Area Guide - Punta Umbria
A bright southern light fills the windows in Punta Umbría. Its geographical position at the mouth of the Rivers Tinto and Odiel where they converge with the Atlantic Ocean on the Bay of Cádiz, makes Punta Umbría a naturally prosperous town with a proud maritime heritage and a history that dates back to the Phoenicians, Romans and Moors.
The British have also played their part in the history of Punta Umbría, when during the 19th they owned the Rio Tinto mines, in the mountains of Huelva. They built a sanatorium at Punta Umbría, the place chosen for its fresh, clean air. The first ‘tourists’ were patients, but word about the mild climate and the beauty of seashore soon became known. The first hotel was built, followed by holiday homes. British families made this part of the coast their holiday destination right up until the 1950’s. Today this story is told in The English Museum or Museo de los Ingleses which can be found on the Avenida de Andalucía. The museum is built in the charming style of the day, high on stilts, with clapboard walls and green-and-white painted verandas. There is even a windmill beside it, a copy of those used by the first holidaymakers. The museum is set in a tropical garden and makes a pleasant place to visit, particularly if followed up by a stroll along the Calle Ancha, to buy something Spanish, or to visit to one of the restaurants or bars that play Spanish music while serving the excellent local wines, meat, fish and seafood.
Punta Umbría is now flourishing with new ideas and projects, buildings, museums and festivals – there is always a lot going on. Aside from the traditional annual fiestas, there is the art exhibition week, seafood and prawn fair, clam and mussel fair, summer jazz festival, sculpture competition, music competition, photography, video and film fairs, a famous book fair as well as an international dance fair.
All the marshes and pine forests around Punta Umbría are now protected nature reserves. There are water sports of every kind and a 45-minute trip upriver can be taken to and from Huelva on a 1920´s steam boat, just as British tourists traveled in the Rio Tinto days. There is cycling on paths through the surrounding nature reserve and along the coast. The glorious Blue Flag beaches, gentle waves, beach bars, beach games and all-night beach parties are legendary. Summer evenings are rich with the chatter and laughter of Spanish people having a good time, making music and dancing.
Beyond Punta Umbria the fabulous coast continues, although it cannot be accessed by road without driving around to Huelva, about 20 minutes away, and then rejoining the coastal strip at Mazagon, with inland access to La Rabida, the charming convent/museum devoted to Columbus. Matalascañas is the last town before the world-renowned Doñana National Park, protected territory which cannot be accessed by private vehicles. There is a bird-watching centre at nearby El Acebuche. About 16 kilometres inland is El Rocío, devoted to the yearly pilgrimage at Easter, when thousands travel from all parts of Spain, on horseback and in carriages for a week-long festival. This is the kind of occasion that Cervantes wrote about when he said that there is no nation on earth quite so good at enjoying themselves as the Spanish.
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