would wash ashore. Stepping out of the car and looking down it became obvious it would be a little hike and off we went. The wind was blowing very strongly which made the sea really spectacular.
Descending, I did slip once and fell on my butt, there was no major damage. Arriving on the beach I spent the next hour looking for interesting stones. I got quite a collection to take home. There were also some unusual rock formations After a little rest and something to drink we climbed uphill and continued our trip.
The pretty village of Nijar
We drove inland to Nijar, which took a little over 1 hour. We passed a big flat area which is covered with plastic. This plastic is on the greenhouses which stretch as far as you can see. Due to the high winds that frequently visit this area, some of the torn plastic from damaged greenhouses was hanging on dry bushes along the road. I was thinking that with all that wind it could very well end up in the sea and form a danger to marine life.
Arriving in Nijar we found a good parking spot on the main road going into this picturesque town. Nijar has around 20.000 people and the inhabitants appear happy with a good economy. We stopped at one shop that had a weaving machine set up to make colorful blankets and rugs.
There are 5 ceramic workshops in the lower part of the town. You will see colorful pottery in which many Arabic designs and colors can be recognized. We found a nice little place on the plaza where we had wine and some local tapas.
After this little rest, we had a look at the church. La Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Encarnacion is built in Mudejar style of XVI.
We continued our walk uphill and discovered a small plaza with an old fountain and some big old trees. The fountain is from 1859. Then we came upon a small passageway and we could see the Atalaya de Nijar, the tower of a small fort from Arab times. On top of the tower, you have a great view over Nijar and the mountains of Cabo de Gata. We walked downhill to the car and continued our trip.
On route to the gold mines
There is a route over a dirt road that will take you to a big area, wherein old times many mines were being exploited. Actually, mining had been going on here since prehistoric times. These mines produced alum, lead, silver, and zinc. Gold was found by pure chance in 1864 in Rodalquilar and soon the area was booming. It was not found in nuggets but you had to win it from the mineral-laden rock called ore.
Because of the civil war, it all came to a standstill. In 1956 the company Denver, which was a melting plant, was opened by General Franco. It was the largest Gold Mine of these characteristics in western Europe. There were 1400 people living in the village and 1000 worked in the mines. In 1966 the mines closed as the veins were exhausted.
I was so lucky to find a smallish stone with some small green crystals. I get the impression it could be this new mineral which was discovered in 1968, but I am not sure. The mineral I speak of is called Rodalquilarite and you will also be able to find it in Coquimbo in Chile and in Tombstone, Arizona.
Along the route, we climbed up to an abandoned mine including some ruins. We took some photos and climbed back as the area is a little dangerous. You have to be careful to not fall into big holes. I picked up some stones here and there and one of them could be that special mineral, at least it has the color of emeralds.
We continued driving and saw many mines in these mountains but most of them were too far away from the road to go exploring. There was a part of the road where the mountain had been dynamited and you could clearly see different color bands in the wall.
In the village Rodalquilar, an area is isolated and fenced where you can see the houses of the people who worked in the mines used to live. It is being kept as a reference to the past history of the town.
We came home, tired of the many climbs we made and were completely windblown. I had a salty face. After a nice fish dinner in the restaurant next door, we went to sleep.
Visiting the beach de Monsul
The next morning after breakfast we decided to see where the 2 famous beaches were. Going over the mountain we came to a dirt road on the other side of town. We did not stop at Playa de Los Genoveses but did take photos. The scene of the train attack in the film Lawrence of Arabia, with Peter O Toole 1962 was filmed at this beach.
The following beach is called Playa de Monsul and is very special. The sand is quite dark and this beach can boast of a live dune.
Depending on which direction the wind blows, its sand will cover one of its basalt walls. Many times this beach was used for films. Part of a well-known film was also made on this beach, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
We arrived at Playa de Monsul where we parked the car and walked down to this pretty beach. I found some nice shells, made photos of unusual looking rocks and seaweeds. After 1 hour at the beach, we walked back to the car and continued our trip home.
On the trip home, we decided to not take the highway A-7 and instead took the coast road. A nice quiet trip with beautiful heights above the sea as well as small jaunts through the local villages. It was a slow drive home and a wonderful respite from the fast pace of the main highway. After a short stop on the coast for a coffee, we were on the road again. Soon we were home, tired but happy having visited Cabo de Gata.
Traveling is a delight for many reasons, one of them being the different foods. Fiona Dunlop is a very well know writer and has appeared in the Finacial Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, and many other publications.
In this book Andaluz, a food journey through Southern Spain you will not be disappointed as you will be taken from the mountains to the sea and visit everything in between.
Source: My Life and Wikipedia
Photo Source: Private
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Some years ago Danish friends who live in Canada came for a holiday in Portugal. As it was around 500km away from where we live we decided to spend a week there so we could see each other. We had a great time and I found something really special on the beach. Perhaps you would like to read about my trip to Portugal