IT’S Friday night in Plaza De San Francisco in Cartagena’s old quarter.

I’m sipping an ice-cold Tinto de Verano and surrounded by hundreds of people dressed in historical Roman garb.

One of them is inexplicably playing bagpipes. Suddenly there’s a loud trumpet sound – and another hundred or so people in detailed, largely homemade Roman costumes begin to feed into the square from the skinny alleyways leading to it, triumphantly playing drums and brass instruments.

The National: A man plays bagpipes in Cartagena's old quarter A man plays bagpipes in Cartagena's old quarter

Somehow, the small group of journalists and Spanish guides I’m sitting with in the bright September sunshine appear to be the only UK tourists here to witness this unbelievable sight.

Every year, Cartagena, the Murcian city adorned with Roman ruins, hosts this incredible festival. Residents and those from around the region flood into the area to see the Carthaginians and Romans Fiesta, which sees a whole week of parades, battle re-enactments and special events remembering the Romans’ capture of the city in 209 BC.

It is quite something to behold – and locals really get into the spirit of it. While whole families walk around in armoured outfits, our group are in the minority in our summer dresses and sandals.

“What do you think?” our guide Carlos asks, grinning, before reeling off facts about the Roman architecture in the city.

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We’ve already visited the stunning amphitheatre – only discovered in 1988 and now home to an immersive museum – and explored the Roman Fort.

You’d be pressed to find such well-preserved Roman heritage outside of Italy, and it’s clear Murcia’s residents are exceptionally proud of their abilities to preserve the ancient sites.

Murcia is sometimes described as the forgotten region of Spain. It’s jammed between the tourism giants of Andalucia and Valencia, meaning its variety of landscapes can go ignored by overseas visitors.

Over my four days in the area, I was taken aback by how much it has to offer; with urban landscapes just minutes away from idyllic beaches and rolling hills. Scots seeking to branch out from their usual Spanish destinations would love the slower pace and authentic feel to the region.

The area is about more than its history, though. Over four days we were lucky to experience a variety of Murcian specialities – from contemporary cheese and wine shops (La Diligente) offering up incredible tasting menus, to an exclusive resort in the Calblanque Regional Park.

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First up, we headed to the city of Murcia – only 40 minutes from the busy Alicante Airport by taxi. In the sweltering 33-degree heat we opt not to eat outside in the buzzing Plaza de las Flores (as beautiful as it is) and go inside a small unsuspecting tapas restaurant called El Secreto in the corner of the square.

“You must try the marineras,” local expert Maria gushes as the smart-suited waiter presents a small breadstick topped with Russian salad and anchovies.

It’s followed by octopus, speciality rice with melt-in-the-mouth pork chunks, artichokes with cured meats, and washed down with a plentiful supply of local wine. For dessert, another speciality is presented. A sugary, cinnamon-y, doughy fried lemon leaf (below).

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“We love showing the tourists how to do this,” Maria boasts as she removes the dough from the leaf in one clean sweep. My plate is a mess; albeit a deliciously warm and citrussy one.

At the wine and cheese tasting, just hours later, I’m devouring something called Murcia al Vino – a renowned local goat’s cheese that’s been bathed in red wine – and trying to pace myself as we’re served five different local wines from small vineyards. At just €12 a bottle for some of them, it’s hard to complain.

Murcia is clearly a haven for foodies, and you’re in luck if you want to burn off those calorific meals.

One of Spain’s greenways (a disused railway line now dedicated to walkers and cyclists) starts in the historic city before following the River Mula through semi-desert and into the woodlands of Murcia’s north-west. Cyclists and runners buzz along its route into the city late into the evening.

After spending 24 hours in the city, it’s a change of pace as we head for the exclusive sport and leisure resort of La Manga. We’re staying at the newly renovated Grand Hyatt, a haven for golfers with its 6.2km, 18-hole course.

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It’s a popular location for Scotland’s biggest sports stars, with Kenny Dalglish owning property here and Andy Murray spending summers training on the resort’s acclaimed tennis courts. Pedro Sánchez, the director of golf at the hotel but no relation to the Spanish premier, gleefully informs us that Premier League teams often travel there for practice over the summer.

The surroundings are stunning, the kind of place Mike White should seriously consider for a future season of The White Lotus, with hills framing the resort and the Mediterranean Sea glistening in the distance.

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THE inside of the hotel is immaculate, and the renovation has left the venue with 11 restaurants, an Arabian-style spa and other top-level, five-star facilities. It is not cheap, and the service reflects that, as does the clientele. The guests lean older here – lots of white linen and designer handbags – and during the off-season, these beige, open spaces feel empty and quiet.

Off the property, though, the hotel owns a more relaxed open-air restaurant on the cliffs, overlooking the gorgeous Cala del Barco. Enjoying salted fish and razor clams here, with crashing waves, laughter and clinking glasses providing the soundtrack, is a far better experience than the interior dining options.

After our night out immersed in ancient Roman history, we travel the short distance from the hotel to the Cabo de Palos peninsula. Despite its beautiful beaches, this seaside location is not overrun by the tacky touristy-ness many Scots will be familiar with in other Spanish locations.

On a warm Saturday morning, we paddleboard from the quiet beach, over to the local lighthouse. It feels good to do something active after the amount of seafood I’ve scoffed on this trip. We then climb the 300 steps of the historic monument, and shortly afterwards, our Spanish guides reward us with more salted fish, traditional arroz with seabass and yet another glass of Tinto de Verano.

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To conclude our day by the sea, we’re taken out on a small boat into the Mar Menor where we gaze at the sparkling sea and take turns controlling the music.

“The only rule is no reggaeton,” jokes Carlos before Daddy Yankee is inevitably queued up.

We hope to swim in the sea, but due to Spain’s exceptionally hot summer, the water is filled with jellyfish. Looking off the side of the boat, you can see the squishy creatures bobbing around, and diving into this jellyfish soup isn’t very appealing. We sail back after an hour, making the most of our time in the sunshine before returning to Scotland on an easy two-hour flight to Glasgow Airport in the morning.