Sitting on the Mediterranean sea and with 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, the region of Murcia is the perfect all year round holiday destination. Besides the balmy weather, there are many other reasons to love Murcia, one of them being its wonderful cuisine, local ingredients, foods and beverages. If you’re a foodie, I recommend you to add Murcia to your bucket list!
Costa Cálida, Murcia
Murcia is situated on the South-Eastern corner of the Iberian Peninsula, surrounded by Andalusia, Castile-La Mancha and Valencian Community. Locally referred to as La Costa Cálida (the balmy coast), Murcia is a place of natural beauty and rich culture, awesome beaches and glorious mountains, ancient Roman ruins and Moorish castles with 2,000 years of history.
Costa Cálida remains relatively unspoilt by International tourism, compared to other areas of the Spanish Mediterranean coast. This makes it an ideal holiday destination for travellers wishing to stay away from the crowds – an important factor to consider when travelling during the coronavirus pandemic. It is easy to spend time in the city and region of Murcia, while keeping a safe distance, without having to limit your activities and travel experience. Because the region stays warm all year round (average temperatures range from 11 °C in winter to 27 °C in summer), you will be able to spend most of your holiday outdoors, no matter the season!
The Flavours of Murcia
The reason why I love Spain so much – and why I keep returning back year after year to visit different cities and regions – is the food and wine! Spanish cuisine is well known and often imitated all around the world. You have probably heard of jamón or paella, Rioja, Jerez sherry wine or sangría, tapas or pintxos. But Spanish gastronomy is much more than that! It is as rich and varied as its culture and regions are.
Murcian gastronomy is no exception: the region has a wide range of fantastic food, drinks and dishes to fall in love with! Did you know that Murcia is one of the largest producers of fruits and vegetables in Europe? The semi-arid and temperate climate, low rainfall, exposure to prevailing winds and proximity to the coast make the Murcian soil ideal for agriculture. Murcia also grows rice, a variety Calasparra that is matured longer than other strains of rice, is exceptionally absorbent and perfect for the preparation of paella.
The cuisine of Murcia revolves around local produce, with an emphasis on ingredients from the sea, the land and the garden. It’s also a cuisine made of rich taste and contrasting flavour pairings, influenced by Arab cuisine and a reminder of the region’s long history.
These five culinary routes will guide you as you eat your way around Murcia city.
Michelin Guide restaurants
The region has twelve restaurants featured in the 2020 MICHELIN Guide España. The majority of these establishments are located in the capital city Murcia or in Cartagena, the historical port city of Costa Cálida. Any of them will provide a fantastic culinary experience.
Just to name a few, El Portillo by chef Antonio Velázquez, Refugio de Juanfran by chef Juan Francisco Paredes and Local de Ensayo by chef David López, and El Sordo (a family-run restaurant that’s been running for just over a century) are all worth trying.
One activity I always recommend is food market tours. Whether you are on your own or with a guide, don’t miss the opportunity to spend a few hours of your trip browsing around the stalls of a food market. It is a fantastic way to learn about the local ingredients and witness a slice of everyday life for that particular destination. Food markets are often the heart and soul of a community!
One of the most important markets in Murcia is Mercado de Verónicas. The building itself, designed in Modernist style by architect Pedro Cerdán in 1910, is worth seeing. Hundreds of locals visit Mercado de Verónicas every day (Sunday closed) in search of the best meat and charcuterie, fish, fruits and vegetables. The small town of Águilas on the coast has an indoor market that is open throughout the week (Monday to Saturday mornings) selling a selection of fresh food.
Of course, I couldn’t talk about Murcian gastronomy without talking about tapas! The best way to discover and experience Murcian lifestyle and culture is to spend an evening strolling along the streets, hopping between bars, while tasting Spanish tapas and local drinks.
A popular tapa you can expect to find served in bars throughout the Murcia region is pulpo (octopus), usually cooked a la gallega (Galician style, boiled and served with paprika) or al horno (oven-baked and served with pepper, olive oil and a squeeze of lemon). Both ways are delicious!
One of the most famous tapas bars in the region is Taberna Tipica La Pequena, a historic establishment open in Murcia city since the 1980’s. Among the many tasty snacks and plates (called raciones) on offer, a must-try is “Huevos de Miguel” (fried potatoes, eggs and Iberian ham) which is named after the taberna’s owner.
Murcian meat pies
Murcia’s meat pie, pastel de carne, is a historic dish of the city, prepared today following the same recipe as hundreds of years ago. These delicious food parcels are made of dozens of layers of puff pastry, with a rich spiced filling of minced beef, chorizo and boiled egg.
You won’t find the pastel de carne in a restaurant, but rather in bakeries and cake shops known as pastaleros. The most famous ones are found at Pasteleria Bonache in Plaza de las Flores, a family-owned business that’s been a Murcia institution since 1828. They’re tasty and cheap too: one of these delicacies will set you back of just a couple of Euros.
Embutidos are dried sausages of different kinds, that you will find served as an aperitif or a tapa snack across Costa Cálida. Traditionally, these sausages were made at home in the winter months, then smoked and hung in the kitchen to be consumed throughout the year. They come in many varieties: morcillos, for example, are made from blood (similar to the British or Irish black pudding). And I’m sure you’ve heard of chorizo before: a fermented, cured, and smoked pork sausage with added pimentón peppers, which have become famous all over Europe and the world.
One dish to look out for is Cordero Asado a la Murciana (roasted lamb Murcian style). This is a simple, rustic dish, traditionally eaten for Easter. The lamb meat is prepared in one large roasting tin with potatoes, tomatoes and onions, and baked in a wood oven. The dish is seasoned with extra virgin olive oil, garlic cloves, fresh parsley, white wine and pine nuts. Packed full of flavours, Murcian roasted lamb is at the heart of the gastronomy of this region.
Costa Cálida is known for the quality of its produce, like tomatoes for example and extra virgin olive oil. These two ingredients are featured in a traditional Murcian salad dish: ensalada murciana (also sometimes called “mojete”). A flavourful vegetarian dish, this could be eaten as a starter or a main. Don’t skip the bread, it is essential that you dip it in the plate to soak up all that delicious tomato and olive oil juice!
There are 3 wine routes, 35.000 hectares of vineyards and 3 designations of origin in the region of Murcia. The most important vineyards are found in the municipalities of Jumilla, Bullas and Yecla. Murcian wineries combine tradition with new vinification technologies to produce high quality, delicious wine with Denominación de origen (Protected Designation of Origin – PDO). The most widely used grape is the Monastrell, a red grape variety of small and compact bunches. Murcian wineries produce a variety of wines such as Garnacha, Cencibel, Merlot, Syrah, Pedro Ximénez, Malvasía, Sauvignon Blanc, Moscatel, and more.
If you are a wine connoisseur interested in Enotourism, you will have one more reason to visit Costa Cálida! Visitors will also find many restaurants and hotels nestled in the unique setting of the vineyards.
One of Spain’s most-exported liqueurs, Licor 43, is distilled in Cartagena. It is made with 43 different ingredients, including citrus fruits, herbs, vanilla, and other spices. The distillery and shop are situated in the countryside (about 15 minutes by car from Cartagena’s city centre) and open to the public every day of the week. They offer a special Experience Licor 43 to visitors, with 2-hour long tours of the factory and tastings offered in various languages.
You cannot visit the region of Murcia without tasting the local Asiático coffee. It’s an alcoholic cocktail made with espresso, brandy and condensed milk (and a few drops of Licor 43). The recipe for this drink dates back to the 1940s, when it was prepared by Pedro Conesa Ortega in Bar Pedrín, Cartagena. Although the tradition of mixing coffee, brandy and milk in a drink is much older: local fishermen used to carry it with them on long fishing trips to keep them warm.
Fun fact: the Asiático coffee is traditionally served in a short, wide-lipped glass manufactured by the José Diaz Company. This glass is one of the most popular souvenirs of Cartagena.
Best Time to Visit Murcia
Murcia is a great destination all year round, but the best times to visit for a foodie are mid-August for the Harvest Festival, which has been held for 40 years; and in November for the Gastro Days when restaurants, bars, wineries and oil mills offer a wide range of tapas and traditional menus, inspired by the flavours of Murcia.
Perhaps the most exciting times to be in Costa Cálida is on the first fortnight of September, to join the celebrations of the Murcia Fair. On these days, locals commemorate the founding of Murcia by the Arabs and the conquest of the city by King Alfonso X el Sabio. The feira (fair) culminates with a pilgrimage of the Virgen de la Fuensanta, patron of the city, to her Sanctuary.
Disclaimer: this post is sponsored by Región de Murcia Tourist Board. All opinions are my own.