Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Exploring Spain’s Mediterranean Coastline

For those who are unfamiliar with Spain, outside of the occasional trip to one of the touristic hotspots like the Costa del Sol, you may actually be surprised and amazed at the cultural delights and magnificent natural landscapes that can be found around this vast and beautiful country. From the lush green forests of Galicia and Asturias to the breathtaking oasis of Ruidera, there are and endless amount of places to explore, with each new location offering you something new.

Spain’s Mediterranean coastline stretches for an amazing 1660km and a trip along it will offer you more adventure and captivating sights than you ever imagined. If you like to travel in style and comfort, and have your trip laid out for you, perhaps one of the best ways to explore the southern coastline is on a Spanish cruise holiday as this will afford you all of the luxury as well as the sights and sounds of Spain. Some of the best attractions along the southern coast are actually the old ports such as the magnificent harbor at the old Roman city of Cartagena, and you will get to get the full experience as you sail into the port and dock up. 

It is also possible to travel along much of the coast by train: from Barcelona (or you could start in Perpignan, located in French Catalunya) to Valencia to Malaga. RENFE is Spain's national train service. If you want to travel to Gibraltar from Malaga, you can buy a commuter train ticket as far south as Fuengirola, then you will have to either take a bus to La Linea, which is the town on the Spanish side of the border, or you can rent a car and drive into Gibraltar. A taxi from Fuengirola to Gibraltar is also a possibility, which would take about 1 hour, 15 minutes. At the time of this writing, the fare would be about 80 euros. 

If you prefer to tackle the vast expanse of coastline by car, you are likely to be in for a whole different experience, including some rather hot and sweaty days spent in the car in summer, unless you have air-conditioning! Taking the road option does give you much more flexibility on your destinations and timing, and it also allows you to fully explore the real hidden gems of southern Spain. Here are some of the finest locations to visit along the coast, starting from Andalucía in the west and ending up in the dramatic coastline of northern Catalunya.

Malaga is an ideal start point if you are taking a road trip as it is easy to fly into and there are lots of places to find cheap car hire. If you want to get the ‘traditional’ Spanish holiday experience, you could head to the touristic beaches of the Costa del Sol to soak in some rays and indulge in some sangria. Heading east from here, you can discover the ‘pueblo blancos’ which are the white villages of Axarquia. There are lots of quaint little Spanish villages in the region which are all made up of immaculately painted white buildings. Salobrena is a particularly interesting location as it is home to an Arab castle from the 10th Century, which sits overlooking the sea. As you head further east from here, you will enter the much forgotten about region of Almeria, which is home to some spectacular sights such as the Cabo de Gata, and the only recognized dessert in Western Europe, Desierto de Tabernas.

Murcia is a relatively small, but very interesting region of the coastline, which is home to the aforementioned historic port of Cartagena as well as some beautiful beaches and even a set of hot springs. The seaside town of Mazaron is a great place to stop off if you are looking for some comfort and time to relax on the beach, and from here you can head on up the coast towards the famous Levante Español which is where some of the most popular seaside resorts (Benidorm, Torreveija, Gandia) in Spain are situated. If these locations do not take your fancy, there are plenty of great alternative destinations to visit, including the 21,000 hectare freshwater lagoon at Albufera de Valencia. This is a wildlife haven that is home to huge numbers of birds and fish, and is a great place to stop off and relax.

To the north of Levante is the Spanish ‘Golden Coast’ which is called Costa Duarada, and although the beaches in this region are extremely busy during the summer months, there are some great places to visit inland a little way including the spectacular national parks of Poblet and Sierra del Montsant, and the largest wetland region in Europe, the Ebro Delta. There are also some lovely little villages and towns in these regions which have not been invaded by mass tourism, but instead go about life upholding many of the old traditions.
Just 90Km further north is one of the most fascinating places in the whole of Europe, Barcelona. If you really want to get the full Barcelona experience, you should put by at least four days to spend in this magnificent city as there is just so much to discover. Although it is a huge and vibrant city, popular with tourists from all over the world, there are still some untouched seaside locations just a stone’s throw from the main city. Tamariu, Llafranc, and Calella are some worth investigating.

By Melissa Hathaway (mostly) and Carloz (a very little)

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