Hidden away in the Tabernas desert, traditionally known as the Badlands, Mini Hollywood is Spain’s best kept secret. If you are a still a kid at heart you will love playing cowboys and Indians in Fort Bravo and Western Leone, two film sets once used to make Spaghetti westerns such as The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, Once Upon a Time in the West and A Fist full of Dollars. Mike, my partner, and I went there last May and had a fabulous time kicking around in the dust, taking a buggy ride around town and watching a make-believe saloon fight. We drove down to Almeria from Central France and after stopping off to get some sun on the glorious Mediterranean coast, we moseyed on down to the Tabernas Desert. The roads are bad so watch them thar potholes! There are no tour guides and we arrived just at the start of the season so at times if seems like we were the only people there. We ran around like a pair of urchins, exploring every set, whether barber’s shop, sheriff’s office or chapel. I even locked Mike up in the town’s jail. I guess he should have helped me down from that stage coach after my arduous ride through ‘injun’ country. At one point I’m sure I saw Charlie Bronson peeking from behind a clock on the roof of the saloon. And yes, that was definitely Henry Fonda with his evil gang surrounding the house that Claudia Cardinale inherited from her murdered husband. I can see her now. Oh sorry that’s me standing on the stoop of that very house looking more like Calamity Jane that Cardinale. Walking up a perilously steep hill I saw a collection of Indian teepee’s nestling on the side of a mountain. Believe it or not Indiana Jones stood in the very spot I stood, to have my photo taken. I am sure he would be very proud to know this. The Last Crusade was filmed there, as well as being the location for some of the scenes in the first Star Wars films.
Look out there’s Clint Eastwood!
The sets, scattered around the dusty valley, are still very much the same as when the films were made. Whilst they look a little flimsy now, and in some places downright shabby, the rugged Spanish landscape provides the perfect bad land backdrop. You can even still see the stone archway where the evil Fonda hanged Harmonica’s brother in Once Upon a Time In the West. It’s not long before the red dust blows up around your shoes and you could almost believe you can see a posse riding into town. Reminders of A Fistful of Dollars are everywhere, in the wooden gateways, and the secluded cemeteries, complete with wooden crosses. Astonishingly, the chalets that the film stars stayed in are now rented out to the public as holiday accommodation. We were tempted but we already had accommodation booked. Had we have known though… But, we had a lovely meal in the cantina and a couple of beers in the Saloon. There were lots of photos to be had with cowboys, and saloon girls. We even got dressed up as Mexican bandits. I looked very fetching standing beneath the largest cactus I had ever seen. Unfortunately the printer broke so we couldn’t get the photos. This was our only disappointment of the day. This visit was a chance to behave like a child again, but I did bulk at putting my head in a hangman’s noose. The scaffold looked at little to flimsy and somehow I couldn’t see Clint riding into town to rescue me! But it was good walking up the wooden steps and imagining what it was like for all those ner-do-wells who found themselves at the end of a noose in the bad old days.
Awesome is the only word to describe the Tabernas Desert
The Tabernas (Desierto de Tabernas) is one of the largest deserts in Europe. Located in Almeria, the area is the driest in Europe. The landscape is rugged, primeval and breathtaking. Spanning over 100 square miles, the desert is protected as wilderness area. We got lucky and saw some wild bulls grazing in the distance, far away enough not to cause us concern, but near enough for us to marvel at the awesome sight they made against the clear blue skyline. Almeria is one of my favourite places in Spain. Located on Spain’s southern coast, it edges onto to Andalucía: white hot in the summer months. Almeria has a remarkable unspoiled natural coastline and is probably one of the least known Costas. The scenery is typically Spanish and we spent many hours admiring the white-washed buildings shimmering in the bright May sunshine. The region is steeped in history for those going for a little culture and we certainly did after playing cowboys all day. We never got the chance to visit the Moorish castle of Alcazaba which towers over the city of Almeria, but hey there’s always next year!