Caravaca de la Cruz
Drive out in your Drivalia car rental towards the border with Granada to discover the fifth holiest town in Christendom - a gorgeous old place packed with history, full of beautiful architecture and surrounded by lovely natural scenery. Spend an afternoon exploring medieval streets before setting off into the wilderness for a walk along the banks of the River Argos or through pine and holm oak forest.
By way of introduction
If you´re holidaying in La Manga or Mar Menor then there won´t be many more far flung destinations in the Murcia province than Caravaca de la Cruz. But for those who do make the drive, it´s well worth the effort because this old town will open your eyes to the other side of Murcia, where charming rural landscapes are dotted with stunning hill-towns that have been populated since long before the Romans arrived in Spain. It´s also a fine choice if you´d like a change of airs. Within the Caravaca de la Cruz municipality are the mountains of the Sierra de Mojantes, which reach peaks of more than 1600 metres. Where much of the journey to get here will bring you though dry scrubland, the landscapes around Caravaca are made up of forests, wheat fields, olive groves, vineyards and fruit orchards.
And of course, the heritage is one of the main attractions. There´s a beautiful cluster of Murcian Renaissance houses in the town, alongside churches of great religious importance and historical defences that were erected in the Moorish times.
Sights to see
The Basilica of the Holy Cross is the first thing you´ll see as you approach the town. This sits atop the hill and the design as we see it was completed in 1703 in the Baroque style. The basilica started out as a chapel within the castle that surrounds it. But because the chapel contained what was believed to be a fragment of the original cross that Jesus was crucified on, the castle walls took on a new purpose; to defend the chapel.
The castle is Moorish in origin, but was then expanded after the re-conquest by the Knights Templar. In the 15th century they commissioned the 14 towers we see today, all with the purpose of safeguarding the chapel and the holy relic inside it. This relic eventually led to Pope John Paul II granting the town a jubilee every seven years. The next one will take place in 2017.
There are no fewer than eight churches and convents in Caravaca de la Cruz, most dating from the 16th and 17th Centuries. The most spectacular of these is the Church of El Salvador, from the 1500s it is regarded as a fine example of Murcian Renaissance architecture.
Befitting the town´s important heritage, Caravaca de la Cruz has plenty of folklore and festivities relating to the fragment of the cross. The most famous of these takes place in the first five days of May. It´s "Los Caballos del Vino" - the Wine Horses - which celebrates an event said to have taken place before the re-conquest, when Christian forces were under siege. Dying of thirst they sent scouts out to find something safe to drink, who returned with several wine skins. These not only revived the besieged soldiers but also purified the castle´s previously undrinkable water.
During the fiesta are the classic Christians and Muslims parades, as well as a vivid re-enactment of the Wine Horses´ expedition.
Hill-walkers can get their boots on here, as there´s rugged terrain just to the northwest of the town. With lots of pine and deciduous woodland the scenery is much greener than many of the surrounding areas.
Those in need of something less taxing could head for a stroll in Fuentes del Marques, a small nature reserve replete with natural springs, just beyond the western edge of Caravaca de la Cruz. It´s part of the grounds of the Tower of the Templars, a defence that was established to protect the western approach to the town. Inside the tower you´ll find an interpretation centre, giving you an idea of the woodland and wildlife found inside the park.
Caravaca de la Cruz can be reached in around 2 hours from the Drivalia car rental depot at Alicante Airport.