Active World Journeys travel blog: Spain’s hidden beaches, exhilarating hikes and the best food and drink tours.
I really shouldn’t tell you about one of the world’s best-kept secret vacation spots. I want it for myself, and I especially don’t want the locals getting mad at me for blogging about it all over the world. But hey, there it is. Recently I did a fantastic three day FAM (familiarization trip) in Almeria Spain in the Andalucia region thanks to Andalucia.org in conjunction with a TBEX Conference on Travel Creatives which I attended. And I must tell you that my eyes were very wide all along this fascinating and beautiful region of southern Spain.
First of all, the desert area of Almeria called Tabernas (which is the largest continental desert in Europe) has its own mini hollywood where many famous movies have been shot. In particular, he is known for those 1960s and 1970s Spaghetti Westerns that made Clint Eastwood famous and were directed by Sergio Leone such as “Fistful of Dollars” and “The Good The Bad and the Ugly”. Why were they called spaghetti westerns if they were filmed in Spain? Because most of the directors and production crews came from Italy. Some more recent movies have been filmed here, including Ridley Scott’s “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “Exodus.”
But in terms of beaches and beautiful nature, Almeria is world class. We went to Cabo de Gato Natural Area and it was just beyond stunning. Secluded and pristine, the beaches here are some of the best you can find in the world, without being too commercial and touristy. In fact, if you’re going to spend the day at the beach here, bring a cooler with your own food and drink as there are no nearby restaurants, hotels, or concessions in the park. It’s very isolated; in fact, consider yourself Robinson Caruso for the day in your own little paradise. The nearby town of San Jose (about 20 mins by car) is where you can spend the night in a hotel and where you will find many good restaurants and shops. There are buses from there that can take you into the park if you don’t have a rental car. Parking is limited in the park anyway, so unless you arrive early, it might be better to take the bus.
As a bonus, we were also able to go buggy in the desert region of Almeria with desert buggy and it was great fun. Then on our last evening we finished our Almeria city sightseeing tour at the top of the old Alcazar with a great view. There is just something special about Almeria, Spain, you really have to go there and experience it for yourself.
One of the most fun hikes I’ve ever done is also in the Andalusian region of El Chorro near Ardeles and is called Caminito Del Rey or “The Kings Way”. In 1921, when King Alfonso XIII opened the water reservoir of Gualdalhorce, he was baptized. Today, after extensive safety repairs, you just need to put on a helmet and walk (not really hike) the 5 mile path through many parts where the wooden walkway barely seems to cling to the flank cliffs overlooking steep canyons with incredible views. It’s not really as dangerous as it sounds, but I guess if one of the wooden walkways gave way and malfunctioned… well let’s say you wouldn’t be king for a day. Take a look… would you?
Nearby is also the beautiful mountain town of Ronda, situated above a deep gorge. There are three bridges which represent three periods: a Roman bridge, a bridge from the Islamic era and the new bridge (which is over 200 years old). We had a wonderful walking tour of the city and then went to a nearby vineyard for wine tasting and food. It was amazing on every level!
Now being relatively close to Granada (which is not in the Andalucia region and is a two hour drive away) and having never been there myself, after the end of the FAM trips and the TBEX conference in which I was attending, I headed to Granada to see the iconic Alhambra, a palace and fortress for Moorish monarchs and a fine example of Islamic architecture. Today it is the most visited tourist attraction in Spain. And for good reason. The gardens are beautiful and the interior is a feast for the eyes. Make sure you have tickets in advance before your visit and bring your physical passport as they will check it. There are guided tours that I recommend that give you a much richer insight into the development and daily life at the Alhambra.
Next, one of the best ways to get to know a city is through its food, so I did a walking food tour of Granada with Spain Food Sherpas and learned a lot about local customs and traditions while enjoying some really tasty food and drink in the area. Did you know that only pigs are used for this delicious thin jamón (ham) in Spain? Did you know that most food historians agree that the Spanish introduced a version of sangria to the Americas in the early 1800s. Official accounts place the American introduction of sangria at the Exposition 1964 New York Universal, when the Spanish pavilion served it to visitors to the Taberna Madrid kiosk. But when Americans started traveling to Spain asking for Sangria, most bartenders didn’t really know what they were talking about, so they just improvised with ingredients they had locally on hand. These are just some of the many interesting facts and insights you will discover on the Granada Food Walking Tour with them. You can contact them at [email protected] Tell them I sent you!
Spain is truly a top destination for European travel and exploring the region of Andalucia as well as Granada was special to me. Being the summer of 2022 and the first time in a few years that people have returned to travel after the pandemic scare, it was nice to see the tour guides back in action and the travelers learning more about the history and the culture, sightseeing and tasting local food and drink. It sounds cliché, but traveling opens our minds and hearts and makes us better people.
Jack Witt, MS, CPT
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