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The Spanish province of Almeria is made up of about 200 miles (322km) of varied, scenic coastline that attracts package tourists to its developed resorts near the main towns, but also offers idyllic spots for nature-lovers to explore unspoilt fishing villages, long, sandy beaches and small, intimate coves which are popular with nudists.
Enjoying a sunny and mild climate, Almeria lies southeast of the Iberian Peninsula on the Mediterranean Sea, and still bears the archaeological evidence of many ancient cultures, from the Tartessos and Phoenicians, to the Romans and Visigoths, who were drawn here by the natural beauty, and useful maritime geographic location. The region retains an African flavour owing to its proximity to the continent.
Inland, Almeria is rather barren, and boasts Europe's only desert region around the village of Tabernas, which has been used as the location for several western movies. In the east, the lunar-landscaped Cabo de Gata-Nijar nature reserve, with its rugged coastline, attracts hikers, birders, and scuba divers. Despite the dry, inhospitable landscape, Almeria has developed a thriving agricultural industry, and plastic-covered tunnel farms, packed with fresh produce and flowers are prolific.
Most visitors flock to the holiday resorts to the east and west of the lively capital city of Almeria, which boasts picturesque squares, some worthy sights to see, cafes, a ferry port, and marina. Lovely beaches, marinas, hotels, and sport centres provide plenty to keep holidaymakers happy in the resort towns of Mojacar to the east, and Aguadulce, Roquetas de Mar, and Almerimar to the west of the city.
The ancient Andalusian city of Almeria lies sheltered at the base of a bay, proudly dominated by the amazing Alcazaba, a huge Moorish citadel with three walled enclosures dating from 995. A 16th-century Christian castle was built on the foundations of the original Moorish citadel, creating a potent aesthetic mixture of architectural styles. From the citadel, visitors have a good view of the city's most impressive and important Christian monument, the Cathedral, dating from 1524, designed more like a fortress than a church because of the need to defend it from pirate attacks. The Cathedral contains numerous art treasures, including a tabernacle dating from the 18th century and designed by Ventura Rodriguez. With its interesting medieval architecture, Almeria's old town is a delight to stroll through with its tranquil squares, archways and colonnades. The city also has a fascinating archaeological museum and unique cave dwellings in the hillside above the old gypsy quarter.
About 16 miles (26km) from Almeria and set between the Sierra de Alhamilla and Sierra de Filabres, the little village of Tabernas is in a barren landscape of canyons and rocky wasteland. A few decades ago, when Western movies were the most popular Hollywood genre, legendary stars such as Clint Eastwood, Lee van Cleef, Claudia Cardinale and Charles Bronson strutted their stuff here in the dry heat on film sets which fans will recognise from movies such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, A Fistful of Dollars, and The Magnificent Seven. The movie lots have now become theme park tourist attractions. There are three to visit: Mini Hollywood, Texas Hollywood, and Western Leone. All offer a fun day out in Europe's only desert region, with stagecoach rides, live shows, a zoo, and the opportunity to quench your thirst in the saloon. Tabernas is the name of the desert itself, with the barren, eroded landscapes typical of the badlands from cowboy movies, and those who want to experience the real thing, instead of playing at it on the movie sets, can organise horseback treks into the desert.
North of Almeria, a lighthouse stands at the tip of the Cabo de Gata Peninsula marking the extremity of Andalusia's largest coastal nature reserve. The park is a fascinating landscape of arid desert, volcanic mountains, jagged sea cliffs, sand dunes, wetlands, a lagoon, and hidden sandy coves. Mountain bikers, hikers, bird-watchers, and water sports enthusiasts enjoy this natural wonderland, which encompasses some quaint fishing hamlets, historic ruins, and magnificent stretches of beach. Two of the most popular beaches are Playa de Monsul, which has picturesque volcanic rock formations, and Playa de los Genoveses, which is within walking distance of San Jose. Tiny rock islands cluster off the rugged coastline and there are extensive coral reefs along the shore. The salt flats between the village of San Miguel and the Cabo de Gata point are home to thousands of flamingos, a delight for birdwatchers. The abandoned mining villages around Rodalquilar are interesting and slightly spooky to explore. The small Morrish town of Nijar is incredibly picturesque and the best place to seek out arts and crafts. Lastly, the Cabo de Gata-Nijar Natural Park is a paradise for photographers because of its unworldly and unique landscapes.
Apart from the alluring beach resorts and the scenic coastline, Costa Almeria boasts some supremely unusual natural landscapes and the many historic attractions of Almeria City. The region is a delight for movie buffs, as both the city and the desert surrounding the village of Tabernas are favourite locations for film shoots. In fact, the movie sets built in the town are now theme park attractions, and, oddly, the European desert is the perfect place to get a taste of the American Wild West.
Almeria is dominated by the massive Alcazaba citadel and has an interesting Old Town and a great archaeological museum to keep culture vultures busy. However, the arid desert landscapes, volcanic mountains and coves, and unexpected wetlands and lagoons are the main attraction of the Costa Almeria, drawing active and adventurous nature lovers to mountain bike, hike and scuba dive in the Cabo de Gata-Nijar Natural Park and all along the coast. The huge reserve also contains some historic ruins, quaint fishing villages and spooky abandoned towns to explore. The picturesque village of Nijar is a particular favourite with travellers and a good place to go shopping for arts and crafts in Costa Almeria.
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