20 Reasons to Go: Murcia

It has one of the best climates in Spain, it’s a sports lovers’ paradise and the city is literally brimming with beautiful Islamic architecture and top class tapas bars…and they’re just a few of the reasons why this Costa Calida destination is a timeshare favourite.

1. Its history – Murcia was founded by the Moors in 825, so it’s a blend of 500 years of Islamic architecture with a fascinating old town dotted with churches and museums. Just like Granada right down in the south of Spain, Murcia’s important Arabic influence makes it a beautiful place to visit.

2. The fresh produce. Murcia is the agricultural heartland of Spain and the produce is abundant and delicious, thanks to its beneficial, mild climate. Sweet and citrus fruits are a regional speciality and it’s well known for its pimento (that red Spanish paprika) which is used in a lot of local dishes. Fish and suckling pig feature heavily on menus and the region produces a lot of sheep and goat’s cheese. And as for wines, the three Designations of Origin in the region are DO Jumilla, DO Yecla and DO Bullas (Murcia’s best wines are usually red, using the Monastrell grape – also cultivated in France where it is called Mouvedre).

3. The beaches – with over 2,800 hours of sunshine each year and the temperature hovering around 20C even in winter months, the beaches are a major attraction. 73 kilometres of coastline line Spain’s Mar Menor on the Costa Calida offering an abundance of great beaches for families, including plenty of Blue Flag beaches which are clean, safe and shallow. . Some of the most popular include Los Alcazares, which has some of the finest beaches along Spain’s Costa Calida including Playa de los Narejos and Playa del Espejo, winners of the Q Awards for their high standards. Other beaches include San Pedro del Pinatar, Santiago de la Ribera, with its wide promenade and Santiago de La Torre de la Horada.

4. Golf…and other sports! The variety of timeshare resorts is exceptional, and many developments in the region are built around golf courses, including the most famous of all, La Manga, as well as Polaris World’s Mar Menor Golf Resort, La Torre Golf Resort, Hacienda Riquelme and El Valle Golf Resort, all designed by golf pro Jack Nicklaus. Other family resorts also include Pereleja Golf, United Golf La Tercia, Roda Golf Club & Beach Resort and La Serena Golf.

6. The wildlife. Nightlife is great in Murcia, but it’s the other type of wildlife that attracts nature lovers. Being an agricultural region, Murcia is pretty flat but the undulating Sierra Espuna is a treasure trove of unique flora and fauna. Spain’s famous Sierra Nevada mountains are about a two and a half hour drive away. They are also Spain’s most southerly ski resort and a popular winter escape for the Spanish.

7. Total peace and quiet at the convent of Santa Clara with its stunning cloister and mix of Islamic remains including 12th and 13th century wooden ceiling panels.

8. Plaza de las Flores, a lovely square that offers shade against the heat of the summer, surrounded by palms, jacaranda and orange trees.

9. Time for an evening stroll? Head to the riverside Paeol del Malecon before a sunset drink at the Plaza Glorieta de Espana.

10. Tapas! Murcia (like Granada) is renowned for its tapas bars, and you’ll find some of the best in the Plaza San Juan. Good picks include the relatively new Madre de Dios, where you can sample lots of mini-portions at a table on the narrow street www.madrededios.es , La Pequena Taberna Tipica which is a local favourite, always fun, and the fish and tapas dishes are excellent – it’s at Plaza San Juan 2. There are too many more to mention, and the locals will always be happy to suggest somewhere to go – one of the simpler, more old-fashioned and very authentic tapas bars is La Taberna de las Mulas at Calle Ruiperez 5. El Gran Bar Rhin near the Plaza de San Pedro with its huge plate glass windows that look over the square is also a big favourite.

11. Cartagena. Murcia’s famous working port is Cartagena, which offers great shopping (boutiques as well as modern malls and plenty of urban culture) and it’s a vibrant town, worth a visit if you’re staying on the Costa Calida for a while and can tear yourself off the sunlounger.

12. Murcia’s easy to get to – Ryanair and EasyJet both operate flights from the UK to San Javier airport which is 27 miles from Murcia but you can take a taxi for about £10 to Santiago de la Ribera (or if you’re not in a hurry, hop on a bus from the airport). Then, pick up a bus into Murcia which will cost you under £5.

13. The Casino, www.casinomurcia.com . It might not be the sort of casino you’re expecting, because it’s quite astoundingly beautiful. It was founded as a gentleman’s club in 1847 and was a favourite with Murcia’s upper classes. Inside there’s an enormous, elegant ballroom and beautiful Islamic architecture – it still feels very glamorous and the Casino is still a members’ club and publishes its own magazine, Royal Casino. It’s probably Murcia’s most upmarket café and has an extraordinary selection of grand rooms for hosting events, conferences and because of its beauty, it also happens to be the most visited civic building in the city.

14. Murcia’s Museums. Murcia really is in itself an “open air museum”. They’re numerous and most of them are free, so if you’re wandering around the city after lunch, the architectural museums is a good one to visit. If they’re not free, they charge a minimal admission fee.

15. Fiesta. The Spanish love a good fiesta and Murcia is no exception. Barely a fortnight goes by when there isn’t something to be celebrated, or some kind of event in one of the squares. On April 10 Murcians celebrate the Bando de la Huerta which involves a very large parade featuring – yes, a giant sardine – as its main “icon”! The sardine is then “buried” which is part of the tradition. The whole thing started in 1850 when a group of students decided to form an entourage with the now-famous sardine which symbolises fasting and abstinence during lent.

16. Easter. Easter processions are sombre in Spain as you’ll know if you’ve ever been to the Malaga processions; they completely dominate Spanish TV during the Easter break. After Easter, Murcia breaks out into Rio-style celebrations and the locals bury that famous sardine – until the whole thing is repeated the following year!

17. Sports and especially water sports. Murcia’s a natural setting for all kinds of water sports thanks to its enviable climate and long coastline. Windsurfing, sailing, fishing, water skiing, diving and more are all part of the outdoor lifestyle. La Manga Club is famous for its golf, but it’s also a second home in winter to many northern European football teams who come to train in the milder months.

18. Murcia’s charming palm-lined streets. Many of Murcia’s streets are pedestrianised so it’s a lovely city to wander around. You could start in the Glorieta de Espana which is a palm-lined square in front of the Town Hall and Bishops Palace, then head down the narrow Arenal into the square by the Cathedral. If you turn left in front of the west wing and wander up the narrow pedestrian street (Traperia) you’ll pass shops and cafes before you reach Plaza Santa Domingo. In 1575 this was Murcia’s main square and it’s still a popular meeting place.

19. Murcia’s famous climate – there’s a reason it’s called the Costa Calida (Hot Coast!) so it’s a perfect Easter getaway although summer temperatures soar (in fact many of the locals head north to escape the heat in peak summer). Winters are exceptionally mild, so you can expect sunny days and 17C-20C in the colder months, before the mercury rises in spring and hits its peak in summer.

20. The Mar Menor. If you’ve never been to the Mar Menor it’s Europe’s largest salt water lake and well worth a visit. You can stop off at the old fishing village of Cabo de Palos or explore the lovely natural beaches at Calblanque National Park.

For more information on Murcia visit www.murciaturistica.es

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