Nestled in the north-east corner of Andalucía, the eastern part, or Levante area, of Almería province is a land of contrasts: a land of rural idylls and lively Mediterranean resorts, a land offering the great outdoors side-by-side with interesting towns and sophisticated nightlife, a land which has preserved the best of its traditions, but which has also moved with the times.
The enviable year-round climate is undoubtedly one of the Levante’s main assets for both holidaymakers and residents, making it possible to make the most of everything this privileged corner of Spain has to offer. Beginning with the spectacular coastline, the Levante boasts beaches and places of interest to suit all tastes and preferences.
There are the family-friendly fine golden sands and tranquil bays of San Juan de los Terreros, the rugged allure of Cuevas del Almanzora’s hidden coves and the picturesque fishing village of Villaricos. There is the vast expanse of Vera Playa’s outstanding beach, where even in mid-summer there is always plenty of space for everyone. Or you might prefer people-watching on the promenades overlooking Garrucha’s and Carboneras’ working ports.
Mojácar Playa has beaches for all moods, with buzzing bars and eateries and hip and happening nightlife, as well as its “off the beaten track” surprises. Then there is one of the jewels in the whole Mediterranean crown: the Cabo de Gata Natural Park, with its dramatic landscape of volcanic origin and its truly beautiful beaches, including sweeping bays regularly voted as among the best in Spain.
Heading inland, again it’s a case of spoilt for choice. Just a few kilometres from the beach stands Mojácar Pueblo, a picture postcard village of little whitewashed houses and impossibly winding streets clinging to the mountainside. From here there are panoramic views across to the equally character-filled mountain villages of Bédar and El Pinar and to Sierra Cabrera and its Moorish-style "cortijos”. In fact the Levante’s interior is peppered with any number of delightful villages and towns, each with their very own rustic charms, and surrounded by hillsides of olive, almond and orange groves.
The dramatic mountain scenery of Los Vélez and the area’s important historical monuments and impressive castle is another side to the Levante. There is also Sorbas’ fascinating gypsum karst and intriguing caves, and its town with its curious hanging houses overlooking a steep ravine. Yet another of the Levante’s must-sees is the Tabernas desert. World famous for its role in Sergeo Leone’s “Spaghetti Westerns”, Tabernas offers landscapes unique in Europe and an entertainment paradise for all the family at the “Oasys” Western theme park and zoo.
The Levante makes the ideal base for enjoying daytrips to some of south-eastern Spain’s most famous sights. You can combine shopping with discovering the past on an excursion to the provincial capital Almería city or to Lorca in Murcia. Both cities boast excellent commercial centres and fortresses dating back to Moorish times. Murcia capital, less than a two-hour drive down the A-7 motorway from the Levante coast, is also well worth a visit for both shopping and sightseeing. The port city of Cartagena with its thousands of years of history, is only 90 minutes from Vera on the AP-7 motorway, and Granada and the mighty Alhambra only two hours away on the A-92.
The Levante is a great destination for sports enthusiasts. The region is well-equipped with all kinds of sports and leisure facilities, ranging from indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts and gymnasiums, to ten-pin bowling alleys and riding stables. The region offers the ideal conditions for mountain biking and walking. And while the more adventurous might be tempted to explore some of the region’s less accessible landscapes by 4x4 or by quad bike, others might choose relaxation and pampering in one of the local spas. Back to the beaches, and thrill-seekers could get their adrenalin going wind or kitesurfing, although one of the most popular activities here is under the waves: scuba diving and exploring the coastline’s exceptional dive sites.
The Levante’s golf courses deserve a special mention. Golfers can tee off on in the mountain setting of Cortijo Grande, overlooking Macenas beach or Marina de la Torre in Mojácar, at Aguilón Golf in San Juan de los Terreros, at the prestigious Valle del Este in Vera, or at the exclusive Desert Springs – Europe’s first desert-style golf course.
Almería is an infinite contrast of deserts and farmland. As dry as its esparto grass, as fresh and juicy as its grapes and oranges...! The area’s cuisine is surprisingly healthy, the dishes prepared using traditional techniques. And this has produced dishes like “Los gurullos” (a kind of pasta usually cooked with game), dishes with partridge, hare and rabbit, “la olla de trigo” (a kind of pasta, vegetable and meat stew), “guiso de pelotas” (meatballs), “caldo pimentón”, where the vegetable garden and the sea blend, the rice soups, not to mention Garrucha’s prawns.
Thanks to the cosmopolitan character of the area, the Levante also boasts a wide variety of excellent eateries offering top notch international cuisine: Italian, Argentine, Chinese, Indian, Mexican, French, British, to name just a few. And on warm summer evenings, there’s nothing quite like an ice-cold beer and a tapas on the terrace of one of the authentic beach bars, or “chiringuitos”, which give the Levante’s coast extra special appeal.
In this part of the world you could eat exceptionally well for a month, choosing a different eatery every day...
Getting to and from the Levante is easy, whether you’re travelling from outside the country of within Spain. There are international airports less than an hour’s drive away at Almería city and a one and a half hour drive away at San Javier in Murcia, and Alicante airport is only two and a half hours distance. There are daily bus services between the region and Madrid, Barcelona, Granada and other destinations. Finally the high-speed rail-link, for which there will be a station at Vera, and the arrival of which is expected in 2013, will represent a genuine revolution in transport, putting the Levante only two and a half hours away from Madrid.