Europe: Andalusia & Murcia, Spain

Europe: Andalusia & Murcia, Spain
Five sunny days amid blooming trees, unspoiled nature reserves and empty roads in an inviting corner of southeast Spain.

Our spring vacation begins in Alhama de Murcia, some thirty miles northwest of the Mediterranean port city of Cartagena. Jan's Kawasaki ZX-9, Matthias's BMW and Regina's BMW 650 sparkle impatiently in the morning sunlight. It's late March and the temperature is about 60°F. Enjoying hot espressos, we linger awhile in a café to discuss the next five days of touring. Our plan is to cover 130 miles per day, which doesn't seem all that much, but there are 650 miles of mountains and pass roads ahead of us.

Our first impression of conditions is formed in the first 12 miles on a road that winds upward on a narrow track. Surfaced with excellent asphalt, it leads to the Sierra de Espuna, at 5,194 feet high, the smallest and oldest national park in Spain. This dense pinewood is supposedly filled with fox, rabbit and wild boar, but dense clouds surround us and obstruct the view.

Things suddenly change, the sky clears and we see a completely different landscape. It's very hilly here and massive mountains frame the far horizon. All around, almond trees bloom in softly changing colors, pink to white, depending on the light. A mere blip on the map, Zarzadilla de Totana, a little farm village, serves as the site of our first break.

Our tour leads us on through blooming high-country valleys and there is little else in the dry surroundings to distract us from the ubiquitous almond blossoms, a very intense experience. The course of the road fits the curvaceous landscape well. Up and down we go, passing several small, dry river valleys. In Bullas we locate a very good paved, two-lane highway, which brings us to Cehegin, a town carved into a cliff face and renowned for the marble quarried there.

More famous, four miles further along, is the village Caravaca de la Cruz with its beautiful plane-tree avenue. Here you can walk amid remnants from the time of the Reconquista or Reconquest. Caravaca, once an important border town, was placed under the control of the Knights Templar by Ferdinand III of Castile in 1241 and later passed into the hands of the military Order of Santiago. The fortress shields the entrance to the village and the pilgrimage church in the caste district that dates from the eighteenth century.

A short while later we reach Elche de la Sierra, our first overnight stop. Finding the right accommodation is easier than we thought. A passerby points the way to a renovated hostel run by Jose Sanchez Belmonte, better known as Pepe. We enjoy the luxury of the bathroom in the manner that only grimy, road-weary motorcyclists can. In the evening, Pepe served us a good dinner and entertained with ebullient Spanish charm.