TRAVEL

Cabo de Gata: bathing suits optional

A look at the very best and most remote coves in this Andalusian natural park

The beach of Los Toros, near Isleta del Moro, in Cabo de Gata natural park (Almería).
The beach of Los Toros, near Isleta del Moro, in Cabo de Gata natural park (Almería).Andrés Campos

The coast of Cabo de Gata Natural Park, in Almería province, is dotted with around 50 coves, but just a few of these are off limits to road traffic, and thus free of those annoying cars and people who would, if they could, lug their living room couches and television sets all the way down to the beach.

From north to south, these are the five prettiest and most remote spots for a dip – in the nude if one desires – at the foot of former volcanoes with no more company than the schools of fish.

01 Cala de Enmedio

AGUA AMARGA

Former coral reefs were sculpted by wind and waves into a dazzling cove, framed on one side by cliffs and snowy-white ledges, and on the other by all the most desirable shades of the marine world’s color palette, including turquoise, emerald and bottle green.

Getting there requires a half-hour trek from Agua Amarga. The trail leads up Depósito street and over the hill known as Cerro del Cuartel. In the spring this place rolls out a gloriously aromatic display of colorful thyme, iris, gorse and houseleek. In the summer (alas, what can you do), it turns into an oven.

But the reward is 130 meters of sandy beach flanked by concave cliffs and rocky ledges that resemble prehistoric solariums. It is imperative to get up early to avoid getting baked by the sun along the way, and to bring food, drink and a snorkeling mask to explore these fantastic waters.

Guests at the rural hotel Cortijo Los Malenos can ask for a refrigerated backpack filled with homemade salad, fish and cold cuts to take on their day trip.

02 San Pedro

LAS NEGRAS

The water that springs out of the earth in a stream as thick as an arm was a magnet for Berber pirates, who made a rest stop here before going on to ransack the region; later they would return to enjoy their easy booty in the shade of the palm and pomegranate trees, as their galley rocked gently in the turquoise waters beyond.

It was to prevent these piratical pleasures that the locals built the Castle of San Pedro in the late 16th century. The building once housed a garrison of 12 men, and these days its ruins still afford protection to 30 or 40 hippies who eke out a living from their vegetable patches in this oasis of freedom where there are no title deeds, no bathing suits and no idols other than the ones they themselves sculpt on the white cliffs to while away the time.

There are no roads leading here either, so access is only possible by boat or after an hour-long walk from Las Negras. Those who opt for the walk will have good reason to head straight for the Tired Legs Massage at the spa inside Hotel Cala Grande. After such a hippy-style day, it may not be such a bad idea to stay at this modern establishment, whose rooms feature hot tubs and sea views.

03 La Molata

RODALQUILAR

Hikers who head toward Las Negras from the El Playazo parking lot will soon run into the 18th-century Castle of San Ramón, then notice a remarkable cliff where the yellowish rock is studded with fossils. A natural ramp allows visitors to descend all the way down to a cove where the waters are the color of mint liquor.

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A simple snorkeling mask will provide a full day of enjoyment exploring the semi-submerged peaks, the urchin colonies that blanket the cave floors and the large school of fish that serve as a reminder that, just before the advent of tourism in the area, the locals still fished here simply by casting out their nets from dry land and dragging them back in.

Eating and sleeping needs are covered by Los Patios, a converted country estate near El Playazo, where true luxury lies in simplicity and the organic produce served at its gourmet restaurant. Nor far from here is El Ajillo inn, whose restaurant is the only place in the entire natural park that offers traditional food from Almería (wheat, gurullos, andrajos, cuajadera de pescado…) without having to order it days in advance, as though it were some exotic dish from Japan.

04 Los Toros

LA ISLETA DEL MORO

Nobody can say for sure what bulls provided the name for this cove, and it is hard to believe that there were ever any “toros” at all in Cabo de Gata. Yet even an entire herd of fighting bulls would come as less of a surprise to the casual stroller than the forest of palm trees and pine that rise up on the way down to the beach in the ravine of El Negro. A collection of trees in this deserted corner of the map is a very odd occurrence indeed – one might even call it paranormal.

Located between La Isleta del Moro and the Amatista lookout point, on Km 7.9 of the ALP-826 road, there is a good spot to leave the car and take a 15-minute walk down to this cove of black sand that probably looks just like it did when it was spit out by the volcanoes that erupted here 10 million years ago.

The sea bottom contains a wealth of marine life, including majestic grouper fish and prairies of posidonia. Either before or after this trek, it is imperative to drop by La Isleta del Moro, the hamlet with the most fishing village-like atmosphere in the entire area, and eat at La Ola, where the fish are so fresh they are still flopping around: the restaurant’s supply comes courtesy of its own fishing boat.

05 Cove of Lance

SAN JOSÉ

South of San José (and this is no secret) lie the prettiest beaches in the entire natural park, all in quick succession. These are the primordial coves and dunes of the Earth’s first resting day, when Vulcan, Aeolus and Neptune sat back to gaze contentedly at their own handiwork. It is a 45-minute walk from the parking of Los Genoveses beach, along the trail that borders the cliffs, to the cove of El Lance.

This place is unmistakable because of its basalt columns sticking out in the middle of the sand. No place else is this area’s volcanic past as evident as it is here, along this coast that preserves the marks of the volcanic explosions and rivers of lava. It’s like walking and bathing inside a crater.

The 20 different sandwiches they make at Bocata y Fuga, in San José, are a perfect light meal to take along. For evening tapas, Bar Iruña has become a “must” thanks to its cod croquettes, its marinated sardines and other delicacies.