Cabo de Gata
ANDALUCIA, COUNTRY, BEACH, FAMILY / FEBRUARY 8, 2016
OFF THE BEATEN PATH : CABO DE GATA, SPAIN
Cabo de Gata Natural Park in Spain’s southeastern province of Almeria, is a strange and beautiful land, unlike any other place on earth (as far as I can tell.) This wild, isolated coastal landscape is dotted with elegant flowering agave plants, crumbling stone structures, even a community of pink flamingos. Winding roads cut through large swaths of red, rocky earth and lead to the warm, sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean.
I first heard about the place when some friends and I were talking about Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti westerns”. I was told that Leone fell in love with Cabo de Gata’s dusty landscape and brought Clint Eastwood here to shoot “A Fistful of Dollars” and a few years later, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” was also shot here, on Playa de Mónsul.) I was intrigued. Furthermore, I was told, the area is a protected, unspoiled Mediterranean treasure with Europe’s most beautiful beaches.
To get to there, we took the A-92 from Granada. We drove for a few hours under a setting Andalusian sun, but by the time we hit the smaller roads within the park it was pouring rain and pitch black, except for the occasional strike of lightning which illuminated the world around us: miles upon miles of undulating soil, rock and plants. In the car, we negotiated failing GPS amid the loud swish and thwap of windshield wipers on the highest possible setting – though not high enough. Eventually we ended up on a bad route: a steep, ever narrowing, ever bumpier road that led us up a hill and away from the fishing village where we hoped to stay for the night. The rain was washing out dirt and stones and it was nearly impossible to turn around. When we finally made it back down into the town of Agua Amarga we found a gathering of excited locals in a brightly lit main street cafeteria and realized that we were in the midst of an extraordinary event. We had rolled into town with a huge storm; water was rushing through the streets – and flooding las ramblas. The owner of the restaurant kindly rolled up her pant legs and stepped out into the wet, stormy night to lead us safely to the house we had rented for the weekend. We could not possibly have found it without her and the blinking golden lights of her small van which turned many sharp corners before stopping at a non-descript door. Gracias!
We awoke to a calm, grey beachfront scattered with fallen branches and bigger than usual waves. After a requisite pan con tomate and a bit of beach futbol, we headed out to explore the area. We drove across barren stretches of desert landscape and saw crumbling many stone structures that may have been perfect stage sets for Leone’s “shoot-em-ups”. Our boys crawled through “windows” and peeked out through the corners of their eyes as if they were “wanted”. I marveled at the dual sense of solitude and drama about the place. We criss-crossed the space between Cabo de Gata’s breathtaking beaches: Playa de Mónsul, Playa el Playazo and Playa de los Muertos. I had one of the sweetest swims of my life at Playa de los Genoveses. We ate the fresh catch in the fishing village of San José.
We fell for the tiny town of Rodalquilar. The owner of La Dispensa (a small shop selling fresh pastries, micro brews, wine, cheese and other local specialties) is a stylish, former madrileño who discovered Rodalquilar on a weekend getaway and never looked back. He loves the serenity. We love it too. The white washed town has a creative vibe and most of its humble, artsy houses are flagged by aloe vera or engulfed by deep red bougainvillea. Red peppers lay drying in handwoven baskets -or hanging from string -to dry. We were surprised to find a spectacular botanical garden and enjoyed a walk around with our kids. There are a couple of good restaurants, especially La Tasquilla.
When planning your trip you’ll read about Cabo de Gata’s hidden coves, dry river beds and rich coral reefs. You might also discover that it is a “dead ground marine terrestrial”. What is that? I’m still not sure, but it sounds fitting. It’s an other worldly place, there’s no doubt. The intermingling of volcanic rock formations, red earth, apricot stones, golden sand and blue water is unique. And witnessing it under southern Spain’s magnificent light is, well… magnificent.