Almeria is a port town in the south of Spain, in Andalusia , and since the 1950s, the city and the region is known worldwide because of the nearly 600 Hollywood movies that have been filmed in the area. We’ll get to that. But Almeria has a lot more going for it than memories of movies. It’s a very pretty city with a medieval fortress, the Alcazaba, a 16th century cathedral as well as a group of cave houses and the 1904 English pier, an iron railway pier that transported iron ore and bears witness to the industrial past.
From the port, where currently a new container terminal is under construction, there are ferries to Melilla, Algeria and Morocco and it is also a popular cruise ship stop.
Almeria’s fame however results from Hollywood and the movie industry.
Europe’s only real desert, Tabernas Desert, is a wild and barren landscape that stretches out approximately 30 kilometers north of Almeria and is bordered by the white, white beaches of Cabo de Gata (also a national nature park).
The resemblance of this desert to other exotic places such as Africa ,and to the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico, attracted the filmmakers – mostly from Hollywood, though British filmmaker David Lean shot “Lawrence of Arabia” here – to use it as backdrop and scenery for their own movies. And of course filming in Spain was cheaper and the locals made willing and nearly unlimited extras.
Here are just a few of the movies that were shot in the Tabernas desert:
“Lawrence of Arabia”
“A Fistful of Dollars”
“Once Upon a Time in the West”
“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”
“The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”
The film industry really thrived in the 1950s and 1960s, with the filming of Italian director Sergio Leone’s popular so-called “Spaghetti Westerns.” Since then there is hardly an action film star who has not at one time or another worked in Almeria, or rather the Tabernas desert.
The real adventure begins
Once you have seen the sights of Almeria, you might consider starting the real adventure, exploring the film locations of the “Wild West.” To this day, movies are made in and around Almeria, so the extras are by no means out of work. In fact, there are a few who work as full time cowboys and gunslingers with all the necessary skills including riding and (blank) shooting.
There are still three film locations to visit:
• The largest and oldest is Fort Bravo, which is now a theme park. You reach Fort Bravo through a rough road that leads from Almeria through a rocky valley and gives you a first taste of what to expect in the Spanish Wild West. The park includes “authentic” Wild West buildings to play cowboy in including a saloon complete with barmaids and drinkers, a Central Bank Building ready to be robbed and countless other attractions.
There are also daily Western Shows where spectators, after they have paid their entrance fee, can participate in the entertainment.
For a day you can pretend to be John Wayne, and your kids will be thrilled.
• A few miles away are the movie villages of Oasys and Western Leone, but the latter two are purely tourist attractions.
Cabo de Gata-Nijar
Once you have had your fill of western adventure, or, depending on the time you can spend, don’’t miss to visit the impressive sand dunes and beaches of the National Park of Cabo de Gata-Nijar. This nature paradise is located at the opposite side from Almeria, 30 kilometers along the road toward the Almeria airport.
There is a lot to do too, including water sports, staying over night and even a spa.
When planning your visit to Almeria etc, remember that the desert is very hot in the summer, so it’s better to visit in the winter months, and it even makes an ideal weekend excursion.
Where to stay:
If you want to get the full faux Old West experience, there’s Camping Fort Bravo, which is on the old film set. Their website is terrible, with continuous popups. On Booking.com, it looks like rates start at 45 euros per night, and you can choose between bungalows or camper hookups. There’s a pool and restaurants and the facility gets good reviews, an overall 7.6 out of 10, with 452 reviews.
Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.