Punta Umbria

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Punta Umbria

Punta Umbria

The closest beach to Huelva City, this town is the most popular resort along the Huelva Costa de la Luz .
During July and August it is overflowing with Spanish visitors and it's worth booking accommodation in advance at this time.

It sits on the banks of the Río Odiel river estuary and is surrounded by extensive salt marshes, which make up the El Paraje Natural Marismas del Odiel, the most important nature reserve in the area after the Parque Nacional Coto Donaña.

Historically, the first holidaymakers were the British employees of the Rio Tinto Mining Company who started to arrive here at the end of the nineteenth century. The mining company obtained permission in 1896 to construct a sanatorium. Instead, they built 12 colonial-style wooden houses, raised off the ground and with wide verandahs, for the convalescence of the company's miners and managers in the summer. This so-called Barrio Inglés has since been demolished, but the area retains the name Los Ingleses and a few houses in this style still stand today. One is opposite the harbour on the Paseo de la Ría opposite the harbour. In 2003 the town decided to resurrect its heritage with a reconstruction of one of these typical British houses, which is now a museum, the Casa Museo de los Ingleses.

In the 1920s Spanish visitors started to take their holidays here, when a ferry link from Huelva was established with steam boats crossing to carry tourists. During the summer, boats known as canoas still run today between Huelva and Punta Umbría at regular intervals.

There are some superb beaches running along the south side of the punta (point). The closest beach to the town is the Playa La Mata Negra, lined with many restaurants, bars and summer chiringuitos. This beach has the best facilities, including parasols and hammocks for hire, showers, toilets and lifeguard. Windsurfing, sailing and boat trips are among the activities offered locally. Just outside Punta Umbría on the A497 road to Huelva city is Camping Playa La Bota, claiming to be Andalucía's first ecological campsite, with wooden cabins for rent. From here there are several good walks over the Paraje Natural Marismas del Odiel and the protected area of La Laguna de El Portil.

The sunset over the harbour is worth seeing from one of the many bars that line the waterfront; the view is slightly marred, however, by Huelva's petrol refineries and factories that can be seen across the estuary. Running parallel to the waterfront Paseo de la Ría is the busy pedestrianised main shopping street, Calle Ancha. Here there is a good choice of bars and restaurants to sample some of Punta Umbría's great seafood, much of which is caught locally. In April there is the town's local Festival de la Chirla y la Coquina (clam festival) but these shellfish specialities of Punta Umbría are served in restaurants all over the town.
During the summer months there are many late-night bars and clubs open around Calle Ancha. Also worth seeing is the 15m-high Torre de la Umbría look-out tower, which was built in 1614 to watch for Berber pirate ships. If the boats were sighted, a fire would be lit on top of the tower to send out a warning signal.

In keeping with Punta Umbría's rich maritime heritage, the festival in July celebrating the Virgen del Carmen, the patron saint of the town and of the sea, is an important one. The statue of the Virgen del Carmen is paraded through the streets to the beach and then taken out to sea in a fishing boat, a tradition believed to have originated in the Costa de la Luz .

The town is surrounded by a total of three protected areas. The most important is the extensive El Paraje Natural Marismas del Odiel reserve, declared a biosphere reserve by UNESCO, which is situated at the mouth of the River Odiel. It stretches for 7,000ha between Huelva city, Punta Umbría, Gibraleón and Aljaraque and can be accessed by any of these places. The reserve is famous for its distinctive wetland flora and fauna. It is an important stopping place for migratory birds and is home to a third of Europe's spoonbill population. In winter there are many aquatic birds here, including thousands of flamingos. To explore the marismas there are several senderos (footpaths) with birdwatching sites starting from near the vistors' centre Centro de Vistantes Calatilla (959 509 011), just outside Huelva city off the Punta Umbría road. The centre has an exhibition about the marismas and information about footpaths and guided tours. The nearest nature reserve to Punta Umbría is the 2km-long stretch of sand dunes, El Paraje Natural los Enebrales, which runs along the beach from Punta Umbría to La Bota beach and is accessible by footpath or cycleway. The small freshwater lagoon in the Paraje Natural La Laguna de El Portil has many breeding birds including black-necked grebes. It has three birdwatching observation hides.