I spent the full summer seasons of 2003 and 2004 living and working in a small historic town in the south of Spain, that I had never heard of before.
Before being offered a contract to work there, the Moorish ancient town had not been on my radar even once, despite several family vacations to Spain, to the more popular destinations of; Barcelona, Calella, the Balearic Island of Majorca (don’t let the anagram fool you), and the Canary Island of Tenerife, and one girl’s holiday to (I feel ashamed saying this so, please don’t hate me, I was very young!) – Benidorm, just a couple of months before.
Yes, Mojacar is a tourist destination, (which is the reason I had employment), but it isn’t like the other, better known southern Spanish destinations. Over 30% of the tourists here are Spanish, mostly from the north, coming south for the better weather and local culture, and they have good taste. If you want to experience Spain’s real sabor, on the coast with beautiful beaches and amenities, mixed with traditions, local food and music, Mojacar is the place.
I moved to Mojacar for a job (and to get away after a break up), to work there for 6 months as an Entertainment Manager for a Hotel complex. I realized after two weeks there that I was genuinely happy for the first time in months. This was due to the scenery of the actual place, the warmth of the people and just the vibe of the town. Before my first season working there had ended, I had made plans to return for the following year, switching jobs to one with less working hours and more time for play and exploration, as a cabaret singer in a bar along the playa.
Mojacar is divided into two parts: the old town – or pueblo – which is situated perched on top of a hill about 4km from the water, as it has been for almost a millennium. Then there’s the “new” part of the town, the beach – or playa –, which has been developed mostly since the 1960s.
The pueblo is the place to go to get in touch with Mojacar’s past. It has numerous tiny, winding streets of sometimes misshapen to fit the angle of the hill whitewashed houses, which are all well kept and most have fragrant flowers outside them.
My favorite thing to do here is simply to wander, and get lost. It’s not that big, you’ll find your way out after a time, either to the main square – The Plaza Nueva – at the village’s peak, by the huge looming fortified church – Santa Maria – right in the center, showcasing the importance of religion to the locals, or at the bottom of the pueblo by the Roman water fountains. As you wander, you’ll stumble across interesting boutiques with local art and jewelry, tapas joints which are seemingly just a room of someone’s house, civilized by day (and raucous by night) bars with reggae or rock music, and tattoo parlors.
The beach area – playa – is the newer part of the town. In the 1950s Mojacar became very popular with many types of artists from around Europe, serving as muse to painters, musicians, dancers and writers. As many like-minded people were drawn here to get away from their busier lives and bustling cities for the natural tranquility and historic beauty of Mojacar, the old town started to get a little full. This is when domiciles, businesses and bars started slowly sprouting up along the town’s gorgeous 17km beach.
It is now the area where most people stay when they visit, with hotels, apartments for rent privately and through Airbnb, and many bars and restaurants catering for the visitors dotted along it. It isn’t all hustle even now though, with quiet areas of the beach particularly at either ends, towards Garrucha to the north and Torre Bahia to the south. There are decent spots to snorkel, as well as a well equipped, but still relaxed and friendly watersports center, which is Samoa Surf (right opposite the Best Indalo Hotel).
Food in Mojacar is important, and of good quality, with fresh seafood caught daily being brought in from nearby town Garrucha, and pork and chicken, and beef dishes being supplied by farmers not far away in the countryside.
Tapas are my favorite thing to eat in Mojacar, and in Spain all round, and actually, is one of my favorite things to eat anywhere. I love the concept of little tiny dishes. Tapas were invented as a snack to eat while you are imbibing of some wine or beer. It’s intention was to make sure the eater wasn’t overindulging with the vino, as their stomach was being lined, and to make sure they weren’t too hungry to didn’t drink too much and act uncouthly, as that is not a sought after trait in Spain.
Tapas can be eaten on their own if you’re just having a beer with friends, or as an appetizer before your main meal. Andalusians do everything, including eating, late, so starting dinner at 9 or 10pm is common, which is why tapas is usually taken as a small snack to tide you over at around 4 or 5pm.
Mojacar has its fair share of Tapas joints, with many tiny establishments tucked away in nooks in the pueblo, some small traditional old men bars along the beach serving two or three options of dishes, as well as it being a staple section offered in many of the beach bars – or chiringuitos -, and most of the larger restaurants.
Some dishes in particular to look out for are:
This is one of the most famous Spanish tapas dishes. This not easy at all to recreate dish is basically an omelet with potatoes in it. It is made in a certain shape, with onions and herbs to flavor it, and eaten hot or cold.
Patatas pobres (poor man’s potatoes)
This was named due to it being basically one of those dishes that mother’s resorted to in times of little money, that every country has at least one of. It is made up of potatoes, onions, pepper and garlic mixed together. This is a tasty little starchy number that compliments most other tapas dishes very well.
Berengenas con miel
This is one of my favorite tapas dishes, that I always seek out in any restaurant proclaiming they serve authentic Andalusian tapas, wherever that might be in the world (I sadly don’t often find it though). This is deep fried eggplant with honey. However, it is so much more than that. When cooked as it should be, it is soft eggplant almost melting, infused with thick, dripping local honey, encased in a light crispy batter, with more honey drizzled over the top for good measure. And even though it is deep fried and covered in honey, your mum cant say you aren’t eating your vegetables, as there in one in there. Somewhere.
This is a tapas staple that can be found almost anywhere that claims it has the section. It is (home made hopefully) meatballs made of pork and/or beef (but mostly pork in Mojacar) simmered in a thick tomato and herb sauce. It works well with the starchy tapas choices and is quite filling.
Pan tomaca (or pan con tomate in other parts of Spain)
Eaten at breakfast or lunch, and my personal overall favorite, this is a baguette sliced in half long ways, with a sort of chunky spread of mushed up fresh tomatoes with all their juices in it, mixed with some chopped garlic, basil and leaves, with olive oil (extra virgin of course) generously drizzled over the top and some crushed pepper.
Patatas bravas (brave potatoes)
Home fried potatoes cooked with tomatoes, peppers and paprika. This is a popular snack tapas, which works well with most others.
One other item I’d like to mention here isn’t a tapas food, but is served in the same places, and in most cafes. It is café bon bon – or candy coffee. Almerians call it bon bon, and other areas will call is blanco negro – white black, but the result is the same. It is Spanish espresso coffee in a short glass rotund glass, with a thick layer of condensed milk poured over the top. The condensed milk is so thick it just sits on top of the coffee, creating the white black effect. The condensed milk is so sweet it makes the coffee more like a candy, hence the bon bon title. I loved having it at breakfast or lunch with a pan tomaca for a fun energy boost of caffeine and sugar.
The chiringuitos are a Spanish staple, which sort of embodies the spirit of the young people in the area. They are a lot more relaxed and chilled out than any of the British or Irish bars on offer. They don’t offer much in the way of organized entertainment – that would be trying too much. While you can sometimes see a local rock or reggae band playing, but mostly you can hear recorded chill out lounge music. I’d say that chiringuitos are the place for Spanish hippy hipsters to hang out, but they are way cooler than that. They are generally open until around 2am, and you can walk in right off the beach to the smell of cannabis that often permeates the air. Some of the newer venues offer food now, with tapas and regular meal menus.
My favorite drink to have in any venue in Mojacar was ron miel – honey rum. This heavenly liquor is dark rum made from the very start of the process, with honey in it, and is only produced in the Canary Islands and sadly only sold there and in the south of Spain as far as I know (apart from probably in expensive specialty shops). It slides down your throat, coating it with a sweet, warm, fuzzy feeling, with a kick, whether you’re enjoying it with a coca (cola), or on its own as a chupito – shot.
I learned to speak Spanish while living in Mojacar, and as I started I used to get nervous of saying something wrong, or looking foolish. So, when I was out with my Spanish friends from the hotel I worked at, I’d always take my tiny pocket Spanish dictionary with me for back up. If the conversation turned to something I didn’t understand, instead of asking what was going on, I laughed along when everyone else did, then ran off to the bathroom with my pocket friend to figure out what had just been said.
After I think my fourth trip to the ladies’ room one night, a friend followed me in, worried about my health from the amount of trips I’d made there. As she came in to check on me, she saw my tiny helped in my hand. She asked what I was doing, and I explained that I hadn’t understood something that was being discussed and I wanted to learn what it was without letting on that I was ignorant of what had happened. She promptly took my ‘back up’ from me and hid it in her handbag until the next day. She proclaimed that all I needed to do to learn more was relax! And that the best way to do this was to partake of some chupitos de ron miel. This became my new tiny helper to learn, and while I didn’t always remember everything the next day, I did understand everything being said at the time.
I have had a thing for Flamenco guitar since I was about 13 years old, which I why I took up classical guitar in high school. I played it for four years, until I realized I wasn’t as skilled as Paco de Lucia already as I had expected, and turned my full musical attention to singing, and resigned the guitar to admiration listening to it.
It was in Mojacar that I first heard, and subsequently was enraptured by – Flamenco singers. I had never heard this before, and the passionate desperate emotion of the sometimes rough and husky, sometimes high and wailing, voices drew me in completely. If you are lucky, you may hear the local older men Flamenco singers (not professionals, but damn, they can sing!) having impromptu performances in some of the more simple, Spanish bars along the waterfront. They used to sing in a tiny no name bar on the site, which is now Kontiki Restaurant.
Flamenco dancing is something I have always enjoyed too, and Mojacar is a great place to enjoy it. It used to be the home of a respected flamenco school, and it has left its mark with two of its old students, award winning and locally famous dancers Paco Fernandez and Francesca Girone leading the performances of their group ‘Flamenco in Mojacar’ (the name Mojacar Flamenco has ironically been taken by an LA based flamenco group who did an artist’s retreat to Mojacar several years ago to learn the art, then took it back to California with them, with great success). Francesca and Paco perform the les common gypsy flamenco with great skill and passion and they are well worth seeking out if you are in the area.
Another not the same as, but often mistaken for flamenco dance is – “Servillanas. This dance, similar to flamenco, but different, and is a four-part dance, with simpler moves that you’d first be taught when embarking on flamenco dance classes. The reason to start with this is that it is often danced by all ages during festivals so is worth learning a few moves to be able to join in the party more. Children are taught it from a young age in schools as part of the general curriculum, so everyone knows it (like Scottish dancing was taught to me in school as a child in Scotland). As a show, the pristine white dresses, fans and iconic slick bun hairstyles, means it is always worth seeking a performance to watch.
One of the most special things about Mojacar is the town’s complicated and brave history. Quick history lesson time:
The southern coast of Spain was invaded and settled by immigrants from Morocco – the Moors – at the start of the 8th Century. In 1488 Spain’s Catholic Kings decided they had to go. The Moorish mayors of the whole of the southern peninsula gathered and agreed to surrender. All except the major of Mojacar. Alabez.
When Captain Garcilaso de La Vega (could his name be any more Spanish?) arrived in Mojacar, all set for war with the non-compliant local leader, he did not find what he expected. Instead of finding a ‘disobedient infidel’ as he had expected, he found an eloquent, charming leader, who loved his people and Spain.
Alabez made a famous stirring speech to Garcilaso in front of his people at the fountain at the bottom of the old town. He basically said that he understood the reason for wanting him and his people to leave, but that Alabez had been born and grown up in Mojacar. As had his parents, grand parents, and great grandparents and more. His ‘people’ had been there so long that he did not distinguish them as being different from the ‘native Spanish’ people there, like Garcilaso. He saw himself as Spanish and proud of it, and therefore, that Garcilaso was his brother, and his people and their people brothers.
He suggested instead of a battle and bloodshed, that he surrender his station as ruler to Garcilaso, but then everyone live as they have done, in peace with each other in this place, as they had done for generations already. Garcilaso was so impressed with this speech that he accepted. No blood was shed.
Due to this union, the people of Mojacar look a little different, a little darker and with more African features than other Spanish people from out with the area, due to the blending of these cultures (if they are from there).
Every June Mojacar celebrates this union with four days of parades, parties, and locals dressing up as either Moors or Christians and reenacting historical events. Events for the festival run all over the town, with the main events situated in the pueblo. It always happens on the weekend closest to June 10th when the original speech was made, and the festivities culminate in a huge procession that goes through the old town all the way down the hill, with everyone taking part dressed up in traditional costumes, singing, dancing or playing musical instruments.
Mojacar is really enjoys any excuse for a party, and here and there are various festival on throughout the year, so check what’s happening on the dates you may go. While the Moors and Christians Festival is probably the biggest and most well known, Andalusia Day and Carnival are pretty big deals too.
Andalusia Day happens on February 28th. This fiesta celebrating the birthday of the southern region of Spain includes a giant paella being brought out for all to eat, as well as musical concerts from local dance and music schools playing a prominent part.
Check out the dates for the February Carnival too, as the cooler winter is warmed up with this pagan festival that sees parades with colorful original costumes and songs in the streets, and music filling the air.
To sum up
Mojacar is one of those places that truly entrances. It has that je ne sais quoi (or no lo se que). I became completely enamored with the place when I lived there over a decade ago. The only reason I didn’t go back for a third season to work there was that I wanted to travel the world, and I loved it there so much that I was genuinely worried that if I didn’t leave then, that I never would.
I have been back to visit twice for the day while docking in Alicante with a ship close enough to rent a car and drive there, and both times seeing it again pulled at my heart strings. Writing this (and the other mentioned below about it) pulled at them too, and has left me pining for it once more. Hopefully I will return again soon for longer than a day to be entranced once more.
Locals will tell you that the town’s interesting history is responsible for this, which I agree with, and I think the fun, food, fiestas, flamenco and festivals definitely help.
Check out my detailed guide to Mojacar on Travel Lemming here in
Mojacar, Spain: The Ultimate Guide to Almeria’s Most Enchanting Town.
Here are some details of some of the amenities mentioned:
- Details on the Moors and Christian Festival: http://www.mojacar.es/en/events/fiesta-moros-cristianos-mojacar/
- Samoa Surf Watersports on Mojacar Playa:https://www.facebook.com/samoasurfmojacar/
- Gypsy Flamenco Performances from Flamenco in Mojacar https://www.facebook.com/Flamenco-in-Mojacar
- Authentic tapas at restaurant El Sitio:http://www.elsitiomojacar.com/