Spain’s secret Costa
Tucked into Spain’s south-east corner, between the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, is the Costa de Almeria. This place missed out on the 1960s visitor boom that hit the other Costas because of poor road connections. As a result, it’s now far less touristy than its neighbours. You’ll find laid-back resorts, traditional whitewashed villages and beaches untouched by the holidaymaking masses.
Roquetas de Mar
The big resort here is Roquetas de Mar. It’s a seaside town with a wide belt of golden sand running alongside it. Although it used to be a quiet fishing village, it’s all grown up now – you’ll find everything from swish shopping malls and seafront restaurants to tiny tapas bars and Brit-style pubs.
When it comes to days out, the Costa de Almeria has no end of attractions. Just up the coast from Roquetas de Mar is the port city of Almeria, where you’ll find tree-lined boulevards and chic boutiques, all watched over by a huge Arab fortress. Wildlife fans should head for one of the area’s natural parks – Cabo de Gata is one of the best. Granada, home to the impressive Alhambra palace, is just a couple of hours away, too.
Things to See and Do in Costa de Almeria
The Costa de Almeria’s rugged coastline is laced with huge sweeps of sand and hidden coves. And, because this is one of the least developed Costas, the beaches here all come with plenty of elbow room. In Roquetas de Mar, the sands have beachside cafés and watersports on tap, but venture a little further afield and you’ll find empty stretches with just the seagulls for company.
The big beach
The most popular place for people to lay their beach towel is Roquetas de Mar’s Urban Beach. It’s a 3-kilometre belt of course, gold sand that runs right in front of the town. Active types can get their kicks with things like sailing, jet-skiing and water-skiing, while those who prefer things a little more sedate can sip a cold drink at one of the sand-side cafés.
The secret beach
The Punta Entinas-Sabinar Natural Park might be famed for its birdlife, but beyond the wetlands and sand dunes, you’ll find a fantastic sandy stretch – Cerrillos Beach. It’s usually pretty empty, even in the height of summer, although you’ll sometimes find a handful of wind and kite-surfers taking advantage of the sea breezes.
If you’re looking to splash some serious cash, head for Almeria. Along La Rambla and Paseo de Almeria you’ll find loads of high-end fashion boutiques, while the old quarter is packed with little artisan shops selling brightly-coloured ceramics and textiles made in nearby hillside villages. You can also buy the beautifully crafted goods direct, in villages like Nijar, Alhabia, Sorbas and Vicar.
Roquetas de Mar’s number one shopping spot is the Gran Plaza. It’s a huge shopping mall on the outskirts of town that’s chock-full of stores, including loads of Spanish and British fashion chains. There are plenty of restaurants and snack bars to refuel in, and there’s even a bowling alley and cinema for when you’re all shopped out. In Almeria, head to the Al Campo centre, on Avenida Mediterraneo.
Roquetas de Mar’s markets are a great place to grab a bargain or two. You’ll find one on the first 3 Thursdays of the month at Avenida de la Union Europea, with stallholders hawking shoes, clothing and handbags, as well as locally grown fruit and veg. And if you stop by the Plaza de Toros on the first Sunday of the month, you’ll find an antique and second-hand craft fair just outside.
For a quiet meal out, the marina in Roquetas de Mar is a good bet. You’ll find a selection of fish restaurants and tapas bars, as well as a couple of low-key bars. In Almeria, the old quarter, especially the area around Plaza Vieja, has some great restaurants. And for a bit of culture, try Roquetas de Mar’s Teatro Auditorio, which holds regular music and dance performances.
While you won’t find much in the way of discos in Roquetas de Mar, there are plenty of lively bars and British-run pubs down by the seafront where you can get involved in karaoke, quizzes and dancing. You’ll find some along the seafront in Aguadulce, too. Over in Almeria, there is a decent helping of clubs around the city centre, near Paseo de Almeria.
Being a coastal spot, the Costa de Almeria is big on seafood. You’ll find it on most menus here, whether it’s crispy fried fish, steaming bowls of spicy fish chowder, or tapas dishes like crunchy calamari and garlicky shrimp.
These crunchy, tasty little doughnuts are a breakfast favourite with the Spanish, who like to dunk them in thick hot chocolate or café con leche. They’re piped into long, thin shapes, and fried at a really high temperature until they’re golden and crispy on the outside, and fluffy on the inside.
This cold soup is one of the easiest dishes to make. Tomatoes, cucumber, peppers, onion, garlic and bread are blended together, mixed with a little olive oil, and then chilled. If you’re a fan, you can also try Ajo Blanco – another refreshing cold soup that’s made with almonds, bread, garlic, olive oil and a little vinegar.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Spain if you didn’t sample a plate of paella. In the Costa de Almeria, you’re most likely to find the seafood version – fragrant rice mixed together with things like succulent prawns, salty mussels and crispy squid. In some places, chicken and chorizo are added to the mix.
Sangria is a bit of a Spanish staple, and the perfect drink for cooling off after a day on the beach. The recipe is pretty simple – red wine is sweetened with sugar and topped with lemonade or soda water, chopped fruit, and sometimes a splash of brandy. It’s usually served up at parties in a big punch bowl so everyone can help themselves.