Hidden Corners of Spain: Níjar, Almería
On Trip 1 of 3 down to Almería this summer, I was able to experience a variety of treasures. The Tabernas Desert, including the Mini Hollywood film set for Western movies, the beach town of Carboneras, and some incredible beaches like Playa de los Muertos and Cala de En Medio. There was hiking, there was running, there was kayaking, it was all around an amazing trip. And I didn’t even take time off work, since I’m remote.
One afternoon, S and I made a last-minute decision to go somewhere different, a bit more north, so we headed up to the next beach town, Mojácar. I have to say, Mojácar was pretty fascinating – on the beach side, it’s like a massive tourist trap with quite possibly the highest number of restaurants per capita I’ve ever seen. (Exaggerating? Maybe.) But on the other side, up the hill, is the original village. Much more quaint, with its cobblestone streets, whitewashed buildings, and a more residential atmosphere. There were plenty of English-speaking tourists wandering around, but the tourism wasn’t so in-your-face. Strolling through the narrow streets, it was quiet enough to contemplate the splashes of color from the balcony flowers contrasting against the white walls in the bright early summer sunlight.
Mojácar, with its 6700 inhabitants, is counted in that list of “Pueblos Más Bonitos de España” – though honestly, that list must be a mile long because it seems like every other town I visit has a sign declaring it part of that list. It is very cute though. Its quaint terraces offer a refreshing rest break, and its winding streets lead to some breathtaking views of the valley below.
Back down the hill and in the car again after a pleasant stroll around town, “What next – back to Carboneras, or keep exploring?” “Why don’t we check out Níjar, while we’re out?” (Of course, this conversation happened in Spanish, and I’m pretty sure the phrase “ya que tamo'” was used.)
Driving in to Níjar, I knew it would be a special place. The main road into town is lined with several shops with signs declaring “Cerámica Artesenal” – everywhere you look, there’s a sign for artisan pottery. Walking around town, it became clear: people make and sell a lot of stuff here. A town of artisans! You can buy handmade jarapas (woven rugs), pottery, and baskets, among other things.
The municipality of Níjar has an enormous land area of nearly 600 square kilometers and a population of nearly 30,000. The entire natural park Cabo de Gata-Níjar is inside the municipal area, but the town itself is quite small, with less than 3,000 inhabitants.
Níjar is strategically located at the top of a hill with views to the entire valley and the sea beyond. At the top, there’s an ancient tower that may or may not have been used to spot pirates.
The town was very quiet, not a single tourist to be spotted (except us, I guess?), just a few people working in their gardens and what seemed to be like residents living their normal lives. Walking through town, I was struck by how friendly people were. Every single person we passed in the street said hello, from little kids to elderly people. I was moved to take a picture of an elderly man carrying flowers behind his back. Who were they for? What lucky person was about to be surprised by such a nice gesture?
Of course, I couldn’t leave town without buying anything. I picked up a bowl and a mug, hand painted of course, with lovely colorful stripes. I was tempted to buy more, but will have to save it for another trip. I couldn’t stop exclaiming about how cool it was that people make pottery and give pottery workshops. Being so vocal really paid off: *somebody* noticed and gave me a great birthday present upon returning home: a three hour ceramic workshop! 🙂
While Mojácar was interesting, Níjar really impacted me the most. I was so pleasantly surprised to find a lovely village of artisans in the middle of nowhere! Even if there isn’t a huge number of things to do in town, I can’t recommend this place enough and would love to go back someday.