What was it about Almuñécar that kept making British writer, Laurie Lee, return, despite being evacuated from the town by a British destroyer and taken to Gibraltar at the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936?
Possibly its unassuming charm, its relatively unadulterated beaches and cool, compact town centre.
Lee first wrote about Almuñécar in his book, As I walked Out One Midsummer’s Morning, written in 1969, which recounts his journey on foot through Spain in 1935 and 1936, shortly before war broke out. He ended the epic trip in the coastal town, which he named ‘Castillo’ in the book, in order to protect the identities of the characters he wrote about. Lee returned to the town he had grown fond of in 1951 and paid later visits before his death in 1997. A commemorative plaque was erected in 1988, near to the hotel he stayed in on his second visit, on the town’s coastal road.
The ‘castillo’, or castle he refers to is the Castillo de San Miguel, which is located to the west of Almuñécar, near to the Majuelo botanical gardens and park and the parrot park - ‘Parque Loro Sexi’. The Majuelo park is open throughout summer and not only is it the venue for numerous concerts and festivals through the season, its botanical gardens offer a cool respite from the heat.
Also nearby is the Parque Loro Sexi - another place with plenty of tree shade and the opportunity to meet the park’s parrots and other species of animal.
Further along the beach heading east is Aqua Tropic - a saltwater water park, full of slides and pools which is open every day throughout summer and is the perfect way to cool down.
As for beaches, Almuñécar has plenty to choose from, each with beach bars (chiringuitos) and lifeguards on duty throughout the summer months (until 15 September), from Playa de Cabria, a small bay below the four-star Playa Cálida hotel with access to the beach via walkways, to San Cristóbal, Velilla, which is popular with foreign second home-owners in the town, and Playa Muerto at the westernmost point of the town. A tourist train operates around the town throughout the year.
Marina del Este divides Almuñécar from its smaller neighbour, La Herradura, and is home to a number of bars and restaurants, largely serving the diving schools and boat owners who frequent the area. Many diving and other water sports excursions depart from the marina.
Punta de la Mona separates Marina del Este and Almuñécar from La Herradura. It is home to a lighthouse, which in the 18th century was used as a lookout tower. However, it is the story of the shipwreck from the Spanish Armada which really puts La Herradura in the history books.
In 1562 the Spanish Armada sheltered at La Herradura from a storm, on its way to Oran, a then Spanish-held city in northern Algeria. When it was thought that the storm had passed the ships attempted to set sail again. However, the wind had changed direction and tragically 25 of the 28 ships in the fleet collided with each other, hit rocks and sank around Punta de la Mona and Playa Berenguales.
The tragedy is referred to in Miguel de Cervantes’ famous novel, Don Quixote, in which he mentions the death of the daughter of Don Alonso de Maraíon, a Knight of Santiago. Outside the San José church in the town the immortal words of Cervantes are inscribed, and in 1990 a monument in memory of the disaster was placed on the seafront.
La Herradura’s Paseo Marítimo, or promenade, is named after one of Spain’s most famous classical guitarists; the late Andrés Segovia (1893-1987).
He spent much of his retirement in his summer house in La Herradura and his legacy is still very much alive today in the town, in the form of the annual Andrés Segovia International Classical Guitar Competition which takes place in winter.
La Herradura means ‘the horseshoe’ in English and it is clear to see why given the shape of its beautifully curved bay.
There are a number of modern chiringuitos along the beach as well as several watersports centres offering activities such as diving, snorkelling, paddle surf and kayaking.
As well as watersports, La Herradura offers stunning views from its lighthouse at Punta de la Mona as well as the Cerro Gordo viewpoint to the west, which it shares with neighbouring Maro in Malaga province.
Cerro Gordo was declared a nature reserve by the Junta de Andalucía in 1989 thanks to the diversity of its maritime ecosystem, which includes the endangered ‘orange coral’ and is the most popular dive site in the area. Schools located in Nerja, Maro, La Herradura and Almuñécar all visit the area. No wonder the area left such a mark on Laurie Lee!