Fortuna was the Roman goddess of luck and fate and she must have been smiling on us benevolently the day we decided to meander up to Baños de Fortuna, approximately 25 kms north-east of Murcia some years ago. In pursuit of the Spanish coast, many people overlook small inland Spanish towns and yet we constantly find such places are well worth a stay and offer a different perspective to Spain that is a million miles away from the Costas.
Baños de Fortuna is a village developed around a hot spring and on the edge of the Sierra de la Pila. It is three kilometres from the small town of Fortuna with a population of over 9,000; enough to ensure it has a supermarket and a weekly Saturday market, as well as a useful tourist information office eager to give out leaflets. Situated in a dry and arid landscape that will bring to mind cowboy films, this part of Spain has warm and sunny winters that suit us northern Europeans.
The Romans must also have thought that Goddess Fortuna was smiling on them, when they found running hot water near Fortuna. Banos de Fortuna has now developed into a small settlement, with two campsites and a spa resort. We chose Camping La Fuente, a very well provisioned and excellently presented site; the main attraction being a large naturally heated swimming pool. The site has generous gravel pitches, many with their own bathroom and all with sun-shades during the summer. Laid out in crescents and small terraces you never feel that you are surrounded by lots of other campers, even when it is busy. Around the pool are a bar and reasonably priced restaurant with terrace, the staff are helpful and knowledgeable and the campsite facilities include a hotel and bungalows. At around 08.30 every morning we heard the welcome horn of the bread van that tours the campsite and tempts you with crusty bread and Spanish cakes.
Campsite guests can use the pool for a reduced daily rate and with a temperature of 35C some campers will spend most of the day lounging and chatting in the warm spring water, relieving their aches and pains and putting the world to rights. A dressing gown, flip flops and swim wear is almost all the clothing you need if the pool is your prime reason for staying at Camping La Fuente and clearly many people visit to relieve their mobility problems. The site is popular with German visitors and is busy through the winter months and it might be worth ringing ahead and booking if you plan to be here from January to March.
Fortuna continued to smile on us and during our week long stay in November. We enjoyed sunshine and temperatures in excess of 20C each day; warm enough for shorts and to sit outside and enjoy a breakfast of fresh bread rolls from the bread van, greeting early morning swimmers on their way to the pool.
Lovely as the baths are, it would be a shame to come here and not explore the area. We enjoy walking and cycling and found this was a campsite with plenty of opportunities to indulge in both. Just a few minutes’ walk from the campsite is the spa resort, this has been renovated and the hotel buildings have been painted in bright colours that pick out attractive plaster work details. There are benches and shady gardens of palm trees dotted around the spa and a smart souvenir shop which are certainly worth a wander around.
Using a photocopied map from the campsite reception and Spanish instructions, we set off to climb the 585 metre high hill visible from the site. The walk was graded on the map as being of medium difficulty and it proved to be a steep and interesting climb through aromatic scrub of fragrant rosemary, lavender and thyme, with occasionally yellow and white splashes of paint on jagged rocks to assist our route finding. The last few metres were a scramble that required hands and knees, but we were rewarded with extensive views across the dry, semi-desert landscape, dotted with brilliant green areas of cultivation and a peace and quiet you don’t find on many British hills on a sunny day. We managed to navigate a less precipitous route back down the northern flank of the hill, eventually finding a trail through bushes and past tall agave plants.
The main road to Fortuna is a fairly busy one and the fast rumbling lorries from nearby quarries mean this isn’t a pleasant route for a leisure cyclist. However, there is no shortage of quiet minor roads that make for very pleasant cycling. The road to Capres from Banos de Fortuna is a little used, but well-surfaced road that climbs steeply up to the village for around five kilometres. We rested on benches outside the low white church in Capres while we ate our picnic, the only thing to disturb us were the sounds of sheep grazing among the trees above the church, watched over by a sleepy shepherd.
La Cueva Negra, north of Fortuna, is also worth a trip. This large cave, as the name suggests, has black walls which are covered with graffiti inscriptions, some dating back to those Fortuna seeking Romans. There is plenty of parking here and public barbeques and it is clearly a popular spot at weekends, although on a November weekday we had it to ourselves. We walked up to the cave and watched the Crag Martins and Black Wheatears flitting around the rocky cliffs as we looked down over an expansive landscape of low modern villas and citrus and olive trees. On the same cycle ride we took in the Ermita at Cortao de las Peñas on the edge of the Parque Regional de la Sierra de la Pila, a roadside monument painted white, that is an extension of the surrounding cliffs.
A different day’s cycle ride found us exploring the area to the east of Fortuna and the nearby town of Abanilla. We cycled through a confusing criss-cross of lanes, through lemon and orange groves and small housing estates, past industrial farming units and along irrigation channels. This area is less hilly and more suitable for the lazy cyclist. Although arid, many crops are grown in this area, as well as citrus fruits, peaches and olives, you will spot almonds and market gardening. Abanilla is a pretty little town, with an attractive town centre and steep narrow streets and steps leading to pleasant plazas. This is not an area where you will find stunning crowd-puller attractions, but we always enjoy the chance to explore small towns that are off the tourist circuit and ignored by the guide books. Our 35-kilometre cycle ride saw us returning via La Huerta and on the eerily quiet A-21, through a landscape of dry gorges with peregrine falcon’s calling overhead.
Once you have exhausted all the nearby attractions, or if even the hot springs can’t ease your saddle sores, there are places of interest to visit in your campervan. We had a splendid day driving along the Rio Segura valley north of Murcia to Archena, another ancient spa town and Cieza, where the huge fields of peach trees must be a riot of colour in spring. To the south east is Orihuela, a charming town on the banks of the Rio Segura with fine buildings, a hillside castle, swathes of palm trees and a fascinating underground museum, the Museo de la Muralla, where you can see the remains of the old city walls and Arab baths
Hopefully, the Goddess Fortuna will smile on me and let me visit more of this interesting area of Spain at least once again.