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Exploring Murcia

virgenIt's our second visit to Murcia. The first time we wondered the city's streets, window shopped and sat in plazas enjoying the local cuisine. We stayed very close to the city yet amongst fields and lanes and in a converted train wagon - Vagon Rural. The National Park of Sierra de Espuma provided great hikes in woodland with breathtaking open views to stumple upon. There is a busier beach area too at La Manga where many holiday apartments and hotels have been built up on both sides of an unusual spit with sea one side and lagoon the other. But if you prefer to visit a protected stretch of coastline just to the south, go to Calblanque Beach.

This time we were with a local, Luis - a family friend, who wanted to show us some of his favourite bits. We followed him into Mula de Baños, a tiny hamlet. The dry earth of this valley is watched over by a pyramid like volcano. And this is the source of the thermal baths that bring us here.

We are greeted by Antonio and Ramona at El Delfin and shown to our simple but comfortable apartment, which proudly retains its antique tiled floor and other touches from the past, and the artwork - Ramona's own - adds style. Included in our stay are 2 thermal baths a day. There a several bathing rooms on the ground floor, one with a mural, and we quickly get in to savour the healing heat seep to our bones.

Ramona has an exhibition room with her own art and craft - an interesting collection of items to peruse.

Dinner is in a local restaurant a short stroll from El Delfin. We get a good nights sleep, ready for a day exploring the area and after a jacuzzi bath and breakfast set off.

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Luis takes us to a very special place - El Sanctuario de La Esperanza in Calasparra. You enter via an archway, already feeling the magic of the place, and see the interesting stonework entrance that merges with the cliffedge. This leads you to a cave like church, partly lit by the flickering candles of visitors wishes and overlooked from above by the Virgin. You can take a staircase up to stand by her side and here many have left a plait of hair, a doll, a note or a photo with their hopes to healing and happiness for loved ones. I'm not a religious person but I could feel the power of this place and made my own wish. Luis and family are here to say thanks for a request granted 10 years ago.

Once out in the sunlight again we wander down to the river rushing alongside. You could cook up a barbeque or, like us, enjoy a picnic here.

We now head through the countryside, under arched trees, enjoying this new scenery until we reach the dam Pantano Cenajo. The kids like to stand in the fine spray coming off the fierce jet at the bottom. At the top we take in the views, at peace with the world - Murcia especially.

At the end of the day we go on to Luis' village. There is a medieval market with snakes and owls and crafts and local delicacies. The towns folk are in fine spirits, spinning each other around to musicians and tempting each other to 'chupitos' (little drinks - ie shots).

Before we leave El Delfin I am tempted into buying one of Ramira's paintings, something that kepts catching my eye. How better to take home a piece of this perfect weekend.

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