I woke with a start, and instantly realised I was not in my own bed. Seconds later I remembered: I was in a campervan, in the campo near Fortuna spa, with only my companion and my two dogs for company: there were no other campers on the site. In mid-August, this felt very strange. We live on the coast and our tiny home town is crammed full of tourists – madrileños mostly – who have escaped to the seaside hoping for relief from the inland heat. The solitude was blissful, and we spent a peaceful evening reading and sipping wine until sundown, after a typically Spanish (!) Indian meal on an urbanisation a couple of kilometres away, but invisible behind the palm trees.
We had set off earlier in the day intending to visit the spa at Archena, but on arrival there we’d learned that dogs are not allowed anywhere near the pools. We broke open our lunch picnic and considered our options. As the weather was scorching, there was no question of us bathing and leaving the dogs in the campervan, even in the underground carpark, so we abandoned that idea and headed off again for Fortuna, where we’d been told the pool is open from 10.00pm to 1.00am, and we could leave the dogs tied up by our van while we relished the soothing waters. So here we were, waking up duly cleansed and soothed by the spa minerals, and well rested. There was something almost magical about being in a floodlit pool at night, with stars sprinkled across the sky. Unfortunately, many others had the same idea, so it was indeed a question of submersing ourselves up to our necks, rather than swimming.
We had arrived at Fortuna’s fiesta time! Activities were scheduled for the week 10 -16 August. Today’s main event would be the presentation at 10.30pm of various societies and the coronation of Roman-style nymphs dressed in various costumes, followed by a late-night disco. As we had just escaped similar music and dancing events at home, we passed on that option and had an early night.
‘Where next?’ enquired my companion. I suggested Sierra Espuña, as I remembered being impressed by the area from a previous visit some twelve years ago. Off we set, and on the way, we stopped for lunch in Almaha de Murcia. The Terraza de los Bartolos hotel tempted me with goose liver pate coated in crushed peanuts – rich but very tasty.
We tootled and pootled along winding country roads, gradually rising to an elevation of over 600 metres, the view becoming ever more enchanting as we climbed. Pine trees, rock formations, and dried up streams greeted us at every bend. El Berro was our destination, a delightful village with a bustling campsite full of families with dogs, caravans and awnings.
The earnest young lady at the pool reminded us to leave our chanclas sandals at the gate, to shower first, not to jump in, etc., etc. A sweet teenager doing her best to fulfil her summer job responsibilities: there had been deaths from over-zealous divers, she informed us, as the deep end was not very deep.
We dined a three-minute walk away from the site entrance in the rustic garden at La Parra, which opened early to accommodate us, and clambered into our camp bed, sleepily replete.
We both forgot to look for the meteor shower which was due to cross the sky in the wee small hours, as despite expecting a lot of noise from our fellow campers, the site was quiet and very civilised. After a breakfast of tostada con tomate, we wound our way downhill, passing an almost lunar landscape, and homeward, via Los Alcazares and the good old N332.