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Is this mainland Europe's only 'true' desert? Why you should visit
17 May 2021 @ 23:29

SOMETIMES it really feels as though Spain is the part of the world where the Arctic and the tropics collide. Humid summers with temperatures pushing 40ºC, cacti and yucca growing wild, a country which harvests its own pineapples, avocados and bananas – but also its own blackberries, where its biggest city once recorded the coldest day temperature of any capital on earth (8ºC), where mountains and wooded areas can be thick with snow for two months of the year or more, and where ski resorts are packed out all winter.

If not the only desert in Europe, the Tabernas is, at least, one of very few (photo: Almería Western Film Festival)

Spain is home to beech woods – a completely northern European phenomenon – and the continent's southernmost of these are found in the provinces of Guadalajara and Segovia. You need thermals and blankets in winter, even on the Mediterranean, but the thermometer in inland Andalucía cities such as Córdoba, Sevilla and Jaén, if they sit in the sun, occasionally max out at levels not far off the USA's Death Valley.

In the same region as one of Europe's most popular ski resorts – the Sierra Nevada – which is based in a province where you sometimes need to take a coat with you if you go out in August, is what is often considered to be the continent's only true desert.


Is Tabernas really unique?

As is often the case in situations where a country or region claims to be the 'only', the 'first' or some other unique geographical milestone, this assertion is open to conjecture: Deserts abound in Europe, although most are considered 'semi-deserts' or, depending upon whom you speak to, all of them are considered 'semi-deserts' except the one in the province of Almería.

High Noon in Yucca City in the Tabernas Desert (photo: Gordito1869/Wikimedia Commons)

Accona Desert in the Crete Senesi area of Italy, in the Tuscan zone, has too much annual rainfall according to the literal definition: A desert is an area with no more than 10 inches, or 25 centimetres, per year, and the Accona typically records about 24 inches, or 60 centimetres. Others, such as the Oltenian Sahara in Romania, technically qualifies, but is not a 'natural' desert as it was formed through deforestation in the 1960s, and trees are being planted there at the moment to reverse some of the process and increase rainfall to allow it to support life.

The Deliblato Sands in Serbia may provide Almería's competition, since it is, as the name suggests, pure sand, and was created by natural processes during and after the Ice Age, before which it was under the Pannonian Sea.

Then there's the Capadoccia, or Kapadokya, area of Turkey, whose natural rock towers are a global tourist attraction, but its cold autumn and winter temperatures may disqualify it from being considered a 'true' desert.

But Almería's Tabernas Desert is, without question, a desert in the true sense and, whether or not it is the only one on mainland Europe, it definitely qualifies.

Average annual temperatures in an 'official' desert have to be over 17ºC – although this is not the only criterion, of course; most of Mediterranean and southern Spain records annual average temperatures of about 18ºC – and its rainfall is well below the requisite 25 centimetres a year.

In fact, some of the highest temperatures outside of built-up areas in Europe are found in summer in the Tabernas, so if you're planning a trip to this must-see geological gem, you might want to either do it now or wait until around October.




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