SPAIN is the only country in Europe with a desert – 280 sq km of it called the Tabernas to be precise – so a vineyard is perhaps the last thing you would expect to find there.
But when he arrived in Andalucía over 25 years ago, entrepreneurial vintner Juan Perez Perez knew he had found the perfect place for his business. During a tour of his small but impressive site near Uleila del Campo he tells me his operation produces around 350,000 bottles of award-winning red wine every year. Of course, every businessman boasts about their products’ quality, but I found myself in the ideal setting to assess it for myself.
I am no expert, but I must say it was delicious – earthy and full-bodied – and unfortunately not available in the UK. If you ever stop at his disappointingly unnamed bodega, pick up a bottle. You can also stop for lunch in the site’s wonderful restaurant, where they serve slow-roasted pork and tapas, among other delicious dishes.
One Giant Garden
Beyond the reach of this mini desert, Almeria remains one of the more unspoilt areas of Spain. The area is still awaiting the arrival of its long-promised high-speed train link and driving through the countryside feels very much like winding through the nation’s garden.
Polytunnel greenhouses dominate the verdant valleys, making the most of the region’s rich soil to produce bumper crops of fresh vegetables. In a few of the coastal towns, there is a real sensation of timewarp, with many shops still displaying faded advertising hoardings from the 1980s.
But do not be put off by a few unkempt shopfronts – the locals are friendly and relaxed in this part of the world. Plus, if you eat where they eat, you’re likely to find fresh, tasty offerings amongst the numerous fish and vegetable dishes.
The Wild West … in Andalucía?
No trip to Almeria would be complete without a trip to Fort Bravo, the world-famous Western-themed film studio.
Among the most famous (and best) films shot there are Lawrence of Arabia, Once Upon A Time in the West, Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade and A Fistful of Dollars.
It feels like a real small town in the Wild West. The sandblasted set fronts look gritty and worn down because they are – not because they have had CGI dust thrown at them afterwards.
The authenticity of the place quickly gets under your skin.
Instead of picturing myself in a Mexican stand-off in the streets, I imagined what it would have been like to work on one of those classic movies. Am I standing where Sergio Leone or Peter O’Toole once stood? That question was the magic of this place for me.
The Red Fort
My last stop in southern Spain was Granada and its impressive Alhambra – the town’s monolithic, dominating Red Fort, built in 889.
The site was packed with visitors of all nationalities but is a genuine spectacle. The outer gardens provide a pleasing sense of geometric symmetry that only increases as visitors head further into the fort.
Wending through streets and ornately tiled courtyards, every turn reveals another incredible feat of Moorish architecture. Around an hour is all you need to take the site in before strolling into the bustling, modern city centre to enjoy its bars and cafes.
If you think Spain is all boozy, Brit-filled beaches then why not take a trip to Andalucía? Almeria and Granada will show you a different side of the country.
(Engagement Editor: Have you been to Andalucía? There’s a good chance you’d enjoy Morocco too.)