Spain’s secret corner, with sun, sand and not a British tourist in sight

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Founded in the 10th century as a hilltop citadel, Almeria developed as an important trading post with North Africa during the Islamic era of the 11th and 12th centuries. Later, in the 15th century, the city submitted to Catholic monarchs and its mosques were turned into churches, although much of the city’s Moorish architecture had been destroyed over a tumultuous half-century with Barbary pirate sieges, a series of catastrophic earthquakes and heavy German bombardment during the Spanish Civil War.

Things finally calmed down, and these days the city’s economic raison d’etre is, well, raisins, along with all manner of fruits and vegetables, grown by the billions in huge plastic greenhouses. unsightly that cover the province. You will see them when you arrive on earth, and you will also see them if you ever travel into space, from where they are visible. Many Spanish families come here during the summer months, but international tourists, it seems, are a happy afterthought.

And what a pleasure it is to be an afterthought. Almeria’s compact old center is a cobweb of inconspicuous streets that are perfect for walking at a slow pace in the second quarter. The first stop on our walk was the central market. In any other major European city, you’d expect to be able to buy a coffee or maybe grab a bite to eat at the city’s main market. Not in Almeria. In this iron room, it’s meat, fish or fruit. No more no less. We didn’t linger too long, due to sensitive pregnancy nose considerations.

In the fresh air, things were gearing up ahead of Semana Santa (Holy Week) and the main thoroughfares were lined with rows of purple velvet seats for the procession ahead. There was quite a buzz around town. Through a studio window in a narrow lane, we watched a sculptor paint the fine details of a miniature model of Christ, and around town we saw families doing photo shoots with children dressed as if it was their wedding day, a tradition that prompted us to write yet another mental note to parents-to-be: “Don’t dress the kids in formal adult clothes, it’s haunting.”

Just around the corner in Plaza de las Flores, we came across the statue of a man who, by the way, once claimed that he and his comrades were greater than Jesus. Shortly after making this controversial claim, John Lennon came to Almeria to film Richard Lester’s 1966 film how i won the war. During his visit he wrote Strawberry Fields Forever, as the Santa Isabel farm where he was staying reminded him of the Liverpool orphanage he would visit as a child. And though his stay was short-lived, Almeria certainly stuck with Lennon: it was here that he first wore his signature circular ‘grandmother’ glasses as musketeer Gripwee. He never looked back.

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