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La Manga

Yesterday we took our guests out to La Manga. We ate patatas bravas, watched the kitesurfers and drove over the bascule bridge that allows taller yachts to get into the Mar Menor before turning around and heading back to Cabo de Palos.

La Manga is a sandbar about 19 kms long that separates a coastal lake - the Mar Menor - from the Mediterranean proper. It is an odd environment.

In the 1950s a chap called Tomás Maestre Aznar set about buying up the whole strip and with a bit of political support and a few court cases by the start of the 60s he was ready to put his master plan into action; to build a major tourist destination in Murcia. The first photo shows La Manga in 1963.

Tomás intended to build a private development aimed at the monied elite with a capacity for about 70,000 people. He wasn't going to urbanise the whole strip but wanted to conserve the original nature of the sand bar outside the walls of his complex. None of the biographies I can find on the Internet say quite what went wrong! Indeed the last reference I can find about the property developer has him defending the building of a sports marina on La Manga in the teeth of the environmentalists. Maybe it was just the money.

Nowadays La Manga is far from being a luxury development and at the height of the summer the population hovers around the 200,000 mark. Basically there is concrete and tarmac everywhere with big blocks of holiday flats and as many bars, souveneir shops, hotels and car hire offices as anyone could want. When the place is in full swing the journey up or down the strip is one long traffic jam and I suspect that there will be serious summer fights for prime car parking spots. If I were looking for a single adjective to describe La Manga it would be tacky. That's not to say that there is not a certain charm to its gaudiness and nobody could deny that both the Mar Menor on the inland side and the Med to seaward look absolutely stunning.

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