Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Cartagena coast


There's the wok restaurant and over there a bar next to a souvenir shop - somewhere to buy a beach towel or sunscreen. A snapshot of almost any of the beach resorts along the Alicante or Murcia coastline. Surprisingly that's not what you'll bump into along the coast close to Cartagena.

True, not far away are the resorts on the Mar Menor or La Manga and going West you're soon in Mazarron but just in the immediate environs of the city the coastline is distinctly odd, generally unspoiled and rather nice.

Heading out of Cartagena by the commercial port, hugging the coastline you'll get to Cala Cortina. A tiny little bay with one restaurant. It's the spot the Cartageneros use to get in a spot of sunbathing over the long lunch hour. Good fishing too from the number of people sitting on the rocks with long poles and struggling bait.

Keep going along the coast and you'll pass through Escombreras a huge industrial complex with oil refineries and chemical processing plants. At night it blazes with light. By day you'll be avoiding huge articulated lorries on the maze of roads around the works but then, suddenly, the road turns into a potholed country road passing by abandoned winding gear and old buildings from the lead and silver mines now long gone. There are paths and tracks down to the sea at el Gorguel but as the road winds up and down the hillside to the next real stop at Portman the land that fronts the sea is completely natural. Grassy hillsides dropping away to a blue and turquoise sea.

Nowadays Portman is a village stuffed with holiday homes, quiet in the Winter and lively in Summer. The beach is a narrow strip of muddy coloured sand a little way from the village but even so the beach has its charms, grass, reeds and cliffs rather than McDonalds and promenades infested with thin lads in long shorts. Portman too, overlooked by more abandoned mine buildings, is definitely worth the visit, it really does nestle amongst the hills.

Coming out of Portman and heading for Caba de Palos, there's the little harbour at Punta Negra where the sand has turned black because of the spoil from the old mines but then it's suddenly Calblanque, a natural park, where the kite-surfers and anglers find plenty of space along the wide, sandy and sand duned fringed beach. We got a very warm reception in the Visitors Centre and came away loaded with maps and leaflets about the flora and fauna.

From then on you'll be closing in on the villages that have views over the Mar Menor and La Manga so instead let's go back to Cartagena. Head out towards Canteras and take the small slip road that goes to Portús and once again you'll be passing through small villages and hilly countryside. Portús is just a beach with a small chiringuito. Its defining characteristic, according to any Cartagenero I've ever mentioned it to, is that there's a nudist complex there - camping, caravaning and all over sun tans.

The coastline from Portús to La Azohía just before Puerto de Mazarrón is pretty inaccessible but there are several tracks that climb steeply to reveal impressive views over the Med. and where the only sound you'll hear will be the leaves rustling in the breeze.

It's hardly Benidorm.

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