The Region of Murcia, the unexpected setting for your next holidays

One of the great challenges of film production is to reproduce a landscape, a location or a setting in a more accessible (and economical) place than the original. This is the case of Adú, the film by Salvador Calvo which won four Goya awards in 2020 (including Best Production Supervision) and which, set in Melilla and Cameroon, was shot in the Republic of Benin, Madrid, Melilla, and the Region of Murcia. Its main challenge was to reconstruct a route from Cameroon to Morocco, crossing Senegal and Mauritania, without leaving Benin. Locations in the municipalities of Mazarrón, Águilas and Lorca along with the port of Cartagena and La Manga del Mar Menor also provided the scenery.

Another one of the latest films to be shot in the Region of Murcia, capable of showing us a different and lesser-known side of this province, is the debut feature film by Murcian director Joaquín Carmona, Últimas voluntades, about a father who tries to win back his son’s affection, starring actors Fernando Tejero, Óscar Casas, Nerea Camacho, Carlos Santos, Adriana Ozores and Salvador Serrano, among others. More urban than the previous one, the film was shot in the cities of Murcia, Molina de Segura, Fuente Álamo, Calasparra and Cehegín (Valentín), as well as in Cartagena. Both films reflect a community beyond the ever-present sun and beach. 

Both productions are good examples of the diversity of landscapes, approaches and possibilities that Murcia offers, something that the Region of Murcia Film Commission, the entity in charge of facilitating the best locations for filmmakers, knows very well.

The unexpected coastline of the Region of Murcia

Adú, starring Luis Tosar, Anna Castillo, Moustapha Oumarou, Álvaro Cervantes and Adam Nourou, among others, depicts three intertwining stories about Adú, a young boy, and his sister, who try to escape from Cameroon in the cargo hold of a plane, the struggle of an activist against the killing of elephants in the Du Dja reserve in the midst of reuniting with his daughter, as well as the confrontation between a group of police officers at the Melilla border fence with the migrants trying to enter Spain. The first proposed itinerary, inspired by Adú, involves travelling along the deserted and sparsely built-up coastline of Murcia, in places such as Percheles beach (Mazarrón), Cabo Cope (Águilas), Bolnuevo (Mazarrón) and Calabardina (Águilas). It is easy to imagine that you are in the African desert amid these arid landscapes. 

Thanks to a huge investment, the historic port city of Cartagena brought to light its Punic, Roman, Byzantine and Arab remnants. The rejuvenated city of Cartagena received its first major surprise in 1990, when archaeologists discovered the Roman theatre that dates back to the same era as the city’s still preserved amphitheatre.  On top of the old Roman city, subsequent generations built the bullring, the roadway and houses on Calle Conde Duque and the Plaza de los Tres Reyes, and the public building on Calle Morería while the funerary tower found in Torre Ciega, on the way out of Cartagena towards San Javier, stands along what was once the famous Via Augusta.

Roman Theatre of Cartagena, a jewel buried in the city centre / Paco Nadal

Cartagena’s social life revolves around Calle Mayor. This area of the city is also home to some of the best modernist buildings such as the Old Town Hall, the Gran Hotel, the Llagostera House and the Aguirre House. Cartagena, a military town since its foundation, is surrounded by fortified hills: the castle of San Julián, the fort of Navidad, the forts of Galeras and Atalayas and the city’s most visited and oldest fort, La Concepción. 

If we take the old road from Cartagena to Mazarrón via Canteras and Isla Plana to the turnoff to Cape Tiñoso, we can travel along a wild and still undeveloped coastline. The cape is a huge rocky spur with cliffs over 200 metres high that juts out into the Mediterranean between the Cartagena and Mazarrón bays. 

Continuing to the west, we reach La Azohía, a charming and peaceful little fishing and holiday village that seems to have been taken from another time and where a tuna trap is still set up every year. Further on is Puerto de Mazarrón, which started out as a fishing port and has become a large urban centre, larger in size than the municipal capital itself, Mazarrón, seven kilometres inland. Puerto de Mazarrón and Águilas are the two main tourist resorts on the rugged southern coast of Murcia. Both have excellent urban beaches and plenty of summer life. But the real attraction for travellers is the stretch of coastline between the two towns. Again, breaking with clichés, Bolnuevo, Puntas de Calnegre and Cabo Cope are perhaps the purest and most unspoilt portion of the Spanish Mediterranean. Their remote location and poor connections worked the miracle that even today there are kilometres of coastline with no constructions other than greenhouses.

The surprising landscapes of Bolnuevo / Paco Nadal

At Águilas we can head towards the Roman, Moorish, Renaissance and Baroque Lorca. The Alfonsí tower within its castle and a decent stretch of walls remain standing. But the real architectural gem of Lorca rises around the Plaza de España, with the Renaissance buildings of the Town Hall, the palace of the Corregidor, the grain warehouse and, above all, the former collegiate church of San Patricio. A large number of palaces and noble houses recall Lorca’s former splendour.

Returning to Cartagena, we now head in the opposite direction towards the east and Cabo de Palos. The first thing that appears is Calblanque, declared a regional park in 1987, which is the best example of Murcia’s coastal ecosystem. Here visitors can find arid mountain ranges, fossil dunes, huge golden beaches and an intensely blue sea. Calblanque is so popular that in summer access by car was forbidden and visitors have to take a shuttle bus that leaves from a car park next to the La Manga motorway, the same one that gives access to a large part of the Mar Menor, the other significant element of the Murcian coast. Nature created this whimsical structure in this gigantic 170-square-kilometre saltwater pool separated from the Mediterranean by a narrow sandy strip, where visitors notice the sun’s intense shine as much as they do the lack of waves in the water. The La Manga motorway ends at Cabo de Palos, which for me is the most charming town on the coast of the Region of Murcia. This is where the main characters in the series Sky rojo passed through. 

Cabo de Palos, a town with loads of charm / Agatha Selgas

A Murcian county to discover in the north-west of the region

Let’s change course (and route) and head to the city of Murcia, some 50 kilometres from Cartagena, whose Santa María de Gracia and La Fama neighbourhoods and Trapería Street were the setting for Últimas voluntades.

The capital, best explored on foot, boasts the cathedral, the first church in Murcia and an excellent synthesis of 600 years of art history whose façade overlooks one of the city’s most beloved and representative spaces, the Plaza de Belluga. Here visitors can find the casino and the pedestrian Trapería and Platería streets, a place for shopping and strolling, the Salzillo museum, housed in the church of Nuestro Padre Jesús, the neoclassical building of the Romea theatre and the museum of the Molinos del Río, the city’s old flour mills. Of course, you can’t miss out on tapas in one of the bars that form the triangle that connects the San Pedro, las Flores and Santa Catalina squares.

Façade of the Murcia City Hall in the historic centre of Murcia / Region of Murcia Film Commission

Heading inland, towards the northwest part of Murcia, we can stop in Molina de Segura before visiting Calasparra and Cehegín (Valentín) and even Moratalla and Caravaca. In Molina the best option is to enjoy its Iberian, Roman and Muslim past on foot and to visit the modern MUDEM, the museum of the Enclave of the Wall. We can also offer two other recommendations: visit the church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (18th century) and the museum of the Horno del Concejo, which feature popular architecture from the 17th and 18th centuries. It was in this small Murcian town where Sorda, by Eva Libertad and Nuria Muñoz, was filmed.

Known for its rice production, my main recommendation in Calasparra is a visit to the Almadenes canyon, a navigable gorge 4 kilometres long and 150 metres deep, which gives shape to a virgin, silent land where you can also enjoy the last native riverside forests. If you want to go on foot, the access point is the power station of the same name. Calasparra also features the Virgen de la Esperanza sanctuary, the Cueva del Puerto cave and, of course, another amazing landscape for those who are not used to these types of countryside, the rice-growing plains. 

Valentín, a district of Cehegín, has achieved fame with its Arabic kilns, which are acclaimed internationally in the sector, for the production of handmade tiles and shingles. But Cehegín also offers visitors the opportunity to stroll through one of the most beautiful quarters in the Region of Murcia, dotted with churches, noble buildings and monuments, most of them around the old main square of the mediaeval town, today’s Plaza de la Constitución.

Caravaca de la Cruz, a pilgrimage site / Paco Nadal

Lastly, we offer two more suggestions to complete the best visit you can have to this region: the Renaissance era church of El Salvador in Caravaca and the Gate and valley of the Benamor river in Moratalla.

Without a doubt, anyone who has only visited the Region of Murcia for its most touristy coastal towns will find the best excuses to return in these inspiring routes.

By Paco Nadal

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