Unspoilt beaches, historic ruins, and countless tapas bars.
An up-and-coming Costa
From Blanca to del Sol, Spain is known for its Costas. One you might not be as familiar with is the Costa Calida. Unravelling along the south-east coast, between Almeria and Alicante, this stretch of shoreline ticks off miles of beaches, historic cities, and untapped countryside.
The Mar Menor is a saltwater lagoon that’s essentially a roped off chunk of the Mediterranean. Its warm waters make it a top pick for watersports – diving in particular – and its high salt content has resulted in a number of health spas setting up around its shore, as well. The Salinas de San Pedro salt pans, to the east, are the least developed part, and make a good spot for flamingo-watching.
Sightseeing in Valencia
As Spain’s third-biggest city, Valencia lines up plenty of options for daytrips. One not to miss is the City of Arts and Sciences. Inside, it plays host to a science museum, an opera house, a planetarium and Europe’s largest aquarium – complete with dolphins, walruses and penguins. From the outside, it looks like a UFO that’s touched down at the centre of a manmade lagoon.
The Phoenicians, Romans and Moors have all called Cartagena home at some point in time. And, as a result, historic monuments are strewn through this port town’s streets. The 2,100-year-old Roman theatre is particularly impressive, as is the Barrio Del Foro Romano, a complex of ruins that was buried for 2,000 years.
Things to See and Do in Costa Calida
A sprawling shoreline
The Costa Calida is spread across 250 kilometres of coastline, meaning there’s no shortage of beaches on which to roll out your towel. Some are unspoilt havens – that are also lacking in facilities – while others are central and all geared up for family days out.
La Manga strip
The beaches at La Manga strip are easily the most popular in the Costa Calida. Framing the ‘sleeve’ of land that separates Mar Menor from the Mediterranean Sea, La Manga is packed with restaurants and bars, and has a nine-hole golf course at one end. It’s easy to explore from here, as well, thanks to the ferry, which can whisk you off to different parts of the Mar Menor.
Unspolit Isla Plana
Isla Plana is considered by many in the Costa Calida as their best-kept secret. A 30-minute drive from Cartagena, this quiet fishing village has just enough development to be convenient, but not so much as to be crowded – so it’s easy to find a patch of sand to have all to yourself.
Make a beeline for Calle San Fernando in Cartagena for gourmet souvenirs. El Rincon Manchego, in particular, has an excellent selection of local foods, including truffle salt and venison pâté.
You might not be able to take the beach back with you, but you can try at La Botavara Nautical Boutique. The family-run shop, near Mar Menor, sells any ocean-themed item you can think of, from sailor tops to anchor-themed mugs.
Lladro is one of the world’s premier porcelain manufacturers, and its headquarters is just outside of Valencia. There are several Lladro boutiques within the city, so now is a good time to update your dishware, or pick up a hand-painted Christmas tree bauble.
For a chilled drinking experience, do as the Spanish do and combine an aperitif with a bite to eat. Calle Mayor in Cartagena is one of the best streets for a relaxed bar crawl. If you want to stay in one spot, hit up Cerverceria La Majillonera, which is one of the most popular.
Murcia isn’t short on nightclubs. For a late night, check out Sala Fluid, which specialises in techno-house and cocktails. The best part is that it’s open until 6am, so you can keep the party going until breakfast time.
Valencia is the birthplace of paella, so if you haven’t yet tried it, this is the place to do it. This blend of paprika-spiced rice, onions and garlic can be topped with either chicken and chorizo or seafood, like fresh prawns and clams.
Chocolate and churros
You can’t go to Spain without eating at least one portion of churros – fried sticks of pastry dunked in hot, chocolate sauce. Many vendors sell it to go, so you can explore while tucking in to this sweet treat.
The tapas in Murcia are considered among the best in Spain. The best way to enjoy these small dishes is with a tapas crawl. Start your culinary journey at El Bolito, which is known for its shrimp fritters.
The Costa Calida is lined with ports and fishing villages, meaning even the most remote-seeming restaurants will dish out top-notch seafood. The best restaurants base their menu on the catch of the day, but you can’t go wrong with fresh sardines or octopus.
Pack a picnic
Outdoor markets are commonplace in the seaside towns, as are charcuteries, all selling picnic-perfect portions of ham, cheese and salads.
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Mar Menor – Europe’s largest saltwater lake – is a 15-minute drive from Atamaria. The best bit – Mar Menor is surrounded on all fronts by beach. The lagoon’s warm waters also make it a top pick for watersports, diving in particular, and its high salt content has resulted in a number of health spas setting up around its shore.
Puerto De Mazarron
Puerto de Mazarron is nestled into the mountain scenery along Spain’s Costa Calida – AKA the warm coast. It’s best known for its beaches, with a shoreline that unravels for more than 20 miles. But it’s got plenty of other strings to its bow, including an inland town, a Medieval castle and hiking trails.
The clue is in the name for La Manga – this narrow stretch of land is Spanish for sleeve. It hangs off Murcia’s shoreline, separating the Mediterranean Sea from the country’s biggest lagoon, the Mar Menor. And it packs a lot in to its 21-kilometre-long stretch. The whole place is fringed with beaches, diving schools and restaurant-lined promenades.
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