In May I was given the opportunity by the Spanish Tourist Board to visit the region of Murcia, and after happily jumping at the offer I found myself heading off to Gatwick airport, ready to meet my fellow travellers and Spanish Tourist Board representative Mónica. After a short 2 hours and 40 minutes spent cruising amongst the clouds, we landed at the San Javier airport in Murcia. This quaint airport, the antithesis of the ever-expanding Gatwick, has won ‘best airport’ in both 2014 and 2016, and their excellent customer service shows as you glide through passport control.
After a short transfer to Murcia town, we checked-in to our hotel and headed out for a guided tour of the surrounding area. The city itself is stunning, boasting an impressive university, a large populace and a variety of baroque buildings. One of the most infamous structures has to be the Casino of Murcia. Contrary to its name, this building was once a 17th century gentlemen’s club, and now serves as a museum, giving visitors a glimpse into Spain’s past through its combination of Moorish and Roman architecture. We visited the magnificent English library where current students were busy pressing their noses into books; the grand ballroom complete with balcony where bands would play for the dancers beneath; the ladies’ powder room with expertly hidden, not to mention off-putting, spy holes in the ceiling; and stunning frescoes depicting Murcian women from across the classes. Following on from the casino, we wandered the Spanish streets in the evening heat, past the couples having an aperitif in the shadow of the cathedral, the groups of young children playing in the fountain next to the town hall, and the myriad of bakeries and delicatessens. We eventually came across the Romea Theatre, an infamous theatre in the middle of the city and an important addition to Murcian culture. According to local legend, the theatre is said to be cursed by monks because it was built over a convent cemetery and will therefore be plagued by three fires which will destroy the building. Two of these fires have already ravished and completely demolished the structure, calling for it to be rebuilt twice. Locals say that the third and final fire will come when the building is at full capacity, and it is for this reason that 1 or 2 tickets are never sold!
Outside the Murcia Cathedral
On day 2 we woke early as we were set to visit the local secondary school, Alfonso X El Sabio. This school is the highest performing institute in Murcia and amongst the top 10 in Spain, it also boasts a museum, taxidermy collection and extensive library filled with priceless manuscripts. The school offers exchanges and language lessons for students, where pupils can spend a day shadowing lessons, seeing how they differ from their own English syllabus. From here we transferred to San Pedro del Pinatar, which is on the Costa Calida (warm coast) just east of Murcia. It was driving here that we got our first glimpse of the Mar Menor, a salty lagoon famous for its water sports and marine life. This lagoon transforms the surrounding towns annually as Spain enters its high season, so the whole town was buzzing with life and different languages. We spent the afternoon meeting with various suppliers and local businesses, getting to grips with the local tourist industry, which includes the infamous La Manga Club.
Beautiful Mar Menor
One of the suppliers I met was the director of the Funcarele language school in Cartagena, here students can have tuition in Spanish with a native speaker, building upon their existing knowledge and practising the phrases they have heard whilst in Murcia. Language immersion is crucial when learning a language, for more information regarding the importance of immersion, feel free to read my blog post here
Meeting the suppliers
After our quick-fire round of ‘meet the supplier’ we headed off for a tour of the Mar Menor in the only way it should be done – by boat. The lagoon itself is quite large, with a surface area of almost 170 km², it is only 7 metres deep however which means that it is perfect for water sports, as such we spent our time aboard weaving in and out of surfers, jet skis and sailboats. A sublime experience to say the least!
About to goon a boat tour of the Mar Menor
On our penultimate day we moved location again, this time to Cabo de Palos and Cartagena, again near the Mar Menor. Here we visited the Centro de Interpretacion de Cabo de Palos, a visitor centre for the marine life of the area, where students can learn more about the microbiology and species that thrive in the lagoon and in the Mediterranean Sea nearby. We then drove up to the lighthouse, an impressive structure that gazes out over the sea and lagoon, warning far away boats of the shallows beneath. After taking several thousand photos of the gorgeous landscape, we headed over to Cartagena to visit the Roman Theatre and Forum. This quaint town is known as the ‘port of cultures’ due to its location on the Mediterranean and the endless stream of people from across the seas using it as a door into Spain. We had a guided tour of the theatre and forum, meandering in and out of the ancient rooms of a dilapidated Roman house and descending the carved stone steps of the cavea towards the stage. This theatre was built between 5 and 1 BC and stands an impressive monument of Roman culture and history. Groups here can tour the excavations and ruins, understand how roman citizens lived, and admire the artefacts that have been uncovered centuries later.
On our final day it was with sadness that we checked out of our hotel for the final time, however our tour of Murcia was not yet over. We drove to Lorca, a town further inland and away from the Med. During the Middle Ages, Lorca acted as a gateway between Christian and Muslim Spain, and as such a large fortress was built on top of the mountain, where the Christian army could watch over enemy territory. We had a tour of the castle, exploring the underground tunnels and overhead turrets, squeezing our way down miniature corridors into watch towers. Our tour guide, dressed in full armour and galivanting around the tracks on his make-believe steed, was extremely knowledgeable in the daily life of the castle, from the lords to the servants – and was also hilariously funny.
We then headed back onto our trusty minibus and transferred to Murcia airport, waving goodbye to the region and the locals we had met along the way. Murcia really is a superb region to visit, whether that be as a pit-stop tour of all the delights it has to offer, or to make camp in a certain town and explore it fully. The history and culture are uniquely intertwined with local folklore and along with the endless sunny days, you cannot help but find yourself taking a step back and adopting the blissful Murcian lifestyle.
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