Sierra Espuña – Alhama de Murcia.
Our merry band got on the bus for the Mystery Trip and headed Murcia-wards – no mystery there, but there were a couple of surprises later!
Arriving in the pleasantly leafy town of Alhama de Murcia we disembarked, took a restorative coffee, or other suitable liquid, before being split into two groups to (1) explore the Spa, or (2) explore the town.
Towards the end of the Middle Ages the baths fell into decline until 1848, when the architect José Ramón Berenguer saw potential in it and designed a luxury three storey hotel on the site, adapting and utilising the existing structures to create a basement area of bathrooms, showers, swimming pools and steam rooms, while the upper floors held the kitchens, dining and socialising areas.
The Spa Hotel flourished, becoming ‘the’ place to go for the Spanish. However, its success was also its downfall; as the town grew and became prosperous greater demands were put on the water supply by the burgeoning population, causing the spring that fed the baths to falter and eventually disappear altogether in the 1930s.
The Hotel then served briefly as a hospital during the Civil War, but its deteriorating condition led to it being demolished in 1972. However, many interesting records and artefacts remain, and an excellent PowerPoint presentation brings the history to life.
Having explored the baths, it was time to explore the town with the aid of an Audio Guide, and for a spell Alhama was witness to several Brits criss-crossing the town with abstracted expressions on their faces as the well-spoken audio voice in their ears extolled the beauties of the town’s various buildings of interest.
As a tribute to our individual navigating skills we all made it back to the bus, which then headed for the hills and lunch at the Monastery of Saint Eulalia.
The setting, high amid pine clad mountains, is spectacular, and various walks from there can be made if time allows. These would undoubtedly be well worth the effort for the fit, but a look inside the church is an absolute must for all.
The interior is such a surprise that I will not spoil it with description – I will simply say ‘Painting’. You have to see it for yourself!
Fortified by a superb lunch, we put our faith in Lorenzo as he navigated the hairpin ascent to the Visitor Centre, perched deep in the mountains behind the Murcian plain.
Unusually, information on the area’s flora and fauna relies not only on information boards and video presentations, but has actual dried plants and flowers as well as electronic inter-active games of animal recognition for children and the young at heart – we all had a go!
The vertiginous descent gave us another opportunity to marvel at the agricultural patchwork of the plain before settling contentedly for the journey back home.
So what were the surprises? For me, the church was amazing, as was the fact that I didn’t get lost when turned loose in the town!