Every year we like to escape from the noise of las Fallas and explore a quieter corner of Spain. In fact, many Valencians do the same. This year it was Murcia’s turn to be explored.
Apart from Fallas festival, the weather forecast was not too promising for hiking. That said, things seemed to look better in Cartagena, our destination. After a 3-hour drive, we discovered that it was still raining there, so the plan had to be altered. We checked in our hotel and went out to walk along the streets of Cartagena. However, the desire to be warm and dry soon became too strong and we took cover in one of the bars in the city centre. La Uva Jumillana was the bar of choice. This is one of the oldest tapas bars in the town and it is frequented by young people (as we were able to witness later in the trip). The curious thing about the bar is that they share menu with the place across the street. That is, one side of the menu is La Uva Jumillana tapas and the other – Bodega la Fuente and you can order food from both sides.
Having lunch in a local bar was not sufficient to please the local rain Gods, so we headed to a museum! The museum of choice was ARQVA – the National Museum of Subaquatic Archaeology. You can find plenty of information about how humans discover things buried at the bottom of the sea and get it up to the surface. In addition, you can learn about Roman history of Cartagena and witness lots of the artefacts left from that era, like Roman amphoras, or hundreds of real coins dating back to medieval times.
The day finished in the hotel’s restaurant and the meals turned out to be pretty good. The hotel itself was decent, maybe the most annoying thing being that rooms were excessively warm.
Monte de las Cenizas
By Friday we have finally made enough offerings to local deities and the sun started to shyly shine through the clouds. We headed to the nearby fishing/mining village of Portmán to hike to Monte de las Cenizas. It is quite hard to pick a seaside hike around Cartagena as the area is rich with scenic trails all along the coast. Still, Monte de las Cenizas is probably the best choice as its top give views of the bay of the aforementioned Portmán, la Manga and the lake of Mar Menor on the other side, and of course the impressive cliffs along the route.
These hills are also full of Civil war remnants and some of them look rather strange. Apart from big cannons, rails, bunkers and all kind of military constructions, we also found a gate, reminiscent of the old Aztec temple gates. Quite a bizarre scene to encounter on a hike! The trail also presented us with thick vegetation and curious rock formations, some of which must have had an impact on the name of the mountain, as the exposed layers of coal did look like they could have been ashes…
The most impressive part of the route came towards the end though. The trail ends at Playa del Lastre, which is a known spot for surfers. Even on a Friday there were plenty of them riding the ways. Hikers have their share too, as we could walk around the lighthouse of Portmán and explore rocks and cliffs surrounding it. Since the route is somewhat short, we were able to finish right in time for lunch. The clouds even decided to open up a bit and give us a chance to enjoy sunshine, as we watched the waves coming in and listened to the sound of them breaking on the rocks.
That evening we ventured out to the city for dinner and ended up in a Moroccan restaurant Alhambra. Interestingly enough, apart from traditional Eastern dishes like hummus and cuscus, they were also offering dishes like pizza and hamburgers. And of course you can accompany that with delicious Moroccan teas. In any case, all of the dishes were ordered were delicious, so that was a pleasant way to end the day.
The hike which I was looking forward to the most was the one in Sierra Espuña. The original plan was to drive all the way up to the top of the regional natural park and do the Pedro López route, which is a scenic loop along the highest peaks of the sierra. However, nature had a surprise waiting for us. As we drove up, it became evident that we are going to walk in the clouds. Starting from approximately 1200 meter above sea level mark, the scenic views turned to chilly and humid mist, while the start of our route was well above 1400 meters. It was time to rethink the plan for the day. The solution came pretty quickly and I decided to take the group down the town of Aledo, at 700 meters above sea level.
After a couple of wet kilometres we successfully found our way out of the clouds and were rewarded by stunning sights. One of the most impressive aspects of the hike was the vibrancy of the green colour of local pines. It looks like the rain revitalized all the vegetation in the natural park and the trees were full of enthusiasm, presenting themselves in their best form. It was also pleasant to look back from time to time and observe the clouds which we came down from. Sierra Espuña is certainly a great place for hiking and it would be wonderful to come back here and experience it on a sunny day, enjoying the views and contrasting that to the experience of a very cloudy day hike.
Eventually, we made our way down to the plateau and out of the natural park. After crossing some farming grounds we arrived in Aledo. The timing was quite good, as the rain finally started to come down and we could see that more of it was coming from behind us. Since the van was left behind, I had to find a taxi to go back and get it. Meanwhile, the group sat down in a local bar and enjoyed some churros with hot chocolate. Somehow, even here in Murcia a bit of Fallas spirit still found its way into our souls.
That day we felt like having pasta for dinner. The restaurant I’ve found left much to be desired, so I won’t even mention its name. Eventually, we ended up in la Uva Jumillana again, and at this point it was packed! Even the terrace hardly had an empty spot, despite the weather. It was quite surprising to see just how much nightlife there is in Cartagena, as one of the streets in the old town seemed to have nothing, but bars and nightclubs. Interestingly, people start going out around 9pm, which is quite early for Valencian standards.
Murallas del King Kong
Our final hike of the trip was right next to Murcia the city. Murallas del King Kong are curious formations in the regional park El Valle-Carrascoy. The name comes from one particular rock, that clearly resembles the face of a huge gorilla. The initial part of the route goes along wide gravel road in between pine trees and throughout the ascent it reminded me the landscapes of Sierra Calderona, particularly the ascent to Pi del Salt from Náquera. The main difference, of course, are the walls overhanging the road, appearing from time to time as you walk through the woods.
We got to the top eventually, and that’s when the best part of the hike started. The return is made along the path path that follows the precipice and gives you views of impressive walls time and time again. The rock colour deserves a special mention, as it varies from the typical ochre to all shades of yellow, red and even purple. Truly amazing sight, especially if you contrast it with the green of pines trees. At one point the clouds decided that it is time to start drizzling on us, but luckily we were able to find little caves and have somewhat cosy place to stop for lunch.
Right after lunch was the moment when King Kong finally showed us his face. Some places require quite a lot of imagination to be able to see the implied similarity, but that’s not one of them. Here we could clearly see all the features of this legendary creature’s face. Some of us even managed to distinguish other body parts, but I’ll leave that to each one’s interpretation. Apart from King Kong, the walls are truly spectacular in general. Lots of photos were taken here, as the trail was taking us really close to the edge and then back away from it again and again.
To resume, I should say that this was a great trip with a great group of people. We were definitely lucky with the weather, since it allowed us to stay mostly dry for three days. It would be great great to return to these places and experience hiking through them on typical Mediterranean sunny days. Some trails, like the King Kong walls should surely be repeated, whereas Sierra Espuña provides an extensive network of marked trails to be explored.