Visitors Guide to Murcia
By Matt MayThe city of Murcia in south eastern Spain is not renowned as a tourist destination, but the university city captures the essence of south eastern Spanish culture
Murcia (pronounced "Moorthia" locally) is a typical Spanish working city with a large student population, and although it isn't renowned as a tourist destination, Murcia has plenty to offer travellers looking for a taste of authentic Spain. Set in a region renowned for its agricultural produce with origins dating back to the Moorish period, Murcia is under 1 hour's drive from the popular Costa Calida resorts.
Murcia is usually bathed in warm Spanish sun, and can feel oppressively hot in July and August - even in winter the days are usually warm enough to eat outside. Murcia is a good half an hour drive to the nearest beaches, so isn't the best location for a beach holiday. Having a large student population, Murcia has a lively and vibrant ambience, with nightlife continuing through the night on Fridays and Saturdays.
Ayuntamiento De Murcia
The Ayuntamiento de Murcia (city hall) is set on the banks of the Rio Segura. Locals and tourists gather to capture the splendour of this impressive building. The sub-tropical gardens and water features at the front of the building offer some of the best photo opportunities the city has to offer.
The centrepiece of the city is the stunning cathedral (La Santa Iglesia Catedral de Santa Maria), which has its origins in the 14th century, but was added to up until the 18th century. Some of the best views of the cathedral are captured from the banks of the Rio Segura which is a short distance from the cathedral. In the height of summer, the Cathedral tower is open some nights for visits for spectacular views of the city.
The archaeology museum has an impressive array of remains from many sites in the region, Paleolithic, Roman and Iberian. The Salzillo Museum contains religious images from the important Holy Week processions.
Plaza de las Flores (Square of Flowers)
Plaza de las Flores and the adjoining Plaza Santa Catarina are home to Murcia's best selection of tapas bars and traditional Spanish restaurants, many of which attract the finest chefs.
This area is where the local Murcians congregate at weekends and holidays to indulge in marathon eating sessions, which may last for several hours as tapas is often served one dish at a time. Most of the wine served comes from Jumilla in the North of the region.
One of the most popular restaurants is La Torre De Las Flores, which is located in Plaza Santa Catarina. Due to the restaurants popularity you may have to book, or be prepared to queue for a table. Around the corner in Plaza de las Flores there are plenty more slightly less popular tapas bars, with outside seating throughout the year.
Food and Drink
Murcia mainly caters for Spanish clientele, so this generally means that you will get excellent value for money and high quality food. However, orders may get lost in translation as menus are often only in Spanish, and many staff don't speak English,
The Murcia region is renowned for its pork dishes - Jamon Serrano is ham cured over several years in salt. It is served at most Murcian restaurants. It is cut so thin you can see the light through it. Almost all the fat is lost in the process of curing which makes it a really healthy form of meat. Carving it is a special art, which requires training. The highest quality Jamon Serrano is produced from pigs that are fed on a diet consisting solely of acorns.
Other local dishes of the area include rice dishes similar to paella, grilled vegetables and an exquisite range of salads. There are many Murcian specialties such as Habas con Jamon (a bean stew with ham), ensalada murciana (a salad of tomatoes, egg, onion, black olives and bacalao or tinned tuna), zarangollo (a medley of Murcian vegetables with or without scrambled egg).
With its proximity to the Costa Calida coast, Murcia has a good range of seafood dishes. A traditional recipe from Cabo de Palos is caldero. This is rice that has absorbed all the stock from a medley of fish of the type that hang about the rocks, red mullet, scorpionfish, etc. It is made spicy with nora (sun-dried bell peppers) and served with allioli. Some restaurants offer a little plate of the fish that made the stock to be enjoyed alongside the rice. It is traditionally a lunchtime, rather than an evening dish.
The concept of vegetarianism isn't entirely comprehended in most of Spain, however the Murcia region grows an impressive range of ingredients for vegetarian food including rice, almonds, olives and many kinds of fruit and vegetables. If you are vegetarian be sure to check that your food is "sin carne" (without meat) and "sin pescado" (without fish). Local dishes for vegetarians include vegetable paellas, croquettes made with goat cheese or boletus mushrooms, cured cheese (queso curado) and of course tortillas. Patatas bravas is always a safe bet for vegetarians in any tapas bar.
When to go
Murcia is one of the hottest places in Spain during the summer months, so is best avoided during July and August unless you enjoy intense heat with daytime maximums typically reaching a scorching 35-40 degrees. Winter is actually a good time to visit when daytime temperatures generally reach 14-19 degrees maximum.
How to get there
There is a regular Renfe train service from Alicante to Murcia which takes about 1 hour 20 minutes. There is also a train service from Madrid to Murcia which takes around 4 hours and from Valencia (around 3½ hours).