My entire trip to Spain basically revolved around eating. I visited my friend, Melissa, in the region of Murcia which is known as ‘the garden of Europe’. Many of the fruits and vegetables we buy here in the UK are grown in Murcia. So as you can imagine, the food there was amazing and everything was incredibly fresh. Also, because Murcia is near the coast, there was seafood aplenty. There was simply no end to the tasty food offerings of Spain.
The city of Murcia is charming with its cozy plazas and laid back atmosphere, but it was surprisingly tourist-free. Of course, that meant there were also very few people who spoke English, but I liked it better that way. Exploring was easy as the sites are all very close and the city is so compact. The main attraction is the cathedral in the town center. It was built in 1394 on the site of a mosque, but the façade of the cathedral was later updated in the baroque style.
What surprised me most about Murcia was the seeming lack of Arabic influence. The city is of Arabic origin, but there is little trace of the culture left today. There are so many pretty churches to see in the old town, but no mosques at all. Inside the Santa Clara Monastery is a museum dedicated to the building’s history as a Moorish Palace. While it houses some Arabic artifacts and has recreations of original architectural details, much of the interior’s designs have been wiped away.
Because Murcia is less than an hour’s drive from the Costa Calida, we decided to spend one day just relaxing on the beach. We got a ride down to a beach in La Manga area, which is southeast of Murcia. La Manga literally means ‘sleeve’ and it’s called that because of the very narrow strip of land separating the Mar Menor (small sea) from the Mediterranean. The spit is around 21 kilometers long, but only 300 meters wide.
We started off at a beach facing the Mar Menor which is, in fact, the largest lagoon in Europe. However, the wind made it difficult to relax as it felt like we were being pelted with sand. I guess when that happens at La Manga, you just go to the other side of the strip. Once we arrived at the Mediterranean side, the wind felt instantly calmer and we were happy campers.
That night we went for tapas with a couple of Melissa’s friends, making our group a total of 5 people. Between us all, we probably shared 10 plates of tapas. And although that may not sound like much, it was a massive amount of food. Before my trip, I read that Murcia has the best tapas in all of Spain, so I’m glad to have had my first Spanish tapas experience here. One dish unique to Murcia is the Marinera, translation: sailor. It incorporates ensaladilla rusa, or Russian Salad, which is basically a potato salad with tuna, served on a looped breadstick and topped with an anchovy. It was delicious, however, my favorite tapa was the bacon wrapped dates stuffed with almonds.
The next day, we took a bus to a place called Salto del Usero in Bullas. The area is made up of refreshing natural pools along the river Mula and a partial cave that was excavated by the river. It was a really beautiful spot that’s actually not well-known by the locals. Even the bus driver to Bullas didn’t know what we were talking about and Melissa speaks Spanish like a native. Luckily, another woman on the bus overheard our conversation and pointed us in the right direction.
When we got there, it seemed like no one else was swimming because it was too cold. But we had no intention of going there and not swimming, because that would be crazy. The water was freezing, but it felt pretty good after walking from the bus station to get there. You can’t tell from the pictures, but inside the cave is the most beautiful waterfall lined with maidenhair ferns. It was a cloudy day, but occasionally the sun emerged from behind the clouds shining directly into the cave from above and it felt truly magical.
On my last day in Murcia, Melissa took me to a bar owned by a friend’s parents for paella. I expected to receive a plate of paella for myself or maybe one big dish for all of us to share. However, when we sat down to eat, I was offered plate after plate of seafood dishes like clams, octopus, and cod. Always fresh and always with lemon. After the meal, we were served naranjas con canela (oranges with cinnamon), a pastry called a mother-in-law killer, nuts, and wine. Once again, I could not believe the amount of food we were given. But if there’s one thing I know about Spaniards, it’s that they have a deep love for food and they will never let you go away hungry.