Melilla - Back into Spain!

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April 22nd 2019
Published: May 3rd 2019
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Melilla is a little part of Spain on the North African coast. It has been famous for all the wrong reasons recently as its border has been swamped with migrants trying to reach the EU, and the solution seems to be a higher and stronger wall! With our privileged pink passports crossing over was no problem at all though. A short €6 grand taxi took us from Nador to the checkpoint and before we knew it we were walking along the narrow blue caged alleyways towards the Spanish border guards who were unusually jovial. Perhaps it was because it was a public holiday (Good Friday) and there were no crowds for them to police. Sundays and holidays seem good options to make these crossings stress-free!

We opted to stay in the Hotel Anfora. It suited our needs perfectly and breakfast in the rooftop cafe was good value. It is directly opposite the rather more expensive Rusadir Hotel but we couldn't see from the outside why you would want to pay so much more. Prestige, we presume. Anyway, we found our accommodation to be perfect in term of cost, comfort and location. A short taxi ride from the border and we were soon settling in.

Melilla has a rich military history and, as well as various fortifications, also boasts a tunnel complex where the locals sought refuge during long sieges. It was a constant point of conflict between the Spanish and the Moors, and it comes as no surprise that it still presents political difficulties today, although with rather more peaceful consequences. The focal point is the small peninsular of the old town which houses the most impressive fortifications. It's free to wander around the cannon-lined defences and there are some stunning views of the rugged coastline and the city from the battlements. Look out for the statue of Generalissimo Franco on the lower road near the port. Our objective was to visit the military museum but, while it was open, that extended only to the outdoor spaces. Unfortunately the interior which houses an impressive collection of uniforms and memorabilia was closed to the public for restoration.

It was nice enough, but nowhere near as impressive as the nearby Conventico Caves. This is where the civilian population hid for months during sieges and, if you get your timing right and your Spanish is up to it, you can join an informative guided tour. Audio-visual displays supplement what the guide tells you as you are led through the labyrinth of tunnels, eventually coming out into the open next to some impressive stairs down to a pebbly beach. This place would not look out of place on the set of Game of Thrones but, having never watched it, we couldn't tell you if their location scouts ever came this way!

There are a few more museums which we didn't visit, but as you wander around keep a look out for open doors. Some of these cubby-holes reveal restored water cisterns whilst others contain video displays and evocative dioramas. There are nights in (not-so) shining armour guarding drawbridges and breathtaking views in all directions. If you are lucky, your navigation will lead you out to the Plaza Cuatro Culturas where all of the bars provide a welcome drink with free and delicious tapas. We think we sampled all of the bars!!

The ideal location of the hotel meant it was easy to explore the city. We love wandering almost aimlessly, but with a plan of sorts. We loved wandering through Parque Hernández (NOT named after Orihuela's poet Miguel!) and admiring the statues and fountains as we negotiated the crazy paving reminiscent of Alicante's paseo. From there we saw the garrison house where Franco lived during his time. A short walk on took us to the superb bull ring. Sadly it was closed due to the Semana Santa parades, some of which start and finish there. We were allowed inside to see the preparation of the floats for the evening's parades, but there was no access to the inner circle. Our walk then continued down to the beach. During the summer it must be heaving with bodies but out of season it makes for a nice stroll.

Just up the hill at the back of our hotel was another fort. The Fuerte de Victoria Grande is unusual in that it is triangular in shape. There's not an awful lot to see inside but it is clear that plans are afoot to put more on display as rooms have been cleared and restored for this purpose. Again, there are some wonderful views from the battlements at the top, and there is a room dedicated to the history of the fort on the ground floor. Most of the panels are in Spanish only but it is all well written and with the help of a dictionary most people will learn a great deal about the place. You can see a lot of photos documenting the restoration here.

We were in Melilla at the end of Semana Santa and the Good Friday processions were interesting but, naturally, no different to what you might see elsewhere. The Easter Sunday parades, like in many places in Spain this year, were rained off! Despite the holiday, we managed to keep ourselves well fed and watered. A particular favourite was Bar La Cervecería which was beautifully decorated inside and served wonderful tapas with all drinks. We also ate in the Casino Militar, just off the Plaza España, where we were surprised at both the quality and the low prices. What a shame it was closed on the Sunday night when we thought about going back!!

Getting back over the border into Morocco was no problem at all and we were soon in a taxi back to Nador. Melilla would be a great destination for a long weekend away and it has its own airport with regular connections to Malaga, Madrid and Barcelona. Combined with a few days in Nador, it would certainly be good for those seeking something slightly different.

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