Looking at the colours of Almería contained in this post, you will never believe me to be talking to you about the “driest place in Europe”. Located at the south-eastern edge of Spain, Almería county is bordered only by the glistening Mediterranean Sea to the south, as well as the mighty, often snow-covered tips of the Sierra Nevada mountain ranges to the north. In between, almost no rain ever falls, especially inland where the scenery is akin to classic Western movies. Which, by the way, the area really is: Cabo de Gata nature park has indeed served as the backdrop to Clint Eastwood’s “For a Few Dollars More”, as my guide for the day, David Monge explains. I smile, thinking of my Dad who love to know facts like these. And realise that I’ve really come to enjoy Almería quite a bit.
Well over ten years ago, I travelled in Andalusia for the first time, saw virtually all there was to see from Cádiz to Málaga, from Seville to Córdoba. Almería? It was but a name on a map.
Now, however, I feel like I’ve finally arrived at Southern Spain’s last secret corner, truly worth discovering. About two hours’ drive from Málaga (you can easily get good flight connections here from other airports in Europe), you’ll be met by spectacular coastal landscapes, charming little villages and truly fascinating people: The warm-hearted wine grower & sparkling wine producer José Luis, the ambitions Michelin-star-chef Yolanda García, the energetic “plant whisperer” Lola Gómez Ferrón, the simply delightful “ship grape family” of Rosa María Pascual.
“Elena, how do you always get to meet all these locals?”, I am often asked.
Well, let us start from the beginning.
So let’s continue talking about food. Almería, as I’ve mentioned, has so little rain that people don’t do a rain dance here, but have created a “rain dish” instead.
Take “Migas” (a type of polenta), freshly sliced tomatoes, fried peppers & sardines as well as some olives. That’s it! There you go, enjoying one of the easiest and most flavoursome meals I’ve ever had “in the name of rain”. Likely, because for soaking the Migas, as well as producing the veggies, you do actually need quite some water.
So back to the life-giving force of water, and the (cultural) role it plays in this semi-desertic landscape of south-eastern Spain. The story of water is the story of Lola Gómez Ferrón, who in my experience is the ultimate in terms of being a true “plant whisperer”. Having grown up in the rise of the “Mar de plástico” (Sea of plastic), she has opted for the ecological side of food production in the vast swaths of southern Almería’s greenhouse farms, the extent of which can even be seen from space. Water, key to maintaining such large cultivation areas, has once been discovered like oil in the Arabic deserts, tapped from deep underground. It is, together with the sun and the plastic-covered green house farms, protecting the plants from too much wind, what drives the economic powerhouse of Almería – and there is no better person to meet than Lola herself to tell you everything you need to know about Southern Spain’s green house farming history. Very interesting indeed, given the fact that Almería supplies veggies all over Europe from what is seemingly, a desert !
Do watch her amazing TEDx talk about the agricultural development of Almería, about sustainable farming for the future and about her own, inspiring personal life. It is guaranteed to make you think different about you what may or may not take for granted – receiving fresh vegetables in winter from Southern Spain (right now, the video is only in Spanish, please keep checking back for when the English subtitles are out):
As far as off-season travel (in October, that is) goes: Almería then becomes a wonderful destination for outings by bike or jeep, the flat beaches or curvy coastal roads a delight for each of you adventurers.
Two wonderful guides with a true passion for their environment, David Monge and Juan José, have truly opened up my view and understanding of this particular place on Earth, as well as all of the fascinating local area facts about Almería. During spring and autumn (summer is virtually guaranteed to be too hot), Juan José takes visitors like me out on one of his bike routes, where his full-time job as an environmental analyst and consultant adds to the interesting facts he has to share about the land we see. I really like the two “Enrutados” trips we do, and recommend you to check out his website for more: http://www.enrutados.es.
David Monge, too, loves to share his passion, especially for the geology of his home: http://www.geogata.com. We love to discuss all things geology, history, and culture of the natura park Cabo de Gata-Níjar he leads me into, and it’s been a while since I’ve been taken around in a really cool jeep that truly befits this dry, Western-style mountain ranges and coastal roads. Thank you so much, dear David !
Check out even more sunny travel photos here:
Disclaimer: I have been supported by the Spanish Tourism Board in Austria during the organization of this trip in the province of Almería, Andalusia. All opinions are my own.