Quieter than neighbouring Valencia and surrounded by what looks like a strikingly beautiful scorched moonscape, Murcia and the Costa Calida (Hot Coast) combine year-round sunshine with gorgeous beaches and cultural treasures galore.
Just down the coast from Murcia is Cartagena, a breathtaking confection of baroque 18th-century edifices and crumbling Roman remains. Inhabited for more than two millennia, its Roman treasures include the recently restored theatre of Carthago Nova, an amphitheatre and necropolis. Also worth exploring on a holiday to Murcia from Gatwick Airport are the city’s many museums, which include one dedicated to artefacts dating from the Spanish Civil War and another that charts the country’s rich maritime history.
Barcelona might get most of the credit but Spanish chefs in the know acknowledge that Murcia is the city where tapas have been elevated to an art form. Boasting a distinctly Moorish influence, Murcian-style tapas tend to come spiced with cumin and chilli and include plenty of fresh fish. Typical dishes include fried squid rings, delicately flavoured suckling pig and sautéed wild mushrooms. And you won’t have to look too hard to find them: there’s a tapas bar on every corner in Murcia.
Peaks and castles
Towering above the city, the whole of Murcia can be seen from the top of Monteagudo, a mountain 5km from the centre. Dominating the rugged peak is a perfectly preserved Moorish castle, now topped with a vast statue of Jesus that can be seen from Murcia and the scorched plains below. Thought to have been the seat of Ibn Mardanis, the Moorish emir of Cordoba, the castle and peak are reached by a winding path that takes you up through the little town of Monteagudo at the base of the mountain and past another Spanish castle, the Castillo de Larache.