The only desert in Europe is located in the deep south of Spain.
El desierto de Tabernas. Very dry and mercilessly hot. Hundreds of western movies were shot here, including Sergio Leone’s most famous westerns. You can’t start the new motor season more beautifully.
Sadlle up Comboys!
Strange. In the middle of the cracked hinterland of Almería, suddenly there is a wooden house from the Wild West. When I drive past it slowly, it turns out that it is not a complete house, but only a facade. Aha. So it is a piece of film set, from one of the numerous westerns that have been filmed here. The rugged environment also looks a lot like Arizona or Texas, only the candlestick cactus is missing. A little warmth is nice after a chilly winter, but there are limits. The heat is scorching. Leather pants, summer jacket, open face helmet. It is all too much. I can’t do much anymore and I have to get out of the saddle. Turn right into the village of Tabernas looking for a shaded terrace and ten liters of water. I don’t care if it’s cold. It must be wet. Wet. One consolation: movie stars such as Clint Eastwood, Claudia Cardinale, Henry Fonda, Lee van Cleef, Charles Bronson and Harrison Ford have also been sweating here. While I’m particularly interested in real remnants of European westerns – like that lonely wooden facade – there are some cowboy-themed theme parks around Tabernas like Oasis, Western Leone and Fort Bravo. These were once real movie studios, now mainly amusement parks. The most authentic is Fort Bravo, where commercials and video clips are still being recorded.
Now that the fluid balance is back in order, I decided to take a look. Back into the desert, take the exit, through a dry river bed and parking for the blacksmith. You can only enter the park on foot. It is still quiet there. When I walk down the main street with my helmet in my hand, I feel strange. The dust blows up every step of the way. Hinged doors squeak in the wind. This is a movie. The ominous beginnings of “The Good, The Bad & The Ugly” are running through my head: tudidudiduuuu tiduduuuuuu.
EXCITING FINAL SCENE
The combination of heat, lack of other visitors and an exciting decor make it special. When I step into the saloon, the two cowboys at the bar look up threateningly. As if they could pull their gun like that to pump the lonely stranger full of lead. However, these actors don’t act until later, when there are more guests and give them a western show as if their lives depend on it. Shoot, roll, horse acrobatics and a touch of humor and love. The beauty of Fort Bravo may be that it hasn’t been polished. It is dusty, slightly worn and therefore real. After a few hours of cowboys, pistoleros and cancancancers I ride out of the village. My bike is pulling a trail of dust through the desert. A poor lonesome cowboy.
A BEAUTIFUL FEELING ON THE BIKE
To the hamlets of Turrillas with a viewpoint and Lucainena with a cozy little square in the old center. Remains of lime kilns indicate that mining was once enthusiastically done here. Leaving the Village, hit the road. The Mediterranean Sea is not far as the crow flies. You can feel it in the air, which carries something fresh and briny. In the descent the curves are strung together. First to the town of Nijár known for it’s handicraft and then to Cabo de Gata, the wild region with a pristine strip of coast. But first we must turn left. Must we? yes, because there is Albaricoques, one of the absolute highlights for lovers of westerns. The village has featured in numerous of these Westerns. When entering, instead of the famous Sherry bull (black contour), there is a huge cowboy to welcome the guests. Parking, getting off, making a round through the village. Those who look closely still recognize the set, because not much has changed. With the restored threshing floor (the era) as the highlight. This is where the thrilling final scene of The Good, The Bad & The Ugly takes place, with Angel Eyes, Blondie and Tuco dealing with each other in a classic shootout.
Beautiful, but I really want to see the Ermita del Fraile, the monastery that played a role in several films and it must be somewhere in the immediate vicinity. A dirt road takes me there. Bouncing over sand and boulders. The slowness from Sergio Leone’s films seems to be emit from the landscape. Bare mountains, cacti, a distant farm. When I see the dilapidated Ermita, it’s like I’m driving straight into a movie. After a short break at the dilapidated monastery – aged facades, chipped wood, collapsed roofs – it is time to go to sea. According to my map and GPS there should be an abbreviation, but after the third time getting lost ending up on an empty field I give up. Back to the asphalt. The road is shimmering. In due time we see the sea on the horizon. Finally. From San Miguel de Cabo de Gata a straight road leads to the lighthouse. On the right you see the sea, on the left the salt pans, where often flamingos are seen. After a day of going through the dust and swaying on the road, it’s great to feel a cooling breeze blow through the summer jacket. All zippers and ventilation holes are open wide. At the end of the road is the lighthouse, Faro del Cabo de Gata, which stands high on a cliff and offers views of the Arrecife de las Sirenas, the reef of the mermaids. I sit down and take a look, but without success. No mermaid to be seen. Nice place though. Too bad you can’t drive further along the water, but this is where the protected nature reserve of Cabo de Gata starts. Fine. Its status makes it one of the few barely developed coastal areas in all of Spain.
There is only a modest number of roads in the Parque Natural de Cabo de Gata and for that I have to return to San Miguel. The sun is now low and puts a layer of gold over the environment. The mountains, which had been so hostile in the afternoon, have become icons of beauty. And now that it is less warm, the Yamaha Tracer seems to be more excited. Steering firmly on deserted roads. The final destination is San José, a friendly seaside resort and the most touristic. The limits of building and expanding has already been exceeded in this region. In comparison with most other villages in the area it is the case, but small in scale compared to popular costas. When I explore the beaches in the area a day later, I only get more enthusiastic. Pure nature. No lounge bars, beach clubs and overrated hippie tents due to the right atmosphere – who actually decides that? – charge three hundred percent more for a beer. No, the hela hola tourist and the Ibizastyle lovers have nothing to do here. I park my bike after a nice drive through the hinterland of Fernán Pérez on the beach of Agua Amarga and I am in love with it. Thanks to the popularity of the village in Madrid – it features in a TV series – it has a touch of glamour, but without the accompanying arrogance. Step off. Table under a thatched roof. Feet in the sand. Si señorita, do me a tostada tomato and ham and a café solo. Recharging myself for half an hour sitting on the water and then we are ready for the ride to the former hippy village of Mojácar, where the coastal road is especially good for the motorbike. Tight asphalt, hairpin bends and amazing views over the rugged coastline.
SLEEPING IN A CAVE
Inland. Away from the sea. To Sorbas for caves and pottery, an ancient craftmanship. And instead of going straight on towards Guadix and Granada I drive back up. Not a bit of road lies straight ahead here. It’s an orgy of cornering. Sometimes nicely elongated, usually short and angular. Ideal for the bike I chose. It is one endless trip through nature and simple villages. Only in Serón I get out of the saddle, at the high church. Reminisce about the route with a coke and happily looking ahead to what is to come. With the cave village of Guadix as the goal for today, according to my screen, there is still 108 kilometers to go. Fine, but fatigue strikes along the way. I leave the intended dodge to Baza. For now: straight to the goal, sleeping in a cave hotel, because Guadix is best known for the houses that are half built into the mountains. After a small setback – the hotels in Guadix are full – a huge stroke of luck follows: there is still room in the neighboring village of Purullena. The somewhat remote Cuevas Almagruz turns out to be a luxury variant with a swimming pool and a number of super comfortable apartments. Bike parked in front of the door, making myself coffee and enjoy the sun setting. I turn off the last stretch at night in the dim light inside the cave. First to Guadix for the cave district, then past the castle of La Calahorra and then hopping, over the Puerto de la Ragua, through the Sierra Nevada back to the sea. Rough estimate: 150 turns and twenty times an unparalleled view. In addition, the temperature will be more pleasant than during the start of the route, because on the way back I will go around the Desierto de Tabernas and his cowboys.
A heavenly ride, that’s for sure and then the motorcycle season has yet to begin!
AUTHOR: Hans Avontuur As a travel writer and photographer, Hans shares his travel experiences with millions of readers of beautiful magazines such as AD Magazine, National Geographic Traveler, Wintersport Magazine, Moto73, Méditerranée and Life in France. Winner of a Canadian, a Spanish, a Caribbean and six Belgian prizes and at the ASP Award 2019 for the best travel story published in the Netherlands.
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