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February, 2018

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IF YOU fancy a taste of Southern Spain but want to avoid the tourist traps of the Costa del Sol, head east to Almeria.

The city boasts an easy mix of history – the Alcazaba or citadel, dates from the 10th century – with a modern vibe and thriving night life.

I visited on a trip with fellow geology students, with the days spent exploring the surrounding area and the nights visiting different restaurants in the town, seeking a variety of culinary experiences.

On the geology side, the area is crammed full of interest – and it doubles up for film fans as a way to visit locations for movies such as El Cid, the Spaghetti westerns, and the Indiana Jones series.

So you can enjoy traversing a landscape influenced by collisions between the tectonic plates of Europe and Africa, and also pretend to be taking a role in a Clint Eastwood movie, following the path of a rambla (a dried-up riverbed) while keeping a sharp eye out for bandits on the cliff tops above.

For me the geological highlights were finding fossils in reef complexes around Cabo de Gata, and looking for garnets at El Hoyazo near Nijar.

Back in Almeria, we stayed in the Hotel La Perla, which was an excellent resting place, although lacking a bar and restaurant. Undaunted, we quickly discovered a kiosk 60m away in Plaza Manuel Perez Garcia which became our unofficial home for coffee and nightcaps.

Pick of the restaurants we tried was Teteria Almedina in Calle Paz, which offered a unique experience akin to dining in a Moroccan home, with three generations of a family doing all the cooking and serving of wonderful dishes: the walk to the restaurant, taking us on a winding trip around the back streets below the Alcazaba, was part of the treat.

And for the authentic tapas experience, we enjoyed Casa Puga in Calle Jovellanos, a little cramped and noisy but a great way to taste local cuisine – get there early or book in advance as the place is renowned for its food so incredibly popular.

Aside from that, the city itself has so much to explore. The climate means that, even in February, there’s plenty of outdoor entertainment, with Valentine’s Day being celebrated with a square full of hearts and declarations of love. Simply wandering the streets turns up plenty of spectacular sights, including some beautiful sculptures, and there’s plenty of greenery in the massive trees that line the streets and squares.

I felt perfectly safe wandering around the city on my own, and the people were a pleasure to meet and talk to, and, all in all, I came away feeling I’d enjoyed a glimpse of the real Spain beyond the tourist traps.

Viva Espana, especially the Spain of this south-eastern corner.

Jane Leigh

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