The latest craze in Spanish property is the development of Murcia. Traditionally, this region of Spain has had a very low profile. It is the one region of Spain that other Spaniards tend to forget exists. It is not part of a larger grouping. It isn’t part of Andalucia, or indeed any of the other more well known departments. It also has a feel about it that is different from any of the other regions.
It has a very small coastal zone which they call the Costa Calida, or the Warm Coast, and there is an arm of land curving round in a crescent and sheltering a stretch of sea that is more like a lagoon and is called the Mar Menor (the little sea). The region is not well known, but it is getting built up like the rest of Spain’s Mediterranean coast. However, the guts of Murcia are the inland areas.
Traditionally it has been a very fertile vegetable and fruit growing region, and the whole of the flat plain that stretches from the sea due west is laid to truck farming. You drop down from the mountains that act as the boundary between Murcia and Andalucia, and you can see almost all the way to the coast across this vast plain.
Up in the mountains there is snow often beyond easter. When we drove through the area a week or so before easter earlier this year there was a scattering of snow all along the main highway, with great swathes of it covering the flanks of the peaks to the south and east.
In that respect Murcia is a miniature Spain all to itself. One is reminded of that little phrase Quien dice España dice todo, which means, he who speaks of Spain, speaks of everything. From snowy peak to warm sea; from rock to rich black loam; from backwoods shacks to glass and concrete high tech skyscrapers.
Like most Spanish cities, the town of Murcia is very modern. The building has been growing apace over the decades, and the town is ten times the size it was when I first wandered through here in the dark sleepy sixties.
But things are stirring in other ways. Paramount Pictures has chosen the region of Murcia for the construction of a new theme park and entertainment complex in Spain.
The theme park will take four years to construct and will open in 2015. It is to be built on 108 acres of land in Alhama de Murcia just 20 minutes from the new international airport at Corvera which supposedly opens in 2012, and 20 minutes from the beaches of the Mediterranean and the Mar Menor.
The first area called “City Adventure” will include three major attractions. One of them will be based on the film Titanic and will feature a huge reproduction of the ocean liner. This area will also host one of three roller coasters to be built in the park based on “The Italian Job” and a virtual reality feature entitled “Mission Impossible”.
The second area, “Lost Valley”, will feature a water ride recreating a trip down the Congo river along with a recreation of the crypt from Tomb Raider and a rollercoaster based on the legend of Beowulf.
Especially designed for children is the “Woodland Fantasy” area. A more tranquil offering, dominated by a large tree and featuring magic workshops and interactive adventures including one based on the “Spiderwick Chronicles”.
Plaza Futura is the cutting edge technology area which will feature Star Trek and a spectacular recreation of “War of the Worlds”. Not for the faint hearted this area will feature a passage of terror based on the feature film “Paranormal Activity”.
The centerpiece of the park will be an avenue flanked by hotels, restaurants and a shopping centre with a pavilion focusing on the attractions of the region of Murcia and Spain.
Over one billion Euros is to be invested in the park which will employ in excess of 10,000 people during the course of construction. The park will also contain an auditorium with capacity for 15,000 people and the largest convention centre in the region of Murcia capable of accommodating over 3,000 people in its main hall.
Great things to come, and this will obviously pull in the crowds. However, to the north of the city there is an interesting culture. It’s quite fascinating to look down on the broad growing zones from the hilltops, or from a low flying aircraft. At easter the countryside looks like some college scarf unrolled across the ground. You have the different colours of the crops coming into flower. There are the different coloured blossoms of the fruit trees. There is a wide swathe of red, then a swathe of white, then pink, then cerise, as almond changes to plum, to greengage, and so on.
And then there are the wines. They used to be pretty average, and not well known. However, things have changed quite drastically since I first stopped at a bodega on main street Jumilla. Back then I filled my goatskin with the local red, and it was a pretty nondescript drink which suited me well, but certainly had no class or finesse to it.
Some of the old styles still persist here, and one of the reds is still made in the traditional style. It is most definitely an acquired taste. I find it has a kind of mouldy taste to it. Apparently the younger folk in the area dont like it that much either. It is drunk mainly by the older people, who give it a special term which is not usually used in wine parlance – rancid. They dont mean it is going rotten, but that it has a slightly “off” flavour. Most definitely an acquired taste.
Move to the more modern vintages and the quality of the wines is in my opinion very good indeed. There is a clean sweet white wine which I was drinking only the other day. Curiously it is made from red grapes. Unlike so many white sweet wines it is not sickly or mucky in the mouth, but has a clean tang to the sweetness. I have several bottles in my cellar at the moment, but unfortunately I dont have my tasting notes from the rest of the wines I tasted on my last visit to that big bodega on main street. What I can say is that if you are a wine buff then this dusty country town with a definite hick feel to it is a place you should mark in red on your travel map.
Then you should journey north through a veritable Mondrian of orchard colours, pretty in spring, and delicious in summer.
I am beginning to get a taste for Murcia after all these years. I shan’t be settling here, but I will jump at the chance to visit again. It’s also a cheap neck of the woods. The coast is cheap nowadays with the sea-view business firmly lodged in crisis mode, but the countryside has always been cheap.
I also noted that this region is embracing the crisis in useful ways. Town after town has restaurants boasting not just the menu del dia, and the tasting menu, but also a super cheap (7 euros a three course meal with drink) menu crisis. I haven’t tried one, but if the meals back out in the wilds of the valleys in the north of Cadiz are anything to go by you cant go wrong.