City of Almería
The 10th-century Alcazaba is one of the most impressive citadels of the medieval Islamic al-Andalus territory and is second in size only to Granada’s Alhambra. It’s quite a hoof getting to the top of it, let alone fully exploring its many towers, rooms, squares and courtyards (this of course was the architect’s plan), but can be visited in the cool of the evening – there are guided tours at 8.30pm. Beneath the city are 4½km of tunnels, the Refugios de la Guerra Civil, which were constructed by volunteers with picks and shovels to shelter the population from bombing raids during the Spanish civil war. Guided tours only; book in advance.
El Jardin, San José
This busy little seaside town is comprised predominantly of fish restaurants and flip-flop shops. Several of the former are outstanding (try 4 Nudos), but El Jardin is a gem, particularly if you happen to be a vegetarian, lactose or gluten intolerant or partial to healthy, imaginative food. Here, finally, are salads with more than three ingredients, plus savoury crêpes, pizzas, imaginative stuff like carpaccio of squash, an apple ravioli, and dishes using truffles or ginger and almonds. The setting, a tiny terrace at the port end of the beach has no sea view (unless you stand) but the focus is the food. Top value with a menu of the day at €9, and a fair selection of non-vegetarian dishes for carnivores.
Jo Bar aka Jolie Rouge, Escullos
If Apocalypse Now were a feel-good movie, Kurtz would be hanging out at Jo Bar. More a desert encampment, an assembly of mismatched seating, pallet decking, curios (skulls, art, a mannequin dressed as a pirate), it sits among shrubbery off a sandy track – coloured lights, the sounds of motorbikes and the music of the 1970s are the only clues to its existence. The open-air hangout, founded in 1993 by Frenchman Jo Belle, is legendary in a clandestine way, attracting bikers, rockers, and celebrities – Damien Hirst, Rob Spragg, and the late Joe Strummer among them. Jo is an artist, and his metal sculptures stand proud under the desert skies. But this bar is itself a crazily magnificent piece of work.
Cortijo La Alberca, Nijar
Spanish country life is at its most idyllic at this 250-year-old farmhouse set amid grape vines, lemons, figs, and bougainvillea in the Ribera de Huebro valley, ideal hiking country in cooler months. The rooms, some converted outbuildings, are authentically restored with their original hefty doors and beams and shuttered windows; the pool, an ancient water deposit, has the look of an Arab bath. Whether it’s for the hospitality offered by Celeste, who runs this casa rural with her parents, her mother’s home-cooked dinners of rabbit and paella served on the terrace, or the quiet loveliness of the location, few places earn such euphoric reviews. “A lot of guests cry when they leave,” says Celeste, baffled but flattered.