Whilst La Unión couldn’t be accused of being beautiful or a popular tourist trap, there are plenty of things to see and do, and some lovely bars and restaurants to enjoy. We spent a sunny Saturday afternoon visiting the town and sampling some tapas during their Tapas Route (March 16th to 25th 2012) – Ruta de la Tapa Minera.
Bodega Lloret was a great find, possibly a bar you wouldn’t think of entering, especially as the door sticks and it looks like a someone’s garage from the outside! But inside it’s quite fascinating, wonderfully quaint, with antique wooden bars, old wine barrels for tables, and plenty of wine barrels (and liqueur barrels) around the walls. There’s a bar area and a dining room. You can buy your wine by the plastic jug, bring your own empty bottles to save money! Their tapas was michirones – broad beans, bacon and sausage bits and a few hidden chillies – a favourite of mine from the Murcia area. Though I have to say no one quite beats my adoptive Spanish mom’s recipe!
El Vinagrero has been feeding the people of La Unión for the last 100 years. The beautifully appointed, cosy restaurant is well worth a visit. Try their menú de degustación for a treat. On the tapas trail we had their Brocheta a la Levantica – a fishy tapas on a stick. It was really scrumptious!
Our favourite was Venta El Descargador just outside of town. They have an excellent value menú del día and lovely friendly staff. We tried their tapas of Crepe Relleno de Carne, which was outstanding and beautifully presented. They have plenty of space, a large outdoor seating area, long bar with gorgeous tiles depicting scenes from the mining area and spacious dining area. Park across the road by the bowling area.
About La Unión
The history of La Unión is inextricably linked to the development of mining in the coastal Sierra de Cartagena and La Unión. From the port of Portmán, the Roman mines of Carthago Nova exported ingots of silver, lead, iron, zinc and other minerals throughout the empire. The Fundación Sierra Minera (FSM) is a non-profit organisation, who provide details of all the mines in the area.
You can visit the interpretation centre at the Mina de Matilde, which tracks more than 2000 years of the history of mining and how it has changed the landscape, heritage and environment of the Sierra Minera. El Parque Minero is an excellent opportunity to see the whole process of the old underground mining industry of the nineteenth century in more than 4,000m2 of galleries of a mine open to the public. In the nearby village of Roche there’s another innovative project from the FSM, called Huerto Pío, based on a farm that belonged to one of the most important mine owners of the mining history, Pío Wandossell. Throughout the year there are open days on this farm of 4.05 hectares, promoting ecotourism through creation of a public park and indigenous agro-forestry species.
There are three museums in town. The Workers Lyceum (El Liceo de Obreros), built in 1901 as a charitable centre for the education of children and workers at the time, now houses the Mining Museum. Without doubt it’s one of the best mining museums in Spain. The Ethnological Museum located in the village of Roche in a new building, shows the customs and traditions of the local area. The Roman Archaeological Museum is found in the village of Portmán in the building of the Old Charity Hospital. It has the largest Roman mosaic in the region belonging to the Roman villa called Huerta del Paturro.
There’s the Old Public Market, Antiguo Mercado Público, which also houses the Catedral del Cante for concerts, which you can’t miss. It’s huge, built from iron and glass in a modernist style, on Calle de la Noria. Built by Catalan architect based in Cartagena, Victor Beltrí, this market, along with the Grand Hotel in Cartagena are the most outstanding works of modernism in the Region of Murcia. During the first fortnight of August (since 1961) you can hear the flamenco songs of La Unión in the most important flamenco festival in the world. During the Fundación del Cante de las Minas, declared of International Tourist Interest, there’s a wide range of activities arranged to teach, share or delve into the world of singing, dancing and guitar.