The Mar Menor (meaning little sea) is Europe ‘s largest salt water lagoon. Located on the northern part of the Costa Calida, in the province of Murcia , it is separated from the Mediterranean by La Manga (the sleeve) del Mar Menor, or what is better known as the La Manga strip.
The land around the Mar Menor is still mainly zoned for agricultural use, & indeed its parent province has a low population count for its size. Of course in recent years there has been considerable interest in the Mar Menor from both native Spaniards & foreign nationals. In many places you can now find established residential zones, in addition to sporting facilities (golf courses, tennis clubs etc), & entertainment options.
Though there has been a sharp increase in the population of coastal towns, it has in the main been driven by those (native & foreign) seeking permanent residency. This has injected a cosmopolitan feel to the area, while retaining much community atmosphere & traditional culture.
This part of Spain is famous for its salt lakes (salt is a major export). This has a major knock on effect on humidity levels, & as a result the air is much dryer than in other parts of Spain & Europe. The low humidity levels coupled with a mild climate, mean the WHO (World Health Organisation) have rated this part of Spain one of the healthiest climates on the planet.
The ancient city of Cartagena is seated on the central portion of the Costa Calida & has a population of around 180,000. Less visited than many other cities in southern Spain , Cartagena has a lot to offer the discerning tourist. For starters it is convenient; situated a short drive along the N-332/A7 from the coastal towns of the Costa Blanca & Costa Calida, making for an ideal day trip.
Cartagena was founded (as its name suggests) by the Carthaginians in the year 227BC. It rapidly became their main trading port, & at one time was widely recognised as being one of the wealthiest cities in the ancient world. Though the city was made truly famous by Hannibal & his elephants; who landed with the intention of defeating the Romans.
Over 2,000 years on Cartagena is still a major port. It is the site of one of Spain ‘s largest naval bases, & many associated buildings occupy the port area. It is also from Cartagena that the world’s first submarine was born (though constructed in Cadiz ). A Cartagena born designer came up with the idea, which was built way back in 1884. Just 4 years later he saw it successfully launched. The self same submarine is displayed on the city front for all to see – unless out on loan to a museum.
Much of Cartagena ‘s Roman history has vanished. That is to say it has been built over. Efforts have increasingly been made to restore some of this heritage, with the primary example being the Roman amphitheatre on top of which the bull ring was constructed in 1854 (now open to the public). Aside from the Romans many other races left their mark here, including (unsurprisingly) native Spaniards; as a result many ornate churches, palaces & government buildings line the streets of the older parts of the city.
Most of the sights in Cartagena can be seen on foot; indeed attempting to drive around many central zones is more trouble than it is worth. There are many parks & squares to stop & rest in, museums to visit, & an abundance of restaurants & cafes in which to sample the local cuisine. Shopping is another major draw to the town, which now boasts an array of fashion boutiques as well as large department stores, such as El Corte Ingles.
All things considered Cartagena is definitely worth a visit, whether by day or by night. It has much to offer to its visitors in the way of culture; though equally a good place to have lunch, do some shopping or take a leisurely stroll.
The La Manga Peninsular is a narrow split of land over 28 kms long & stretches from the fishing village of Cabo de Palos to the salt flats of San Pedro del Pinatar. It is located just 40 miles by road from San Javier airport in Murcia . Only one road takes you along the strip which, although very busy in July & August can seem almost deserted after these times.
Both sides of the La Manga strip have something to offer. The Mediterranean side with its magnificent sandy beaches and the Mar Menor with its warm, shallow waters that are ideal for children. During the summer months there are various water sports available at many different locations along the strip including windsurfing, water-skiing, jet skiing, sailing & pedalos. Also nearby is the world famous La Manga Club resort where you can indulge in a multitude of sporting activities, the most popular being golf, followed by tennis.
Nightlife is prevalent in parts of the strip with a good collection of restaurants, bars & even casinos. Large hotels and apartment complexes offer a variety of evening entertainment, mainly during the summer season.
Half day: – Murcia (typical cathedral city), Cartagena (historical remains). Various boat excursions available. Regional Park of Las Salinas (where flamingos stop off en route to/from N Africa ). Cabo de Palos (seafaring village with lighthouse and 2 beaches). Calblanque Regional Park . Full day: – Granada, Moorish capital of Spain.
The capital of a thinly populated province of the same name, the city of Murcia has a population of 358,000 people which is conveniently located just 30 minutes from the coastal towns of Costa Blanca and Costa Calida.
Often described as one of the most beautiful & historic cities in the country Murcia owes much of its heritage to the Moors (Arabs), who founded it in 825AD; naming the city Mursiya . The impressive city walls are a fine example of this, as are the 20 (former) mosques within them. Murcia was re-conquered by native Spaniards in 1243 & went on to prosper; enriched by the silk industry & agricultural prosperity. It is this good fortune that funded much of the splendour seen today, from the magnificent baroque cathedral, to urban palaces & churches.
The summers here are hot & the winters mild. This coupled with the irrigation provided by the rivers Segura , Murdo & Sangonera make for ideal citrus fruit growing conditions. The region exports many tons of oranges & lemons; much of it to the German market. To a lesser extent olives & vines are also grown.
Murcia is a university city , with large numbers of national & foreign students attending. Indeed the building itself is of huge proportions & well worth closer inspection. The student population here does much to add a youthful vibe, & a number of lively bars & restaurants can be found in the vicinity of the university compound. As with many Spanish towns & cities Murcia does come alive at night. Do not be put off by this; there really is something for all ages. It is after all customary for Spanish families to go for a walk after their evening meal, perhaps to have an ice cream, or a drink.
The town of San Javier is located in an ideal spot just off the coast of the Mar Menor. With a population of 16,700 it enjoys all the facilities needed for making it home. It has a good selection of shops & recreational amenities in place; in addition to government installations such as a train station, doctor’s surgery & hospital. Also located near San Javier (& perhaps the reason it is best known) is San Javier international airport (MJV). Scheduled & budget airlines fly here from all over Europe (though it has to be said the town is not in any flight path).
San Pedro del Pinatar
San Pedro del Pinatar (meaning St. Peter of the Pine Woods) is situated in an ideal spot on the Mediterranean coast & just a few minutes from the Northern shores of the Mar Menor. With a resident population of 15,200 numbers can swell to almost 60,000 during the summer months. This is mostly as a result of 2nd home owners flocking to the area (Spanish & ex-pat). The popular suburb of Lo Pagan has seen some development in recent years; here you will find a lengthy beachfront, marina & promenade. Although there has been increased interest in the town in recent years, it has retained much of its culture & atmosphere.
Being an established community means that San Pedro boasts a good selection of shops & recreational amenities; in addition to government installations such as a town hall, doctor’s surgery etc. San Pedro also has a weekly street market (Mondays) & a good shopping centre.
The nearest airport to San Pedro del Pinatar is San Javier international airport (MJV), located near the town of San Javier . Travel time should take no longer than 15 minutes. Alicante International airport (ALC) is also an option, though farther afield.
Los Alcazares is situated in the Murcia region of South Eastern Spain , also known as the Costa Calida. The town sits on the western shore of the Mar Menor, a salt-water lagoon separated from the open sea by a 22 kilometre long strip of land called La Manga. The area enjoys an average of 320 days sunshine per annum. The warm & shallow water of the Mar Menor provides a paradise for sun worshippers & water sports enthusiasts (mainly windsurfing). The mineral rich waters of the Mar Menor are renowned for their health-giving properties & the town still has thermal baths, which have existed since Roman times.
The town is well connected to the recently upgraded Spanish motorway network & there are regular flights from many European cities to Murcia/San Javier International Airport, which is only 5-10 minutes drive away. Alicante airport is another alternative, which offers even more flight options, & is just 1 hours drive away. 30 km to the northwest can be found the historic city of Murcia , which is the administrative centre for the region. 15 km to the southwest lays Cartagena , a delightful Roman port city, which has recently been revitalised.
Mazarron & Puerto Mazarron
Mazarron & Puerto Mazarron are often thought of as being the same place, & in many ways they are inextricably linked. Some 4 kilometres inland Mazarron has its history firmly set as that of a mining community. In fact during the latter part of the 1900’s Mazarron was one of Spain ‘s most prosperous small towns; it is still said to have more banks per person than any other place in Spain .
The mining trade in Mazarron made it necessary to export large quantities of lead, copper & iron from the town. This paved the way for the development of the port area & in the year 1886 a railway was established between Mazarron & its port (Puerto Mazarron) some 5 or so kilometres away. This in turn led to further population of the coastal portion creating the smaller “sister” community that exists today.
Puerto Mazarron has now achieved its own identity as a popular holiday destination. It is an attractive location visited by many holiday makers, & ex-pats Europe wide. Fishing & agriculture still dominate the local economy, but most of the expansion & modernisation of this portside town comes as a result of residential tourism. Though now a cosmopolitan community both Mazarron & Puerto Mazarron have held onto much of their culture & associated tradition. This is a place where people work & live, & a popular destination during the summer months amongst many Spaniards.
The beaches of Puerto de Mazarron are one of the areas best selling points. Overall they are sandy & of a very high quality; having been awarded the blue flag rating for safety & cleanliness. Though busy in central parts during the summer months overcrowding here is not generally an issue.