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Murcia-based, Spanish food & travel writer I'm the author of Going Native in Murcia, now in it's third edition. Get my new cookery books Spanish Village Cooking - Recetas del Campo and Spanish Cooking Uncovered: Farmhouse Favourites. I am also an editor and Booksmith.

Debbie Jenkins

Calasparra – David Billington

Mar 25, 2010

Calasparra.  Santuario de Nuestra Senora de la Esperanza.

Calasparra is a town in the mountainous northwest region of Murcia, Spain.

The town dates back to the 14th century and covers an area of 193 square kilometres.

It is crossed by the rivers: Segura, Quipar, Argos and Benamor, which has enabled the cultivation of rice, for which the town is famous.

In the centre of the town, you can find the remains of an Arab castle off Plaza de la Constitucion. There is an archaeological museum in the Old Palace House of La Encomienda, there are a number of old churches such as the Iglesia de la Merced, Iglesia de San Pedro (18th century) and Iglesia de Los Santos (18th century).

Calasparra specialities such as rice, sweets and cheeses can be found in the Calle Teniente Flomesta.

The other main attraction of Calasparra is The Santuario de Nuestra Senora de la Esperanza (The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Hope).On leaving the town centre, you cross over the main road, following the signs to the Sanctuary. You follow the narrow winding tree lined minor road looking out on some wonderful scenery until you reach the viewpoint (Los Lomas de la Virgen) which gives unparalleled views over the region, including good views of the rice fields and a river. After taking in the spectacular scenery, continue along the road, winding your way down into the valley where the Sanctuary is situated.
On arrival at the Sanctuary, there is ample parking for cars and coaches.
There is a beautiful short walk from the car park, along a driveway and through a garden stocked with flowers and palms typical of the area.
Passing through an arch, you can read the words: ‘Santuario Virgen de la Esperanza’, at the top of the arc, which is of cultural interest for its age and design.
After passing the archway, you enter a large courtyard area, where you are greeted with the most fantastic view of the facia of the Sanctuary, which is built in the style of Gaudi.This is a ‘cave’ Church built into the mountainside.
To the left of the church; there is a souvenir shop, built in the same style. Even the public conveniences are constructed in the same way! A sympathetic distance away from the church is a modern restaurant, which serves, snacks, a-la carte and ‘menu del dia’ food, all good value for money and very tasty too! My wife and I have sampled the paella; it is one of the best I have ever tasted.Inside the church, the rocky roof is blackened in parts, due to the smoke from candles which visitors are allowed to light in memory of their loved ones, or just for their faith. There are ample pews for the congregation and the altarpiece is a fine piece of art work. Above the altar within a domed area, you can see the image of The Virgen of Esperanza.Moving on to another part of the building and going upstairs, there is a display of photographs of the origins of the building, plus many costumes and suits of communion wear. Walking around the grounds, there are an abundance of landscaped areas, stocked full of the local flowers and palm trees. In the courtyard itself, there are more trees planted close to the many benches, which are required for shade on hot summer days. From the courtyard and down steps, there is a riverside walkway, very peaceful and tranquil. At various points along the walkway, there are barbecue areas, where you can have your own picnic, after first obtaining permission from staff at the gift shop.There is a further walk on an upper platform, away from the church, which takes you to steps, cut into the mountain side, where the more energetic people can climb to the top for even more fantastic views of the area. Not for the faint hearted!On certain days and specific times, you may be lucky enough to enter the Sanctuary when there is a service under way, even if you do not understand the Spanish language or have specific religious beliefs; it is a sight to behold.
This is a very interesting day out to visit such an unusual building. It is not widely advertised in tourist brochures, but it should be a jewel in the crown for Calasparra tourism. The website for the town hall of Calasparra is: www.calasparra.org – you can click onto a link for an English translation. On the site, there is also a link for the Sanctuary.

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