Costa del Sol in Andalucia and Costa Blanca in Valencia are wildly popular sun, sea and fun destinations. Between these famous coastal areas lies Costa Calida (Warm Coast) in the Murcia region. Mar Menor has attracted European vacationers for tens of years, but three nearby cities in Murcia region have marvelous culinary, cultural, nightlife and historical experiences for curious travelers.
Three cities that are highly recommended to visit no matter which section of Costa Calida you are staying are the region’s capital Murcia, Cartagena on the Mediterranean coast and the ancient capital Lorca.
Murcia is both the name of the state (Region de Murcia) and the name of the capital city. About half a million people live in the city. I have always liked the relaxed atmosphere on the streets and cafes in the city center. Rio Segura flows through the city, leaving a nice open breathing space in the tightly built city.
The massive Cathedral, Plaza del Cardenal Belluga, and the surrounding old town are the heart of the city. Murcia is a genuine Spanish town where local people enjoy life and numerous traditional fiestas as Spanish do. Top tips for sights are the Cathedral, the plaza where Teatro Romeo stands, Calle Traperia, and Cuartel del Artilleria area on the other side of the river. Most importantly, hang out on the plazas and cafes like the local do.
If you are driving to Murcia City, the easiest option for getting anywhere near the city center is to find a parking complex. Larger than family cars have to find parking space outside the center.
Cartagena was established in the 3rd century B.C by Carthaginians, but it was Romans who made it an important port town. Silver and lead mines near the city was another reason why Romans developed Cartagena. Today, there is over 200,000 residents in the city.
Cartagena has one of the best samples of Roman era buildings and remnants of structures in Spain. The Roman amphitheater in the city center is the must-see sight for everyone. The hill where the amphitheater stands also provides magnificent views to the sea and to the city. A stretch of historical town is worth exploring – it spans from the port to Cerro del Molinete hill. If you have time and wheels, follow the coastline towards the open sea, and find small fortresses with fabulous sea views along the way.
The location of Lorca near the Andalucian border in the lush valley of Rio Guadalentin was considered so valuable that during the Arab rule, it was the capital of the region.
There is an old town district below the mighty fortress of Lorca (Castillo de Lorca), but the old town district is rather unattractive, apart from a few streets and plazas around Plaza de Espana.
The large Castillo (castle/fortress) standing on a hill is an impressive sight, still delivering the intended message: don’t even try to attack. The walled area is surprisingly large, so you need a couple of hours, at least, to explore the area. The Tourist Office at Plaza Espana can help with tips, open hours, and tour guides.Don’t make the same mistake that I did when I tried to find the way to the castle – I wasted a couple of hours on the alleys of the old town without finding the entrance. Only when I descended to the city center, and asked the Tourist Office for help. You have to approach the castle from the east side of the walled area. Accesso al Castillo is the name of the street.
If you are driving a compact car, you may try your luck, and drive up the hill in the hope there is free parking space. Large car parks are down by the river where street RM-701 turns towards the castle hill.
Murcia region’s tourist information pages have more details for each city.