Arte y cultura Andrea González

Almería with the family

An authentic Wild West town that was a location for Spaghetti Westerns sits in the Tabernas Desert. Cabo de Gata Natural Park is one of the best destinations in the peninsula for stargazing. And there’s an aquarium and a butterfly farm. We visit Almeria with the family and recommend the best ways to entertain children.

Almería is one of those places where family adventures abound for all. The first stop should be the Tabernas Desert, just 25 minutes by car from the city of Almería. This arid and magnificent environment, isolated by the Los Filabres and Alhamilla mountain ranges, is the only desert in Europe, making it the perfect setting for films. Titles such as Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) were filmed here, although the best-remembered productions (and the ones that have made the most of places such as Cerro Alfaro) are the famous Spaghetti Westerns by director Sergio Leone. In the desert of Tabernas he filmed his Dollars Trilogy, with titles such as For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), which launched Clint Eastwood and composer Ennio Morricone into fame and left some memorable constructions in the middle of the desert for future productions.

After the success of this trilogy, the director had a complete Wild West town built in the middle of the desert to shoot Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), which resulted in a set that had a sheriff’s office, a small church, a saloon and even a steam train. All the buildings have been preserved and can now be visited at the Western Leone theme park, while at Fort Bravo Texas/Hollywood you can admire the set of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. For the kids, however, the best option is Oasys MiniHollywood, which has live cowboy shows, a zoo with more than 800 animals, a pool area and a gastronomic menu typical of the Wild West.

Another landscape that was also set for major productions, including Lawrence of Arabia (1962), is the Cabo de Gata Natural Park, an oasis of more than 38,000 hectares and 63km of coastline. The area, of volcanic origin, was declared a natural park in 1987. Since then, it’s been among the most protected natural areas in all of Spain, with some of the best-preserved cliffs and seabeds on the entire Mediterranean coast. So much effort has been taken by the people of Almería to care for this natural treasure that it has less pollution and is now one of the places on the peninsula in terms of visibility for stargazing – a perfect opportunity to introduce children to the fascinating science of astronomy. Initiatives such as Astronomía Cabo de Gata provide specialist guides to accompany families for a night of sky watching, either with the naked eye or using powerful telescopes. But the best part of it all could well be at ground level, as the location on the shores of the Med could not be more idyllic.

Playa de los Genoveses is one of the region’s most popular beaches due to its crystal-clear waters and white sands. It’s renowned for being a very undeveloped area and boasts a healthy level of natural conservation, which makes it a perfect place to visit with children. A short distance away is the Ensenada de Mónsul, the most famous beach in Almería, portrayed for posterity in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade in a legendary scene with Sean Connery. The eroded lava formations that surround its sands and broad shady areas on the seashore make this beach a very special spot for spending the day. The large dune of Playa de Mónsul is also perfect for exploring with the kids and, at the same time, enjoying one of the best views of the beaches of Almería.

There are also wonderful options for animal lovers, such as the Aquarium Costa de Almería. Located in Roquetas de Mar, it has more than 3,000sqm and is structured in a way that specialists call ‘the water cycle’. This format allows visitors to get to know the marine communities of four ecosystems ranging from the Amazon to the Mediterranean, including the coral reefs and the four oceans. Many unusual activities can be experienced inside, such as diving in a shark tank – which can be enjoyed by children as young as eight years old – or feeding the colourful koi fish. In addition, in Níjar, inside the Cabo de Gata Natural Park mentioned above, there’s the Mariposario, a garden where more than 300 exotic butterflies live and fly freely. The butterfly farm reopens every spring after the winter season. It offers 20-minute guided tours (in several languages) that cover the entire life cycle of these animals. Visitors can observe specimens in every phase and witness their evolution with their own eyes.

The last stop on the route is perfect for history buffs. The Alcazaba de Almería monumental complex is one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in Spain. This fortified enclosure (which is what the word alcazaba means) began to be built by order of the first Andalusian caliph in 955 CE and the complex continued to expand for five more centuries. Today it is one of the symbols of the Almería region. The silhouette of the citadel dominates the entire horizon, and its keep is visible from any point in the city. Due to its impressive state of preservation, its beautiful interiors have been used for major film productions. In fact, many visitors will have a sense of having visited it before. In fact, one of its interior gardens is where Dorne, one of the seven kingdoms that make up the universe of Westeros, came to life in the Game of Thrones series.