Islands of the Mar Menor: protected beauty
The warm waters of the Mar Menor (a salt water Mediterranean Lagoon in the region of Murcia), protected by its enviable geographic position from storms and strong currents, are perfect for water sports such as sailing and diving, but this is not the only attraction. The area’s benign Mediterranean climate a large part of the year, together with a special cuisine which highlights varieties of fish such as the salted or skin down gilthead or the flathead mullet bring in so many visitors that the authorities had to establish legal protection for a series of natural places. These are known as ‘Open spaces and islands of the Mar Menor’ and are spread over three coastal municipalities: Cartagena, San Javier and Los Alcázares.
In the heart of the place known as the largest salt water lagoon in Europe (with an area of 100 square kilometres), there is a small extinct volcano 104 m high crowning the largest of the islands of the Mar Menor: the round Isla Mayor or Isla del Barón. At the top of its crater, there is a small palace in neo-mudéjar style, erected in romantic homage by an Italian noble to a Russian princess and which, they say, houses the spirits that keep one of the best-known legends of the place alive.
The Isla del Barón is not only the largest but also the best preserved island in the area. Very nearby is the Isla Perdiguera, formerly populated by restaurants which were recently closed to preserve the flora and fauna. The rest of the islands, Sujeto, Redonda and del Ciervo, provide shelter and nesting grounds for water birds such as little terns, white herons and typical waders. In the Middle Ages, the Isla del Barón was used as a breeding ground for falcons, later for hunting and now it is still an exceptional place to bird watch, to see its forest of palms which is unique in Europe, and to hide away from the world amongst clear, shallow waters, because the island is private and no-one can land there, but it is rented out by the week.
The mysterious small palace on the Isla del Barón is made of brick and has just one storey and a tower to enjoy the peaceful wetlands. Alongside there is a small jetty and a hut for the guard. But if visitors prefer to get an idea ‘in situ’ there is another option nearby. The Italian ordered another identical building to be built in San Pedro de Pinatar, a coastal town in Murcia. The island refuge’s sister building was built by the architect Lorenzo Álvarez Capra, who erected both as replicas of his Spanish pavilion for the Seville Universal Exhibition of 1873. It was here, in fact, where the enamoured baron died, and today everyone still calls the place the Casa de la Rusa [Russian’s House].
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