Almería attractions: Tips for visiting this historic Andalusian city

Andrew Edwards

Andrew Edwards

Almería is a city whose history has been dictated by the sun. Tucked into the south eastern corner of Andalucía, it faces the African coast to the south and a thirsty hinterland to the north. Almería is the provincial capital of a region that can lay claim to Europe's only true desert.

Top tips for visiting the historic city of Almería © Jerónimo Alba - Alamy Stock Photo
Top tips for visiting the historic city of Almería © Jerónimo Alba - Alamy Stock Photo

Almería is also one of Thomas Cook Airlines' exciting city break destinations, which you can reach from airports across the UK. Book a cheap flight to Almería today, and you could be basking in the glorious sunshine of this Andalusian hub where less than 200 mm of rain falls each year. Read on to discover more about this burgeoning bohemian city, and see why it makes for such a fabulous urban escape.

The magnificent Alcazaba of Almería

When the Spanish writer, Juan Goytisolo, visited the city in the early 1960s, Almería was still a backwater, limited by its climate, a world away from the splendours of its Moorish past. Goytisolo recognised the contribution made by the Moors when he climbed to the heights of the city's Alcazaba, the citadel whose battlements overlook the warren of streets below, and claimed the view to be 'one of the most beautiful in the world'.

The Alcazaba in Almería, largest Muslim fortress in Spain © Jerónimo Alba - Alamy Stock Photo
The Alcazaba in Almería, largest Muslim fortress in Spain © Jerónimo Alba - Alamy Stock Photo

The fortification is now a protected monument, with the added bonus that entrance is free. As the largest Muslim fortress in Spain, it had much wealth to protect, chiefly generated from trade and a booming textile industry. The ghosts of caliphs-past are easily evoked whilst strolling its considerable confines, not to mention the disappearing footsteps of Conan the Barbarian and Indiana Jones. The Alcazaba has also been a popular destination for the great and the good of Hollywood.

Explore La Chanca

Below the fortress' western walls sits the district of La Chanca, its luminously painted cubes bursting from the hillside like a projection from a Mondrian canvas. The regularity of the buildings and their vibrant colours lends the area an air of festivity, which is often enhanced by the thrum and beat of flamenco, played at full tilt from stereos inside the houses.

La Chanca wasn't always this colourful. Goytisolo walked its streets visibly shaken by the poverty, observing how the sun assaulted the eyes and baked the earth. La Chanca isn't a story of gentrification, but a story of renewal. Residents' associations have been created to bring animation to a district still affected by unemployment. Walk up the Avenida del Mar from the port and you will see the results.

One of the prime movers in renovating the area was a poet and translator, José Ángel Valente, whose house in the street that bears his name is now a museum, Casa del Poeta. Valente was an adopted Almerian who loved the region's Mediterranean light. Having studied at Oxford and worked for UNESCO, he settled in Almería. You don't have to be familiar with Valente's work to appreciate the tiles and beams of this traditional home, adorned with artworks and texts from his poems.

Entrance to Almería Cathedral, Spain © Jerónimo Alba - Alamy Stock Photo
Entrance to Almería Cathedral, Spain © Jerónimo Alba - Alamy Stock Photo

A couple of minutes' walk from the museum is the Cathedral; not the prettiest of edifices but a very imposing structure. Both Gothic and Renaissance in style, the building seems designed to face inward with the intention of warding off invaders, a real possibility during the time of Christian reconquest.

It's worth pausing at one of Hotel Catedral's tables, placed on the square's glinting paving, whilst taking a glass of chilled fino sherry. The locals will drift by, chatting amongst the tall palms that dominate the plaza. If you time the stop to coincide with the evening paseo, throngs of people will stroll idly past engaged in talk of the day's events.

The city's two central thoroughfares, the Avenida Federico García Lorca (named after twentieth century Spain's most famous poet) and the Paseo de Almería converge at the gallery known as the Museo de Arte Doña Pakyta, opened in 2015. Bizarrely, the museum is housed in a building modelled on those built in the Basque country, even more bizarrely given the contents are quintessentially Almerian. If you want to see what La Chanca looked like before tarmac and coloured paints, head for the canvas of Miguel Martínez Gómez, who portrayed the district in all its poignant aridity.

Beach and café at Las Negras, Cabo de Gata Almería © Jam World Images - Alamy Stock Photo
Beach and café at Las Negras, Cabo de Gata Almería © Jam World Images - Alamy Stock Photo

Where to beach

Almería owes a debt to Doña Pakyta for this collection of art depicting the people and places of the province, but it owes her a bigger thank you for protecting stretches of coastline to the east of the city. As a businesswoman, she had the money to safeguard thousands of hectares of land from over-development, notably the stunning Playa Monsul in the Cabo de Gata with its petrified wave, a weathered rock forever cast as the best surfer's curl in the world. If you are staying for long enough to seek an escape from the city, this beach should be top of your agenda.

Hop on the heritage line

Much of the art in the museum is of a bucolic nature, which belies the true story behind some of the pictures. It is easy to view scenes of peasants fruit picking, fishing or pushing carts, and see them as idyllic. In reality, life was hard, eked from the thin soil or mined from underground. Iron ore and copper were sent to town from the mines to the north and even gold was hewn from the rock in Rodalquilar, where the abandoned mining camps can still be seen.

Cable Inglés sunset on the waterfront of Almería © David Caparrós Lorenzo - Wikimedia Commons
Cable Inglés sunset on the waterfront of Almería © David Caparrós Lorenzo - Wikimedia Commons

One remnant of the mineral industry is an amazing structure known as the Cable Inglés, a flying railway that brought the raw material to the heart of the port. The railway was built by the Scottish not the English, and is supported on brick stilts as it soars above the scant greenery of the Parque de Nicholás Salmerón. It would be easy to dismiss it as just another piece of late twentieth century infrastructure unless you happened to see the tiny green sign 'Cargadero mineral' that gives away its position as a piece of early Edwardian industrial engineering.

Taste top tapas

The main items brought to Almería's port these days are related to the region's edible produce. It comes as something of a surprise that the very sun and soil which prevented agricultural development has now enabled mass-scale production using a system known as plasticultura, essentially the growing of cash crops in poly-tunnels. Not all of the harvest finds its way to supermarkets in northern Europe, some ends up on plates in the city's tapas bars. A walk along the aforementioned park, which stretches all the way to La Chanca, will afford ample opportunity to stop for refreshment, but the best bars are buried within the tangle of streets surrounding the Convent of Las Claras.

Chopitos, fried baby squid, at the Taberna Nuestra Tierra - photo courtesy of Taberna Nuestra Tierra
Chopitos, fried baby squid, at the Taberna Nuestra Tierra - photo courtesy of Taberna Nuestra Tierra

Notable among them is the Bar de Tapas Taberna Nuestra Tierra, which appropriately translates as 'Our Land's Tavern'. The local artichokes, courgettes, peppers and tomatoes are served chargrilled and doused with lemon; black sausage and chorizo from the Alpujarra mountains are sautéed with egg; tuna is draped with pepper and garlic; and, of course, it's all on the house simply for the price of a drink. Larger appetites are equally well catered for and the establishment prides itself on belonging to the slow food movement, although you wouldn't believe it on a busy Saturday when customers yell orders over the heads of their fellow clients at remarkably equanimous bar staff.

Discover the city's creative soul

As mentioned, the Alcazaba only had a bit part in certain Hollywood blockbusters; however, it's true that when Hollywood, or for that matter, Rome, needed a location to stand in for the dry deserts of the American West or the exotic courtyards of the Middle East, they turned to the city and its surroundings. From Lawrence of Arabia to Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns, Almería has welcomed them all.

Spaghetti Western film set just outside Almería, Spain © Jam World Images - Alamy Stock Photo
Spaghetti Western film set just outside Almería, Spain © Jam World Images - Alamy Stock Photo

The city's role in the film industry has been immortalised by the Casa del Cine, a Hispano-Californian edifice in the Camino Romero on the modern eastern fringes. The former country estate once hosted John Lennon and is said to be the place he penned Strawberry Fields Forever, reason enough for any Beatles fan to visit. In addition to exhibits telling the story of Almería's place in cinematographic history, regular screenings are also held.

From a Moorish hub of mercantile activity to the parched outpost of Christian Spain, the city has undergone many transformations. Twenty-first century Almería is showing a much more confident face to the world, as the city reinvigorates its sense of identity whilst maintaining aspects of its bohemian appeal. Almería's location also holds another key to its charm; away from the central locations of Córdoba and Granada, it remains off the beaten track.

Tempted to check out Almería's attractions for yourself? Don't miss the latest deals on direct fares with Thomas Cook Airlines, which departs to Almería from airports including London Stansted, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow among others. You can also find out more about the weather in Almería, and see when we think is the best time to go for prime city break conditions, perfect for exploring everything from the Alcabaza to nearby beaches.

Andrew Edwards

Andrew Edwards
Posted on Wednesday 9th August 2017 in: City Culture Europe

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