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Sunday, December 5, 2021

The fabulous foodie corner of Spain you never thought to visit

The Asiático served at CafeLab is made with the sort of care Rodin must have shown when gouging a block of marble for the first time. Outside, the Plaza de los Apóstoles – one of Murcia’s main squares – is a picture of Spanish tradition, the city’s cathedral rearing above its surroundings. Inside, all is hipster cool as the barista readies a drink that is as much cocktail as coffee. There are five layers to it. Only one is caffeinated. The others are, respectively, cream, Spanish herbal tipple Licor 43, brandy and condensed milk. The chalice-like glass is placed on the table and the afternoon prepares to crumble in front of me.

This heady concoction has long been a cockle-warming favourite of sailors coming into port at Cartagena, 30 miles to the south. But as the fumes rise from it, I am not sure I am qualified to try it. Not because I cannot tell one end of a boat from another (though that is true), but because so few of those who make their way to this south-eastern corner of Spain tend to be from the UK. At least, not if you discount La Manga, the 14-mile sandbar strip with its golf resort so beloved of fairway-minded British travellers.

Murcia would point out that it has much more to offer. That it is a region as well as a city of the same name. That it has 150 miles of seafront, not just a feted 14. That the term for this arc of shoreline, the Costa Cálida (“Warm Coast”), while it has a ring of marketing speak about it, is also accurate – blessed as the area is with more than 300 days of sunshine per year. 

And yet, for all this, it remains a part of Spain predominantly appreciated by the Spanish. Perhaps it is a case of being overshadowed. Although the region is not small per se – Murcia is the ninth largest of the 17 autonomous communities into which Spain is split – it is dwarfed by its neighbours. Each of Castilla-La Mancha (to the north), Valencia (to the east) and Andalucia (to the west) is a comparative giant, and the last two are dotted with places adored by British tourists (Alicante and Benidorm in the former, Marbella and Torremolinos in the latter – to list just those with a beach).

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