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The province of Almería in Andalusia, southern Spain, is the driest region of Europe and home to the only desert climate on the continent.
If you want to guarantee a rain-free holiday, heading to a desert region is surely a safe bet. Annual rainfall can be as little as 156mm in some coastal areas of the province.
The Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park is a stunning nature reserve along the Almerian coast. Its volcanic outcrops and formations are among the largest in Europe. It is famous for its otherworldly landscapes, beautiful beaches and quaint whitewashed fishing villages, as well as its salt flats.
Cabo de Gata’s salt flats are a mesmerising landscape and are home to hundreds of flamingos. The salt flats are an important habitat for migrating birds travelling from Europe to Africa, and the whole area has been designated a Special Protection Area for bird life by the European Union.
The whitewashed town of Níjar is a popular stop-off point in the Cabo de Gata, and is particularly famous for its handcrafted pottery, textiles and ceramics. Try some local tapas in one of the town’s little bars, and see the Mudejar-style Santa Maria church on the main square, the Plaza de la Constitucion.
The Tabernas desert’s similarity to the American Wild West meant it was chosen by legendary film director Sergio Leone as the shooting location for his trilogy of Westerns, including The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and For a Fistful of Dollars, films which gave the then little-known actor Clint Eastwood his big break.
After Sergio Leone finished filming his Westerns, the sets were transformed into theme parks, allowing visitors to walk the same Wild West streets as Eastwood himself. The main parks you can visit today include Mini Hollywood, Texas Hollywood and Western Leone.
It might seem strange that what is essentially a desert can also be Spain’s biggest vegetable exporter, but Almería’s warm, dry climate means growing fruit and vegetables is a year-round possibility. Produce is mainly grown in over 26,000 hectares of greenhouses, and makes up around 20% of all Spain’s fruit and vegetable exports.
The capital of the region is the seaside city of Almería, which has a fascinating history. It was founded by Moorish leader Abd-ar-Rahman III who built the Alcazaba (citadel) that gave the city its name Al-Mari’yah – the watchtower. It was part of the Caliphate of Córdoba during the 10th and 11th centuries, before falling to the Christians in 1489. During the Spanish Civil War it was badly shelled by the German Navy – you can visit the city’s air raid shelters today.
The Cabo de Gata area is home to some stunning beaches, and Almería being home to one of Spain’s most undeveloped coasts, the region retains a rugged and unspoilt charm. Perhaps the most famous beach is Mónsul beach, a beautiful stretch of pristine sand set against a background of dramatic rock formations. The beach has been used as a filming location for many films, TV programmes and adverts, including Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
San José, located within the Cabo de Gata-Níjar Natural Park, is the reserve’s unofficial capital and a great place to stop to explore a typical village of the area. The whitewashed houses are home to a population of around 800 people.
The former gold mining town of Rodalquilar became practically a ghost town until a new wave of refurbishment in recent years brought a host of bars, restaurants and B&Bs to the town. You can visit the old gold mines, as well as the interesting Casa de Volcanes, a museum about the mines and the geology of the wider Cabo de Gata.