Holy City of Caravaca
Each of the five holy cities – the others are Jerusalem, Rome, Santiago de Compostela and Santo Toribio de Liébana – are, by Papal authority, allowed to celebrate the Perpetual Jubilee, meaning a celebration every seven years at the town's Sanctuary of the True Cross.
Legend has it that, in 1232, the Moorish King Abu Zeid was converted to Christianity when he saw how two angels brought a cross down from heaven to a priest held prisoner in the castle, in order for him to give mass.
Almost 400 years later, inspired by the legend, on the site of the fortress, the Sanctuary of the True Cross was built, with its spectacular red marble façade and its fascinating Holy Art and History Museum. Created by the Knights Templar to house a fragment of the 'True Cross', it is, now, primarily a shrine to which thousands of pilgrims pay their respects every year.
The Camino de Levante connects Orihuela with Caravaca de la Cruz, and is a popular route of pilgrimage. On foot, by bicycle or on horseback, each chooses the best way to experience the spirituality of their own voyage as they complete the 120km journey to the Sanctuary of the True Cross. It consists of five stages, during which, apart from strengthening one's faith, there is also time to enjoy the beautiful landscapes and the gastronomy of the region.
But Caravaca de la Cruz is steeped in history throughout; down the centuries, the town has been visited by Iberians, Romans, Muslims and the Knights Templar.
At a distance, the town takes on the appearance of a film set – exactly as a director may have imagined an old Spanish town, with narrow streets and small squares, its baroque and renaissance buildings all overlooked by the castle and church at the top of a hill. Yet for all its apparent 'other worldliness' Caravaca de la Cruz remains a living town, with its sun-bleached houses and towers seemingly defying the onset of the 21st century.
All these historic and emblematic buildings provide the perfect milieu for one of Spain's most recognisable festivals, the colourful, loud and internationally-renowned festivities of 'Santísima y Vera Cruz de Caravaca', from May 1-5.
The Caballos del Vino (Wine Horses) takes place on May 2, the most intense day of its festivity, where thousands gather each year to watch the horses race up the old streets to the castle, the majority of spectators wearing white shirts, with a red neckerchief, as they commemorate a legend dating back 700 years to when the castle of the sacred city was besieged.
Caravaca de la Cruz's privileged position also ensures a variety of rural activities with many people visiting for the opportunities it offers for relaxed bike rides, horse-riding or simply hill walking. Small wonder then, that it's not just those of a religious persuasion who make regular pilgrimages to Caravaca de la Cruz.
A three-night, B&B break, from May 3-6, at the two-star Hotel Malena – only a 10-minute drive from the town centre – in a twin or double room, costs just £58.17 per room, per night.
The Murcia-San Javier Airport lies just over an hour's drive south-east of Caravaca de la Cruz, and flights are available from Luton, Gatwick, Stansted, East Midlands, Manchester, Bournemouth and Glasgow Prestwick airports.