Shoot ‘Em Ups and Spaghetti Westerns in Tabernas, Spain: Fort Bravo, Texas Hollywood

High noon at Fort Bravo, Texas Hollywood

High noon at Fort Bravo, Texas Hollywood

We left early in the morning to make the seven-plus hour drive from Lagos, Portugal, to Mojacar, a resort city where friends were staying in Spain’s Costa del Sol region.  The toll road (the A-22) that took us along the southern coast of Portugal was smooth and sparsely populated and, after several months of driving along this stretch of road, we felt sufficiently confident to listen to an audio book while the miles passed.  As usual, we traded the time behind the wheel back and forth and, with a cooler for drinks and some snacks, we only needed to make a few, short breaks.  About five hours into the drive we passed north of Granada and were thrilled to see the Alhambra atop the hill in the distance which we had visited a few months earlier and wrote about here.  The highway began to climb and wind through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and we spied snow on many of the higher peaks although it was almost summer. Oleander, with pink and white flowers, and bushes with brilliant yellow blossoms filled the median of the highway with vibrant color for miles.  Evidently this was a major freight route because we passed uncountable numbers of long haul tractor-trailers (we’re not sure who drawled, “We’ve got us a convoy” from the old song which cracked us up) laboring their way up the slopes and braking on the downside.

Presently, we left the highway for a two-lane road; the land became more arid and the small olive groves and vineyards that we could see from the road thinned out.  We passed through little villages and wondered out loud why people had chosen to live in such an inhospitable country.  And then, like tech-dependent travelers everywhere, we checked our GPS and finally (a throw-back to our generation) we pulled out our road map of Spain as well to check our whereabouts.

The Tabernas Desert in Spain (with some incongruous teepees!)

The Tabernas Desert in Spain (with some incongruous teepees!)

Another view of the Tabernas Desert with mesas and an old west landscape (see the cemetery?)

Another view of the Tabernas Desert with mesas and an old west landscape

And there we were – right in the middle of the Desierto de Tabernas, surrounded by landscape that looked strangely familiar, like something out of an old, western movie: dusty, dry with low-lying scrub brush, ravines, plateaus and mesas.  In fact, the Tabernas Desert is located in Europe’s driest province, Almeria, where rainfall averages around 6 to 7 inches annually and has the distinction of being the “continent’s only true desert climate.” Evidently, we weren’t the only ones who thought of America’s southwest and old western movies as we gazed at the passing scenery because a few miles down the road we spotted a huge, honest-to-God billboard for “Fort Bravo, Texas Hollywood.” Fort Bravo Hollywood Texas, Spain - photo by No Particular Place To Go

Here’s the landscape made famous by many of the old “Spaghetti Westerns,” a term widely used to describe the international films, most of which were directed by Italians and included multilingual crews and casts from Spain, Italy, France, Germany and the US. In fact, between 1960 and 1980, over 600 European Westerns were made.  Sergio Leone, an Italian who shot many of his movies in the Tabernas area, was the genre’s best known director and his wildly popular film-making style in the sixties made his movies international box office hits.  We’d seen the three movies known as the “Man with No Name” or “Dollars Trilogy” with the up and coming star, Clint Eastwood, which included one of our all-time favorites, “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” No wonder we had a feeling of déjà vu!Fort Bravo Hollywood Texas - Spain - photo by No Particular Place To To

 

Fort Bravo Hollywood Texas, Spain - photo by No Particular Place To Go

 

Fort Bravo Hollywood Texas, Spain - photo by No Particular Place To GoThe sets built for many of the old spaghetti westerns were acquired by a stuntman-turned-entrepreneur, Rafa Molina, in 1977 and have been turned into a nostalgic western-style theme park called “Fort Bravo, Texas Hollywood.”   At the entrance gate we handed over the not-so-insubstantial fee of 35€ which included a senior discount.  A few steps took us back in time – a hundred years and more – and place – the American wild west – as we strolled through dusty streets exploring movie sets, ready and waiting for their next role as backdrops in an old west or southwestern epic.  Fort Bravo Hollywood Texas, Spain - photo by No Particular Place To Go

 

Fort Bravo Hollywood Texas, Spain - photo by No Particular Place To Go

 

Fort Bravo Hollywood Texas, Spain - photo by No Particular Place To Go

Boomers like us will remember the golden age of westerns, the weekly television shows like Rawhide, Bonanza and Gunsmoke. We spent many weekend nights at the movie theater where we could watch handsome men with watchful eyes and murky pasts pursue outlaws who had committed dastardly deeds, protect wagon trains of settlers moving west from marauders and chase after dreams of gold.  Cowboys built ranches, sheriffs delivered law and order by gun or by rope and merchants turned obscure outposts into bustling towns.  These were places where justice was pursued by a fast-draw hero with a dead-on aim, the bad men were easily identifiable by their black hats and “shifty eyes” and anyone foreign was either naïve or downright suspect.  Women knew their places, too: they kept their virtue unsullied and their mouths shut, looked slightly disheveled but alluring and listened to their men.  A feisty woman who questioned the way things were done always had questionable morals.  Stereotypes abounded and, now that we think about it, while westerns were lots of fun in their heyday, sometimes it might just be better to move on …

By Anita Oliver and Richard NashFort Bravo, Texas Hollywood, Spain Photo by No Particular Place To Go

Note:  We’ve only talked about the spaghetti westerns here but the Tabernas Desert and the surrounding area of the Almeria Province have served as the backdrops for over 400 movies of many genres including Cleopatra, Lawrence of Arabia, Patton, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and are even seen in the 6th season of Game of Thrones.  Here’s a link with a little more background:  http://www.unique-almeria.com/movie-filming-locations.html 

46 comments

  • Fantastic photos – what a fascinating place. I had no idea all those sets were still there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for stopping by and we’re glad you liked the photos. We had a most excellent time and you’ll have to check it out when you’re in the area. Your kids will love the stagecoach ride and watching the bar girls kick up their heels with the can-can plus they can check out a “genuine” old west town. It was great kitsch but lots of fun even for cynical scenics like us! 🙂

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  • Very cool! I didn’t realize such a thing existed in Spain or that so many famous movies were filmed there. Love all those picture you snapped! If I didn’t know better I would’ve thought that was Texas, for sure! Also, didn’t realize you were in our neck of the woods. I would have told you to stop drive up towards those snow-capped Sierra Nevada mountains and come say hi! 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • I checked out where you were and yes, we really were close by. Those mountain roads are nothing for our trusty little Skoda to chug up and down! And maybe the higher elevations were cooler because, not only did the Tabernas desert look dry and dusty, it was hot! It’s hard to imagine what it feels like during the height of the tourist season in July and August but it felt like we were back in Texas. Luckily, the saloon pictured in the photos is more than a facade and has a place to set a spell and drink a cold one!

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  • I am thrilled to find your blog! Portugal and Spain are on my “bucket list.” Your writing inspires me to move these places to the top of the list!

    Liked by 1 person

  • I’d heard about spaghetti westerns but didn’t know much about them. It must have been great wandering around all those old film sets.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really was fun to check out the mix of different buildings and see so many amazing details like business signs and clock faces. There were several sections filled with buildings of wood and clapboard for the westerns and adobe and stucco buildings where you could imagine yourself transported back to a border town near Mexico. There was even an old fort complete with a stockade fence as well as the teepees that we pictured and a cemetery. And the train depot with the track that just went nowhere was a real favorite!

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  • Another one for the list, Tabernas, Spain, sounds like a fun time. We love a good western thanks for bringing us on the tour.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Those travel lists get longer and longer the more we travel, don’t they? And it was fun wandering about the almost empty streets of the film sets. Evidently, like any theme park, the place attracts hordes of people and their families during the summer and they stage a few plays at certain times for entertainment but we liked exploring the almost eerie quiet and the illusion that we really had wandered into a ghost town!

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  • So fascinating! I knew they weren’t filmed in the USA, but I had no idea where. It does look so “Texas!!”

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’re glad that you found this as fascinating as we did, Marilyn and also noticed the resemblance to parts of Texas. Having lived in Texas for over ten years and driven across it and a great many other southwestern states several times over the years, we definitely had a feeling of deja vu. It’s true that travel is “educational” and not always in the ways we’d expect!

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  • I had never heard of “spaghetti Westerns.” What a fabulous find. Beautiful not only as a backdrop for Westerns but also for your wonderful photography. Thanks for haring such an interesting post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Irene. We both carry cameras wherever we go and then our reward is to spend (endless) hours sorting through them and revisiting places we’ve seen. It’s a lot of fun and, many times, we find some good pics too. We’d both heard the term “spaghetti westerns” over the years but it wasn’t until we stumbled on Fort Bravo – Texas Hollywood that we actually realized what the term meant. And here’s a funny factoid: in Japan, they’re known as “macaroni westerns!”

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  • What an adventure you two are on! My latest was a weekend at Flathead Lake and it was so beautiful with some snow still on the Mission Mountains. Believe it or not there is a Western Movies channel where all they show are all the old westerns ( I don’t subscribe). If I do watch one I’ll be wondering if it was filmed in Spain. What a crazy world! So glad you are enjoying life together.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Karen! We have great memories of weekends spent at Flathead Lake and swimming in the feet-numbing water. We were in Missoula last September and we both remarked that we’d forgotten how truly beautiful western Montana is. How lucky you are to enjoy it! And even though we’re in Europe, it’s amazing how many English channels we have on our Portuguese cable station. Even, a classics channel with lots of old westerns!

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  • Fun post and who knew such a gem of a place would be found in Portugal?! Funny, because there is no way those old-school western series would make it these days… far to politically incorrect. Remember Miss Kitty and her not so secret romance with Marshall Dillon? Ha! Although, Rifleman was a bit ahead of its time with the single father story line. Ah…they don’t make them like they used to, and that’s probably a good thing! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • We totally agree with you Patti that none of the old-school westerns would be made today. We know there are (too many) people who say that political correctness has gone too far but some of the stereotypes in old movies really are cringe-worthy! And it’s funny you mentioned Miss Kitty because you just KNEW she had some stories she could tell! Still, we both remember rooting for the heroes as kids, holding our breathe in case the bad guys triumphed and wishing we could have ridden a wagon train across the prairies. P.S. The sets were actually in southern Spain but wouldn’t it have been fun to see them in Portugal?

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  • As I started reading, I kept thinking, “What? What? This is Spain, right?” This was a fascinating post and I would have loved to have seen these places when I was in that area.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Thanks for telling me about a place and an interesting story that I wouldn’t have known otherwise! It all seems very incongruous out there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Our friends had told us that part of the area we’d be driving through was arid (no kidding!) but we definitely had a feeling that we were on the wrong road and even in the wrong country! A lot of times our travels seem to have a twist of happenstance and serendipity where we find something unexpected and in this case, dead-smack in the middle-of-nowhere!

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  • Very interesting! Never knew all those shows were filmed there~ Continue sending these, please!

    Liked by 1 person

  • What a side trip! How in the world did you even find this place? So, you were just traveling around and ran into the Wild, Wild West? Crazy what you can find in the middle of the desert. I so enjoyed this adventure of yours and the memories of the old Spagetti Westerns. What fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We just, no kidding Debbie, ran into it! The GPS choose this 2-lane road through the Tabernas Desert (which we also weren’t expecting!) rather than the more-traveled road through the resort city of Almeria. We’ve learned to trust our guide (you definitely don’t want to hear what we call “her!” 🙂 ) but it was especially difficult when we really were in the middle of landscape from the old west. Totally wild fun and a great story of serendipity!

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  • ME BE in Panama

    Hola Anita & Richard, One thing we enjoy about your posts — we can tell you two are like us, adventurous best pals! Your comment, “we’re not sure who drawled, “We’ve got us a convoy” from the old song which cracked us up,” will probably bring you right back to that place when one of you says it in the future. Many years ago By & I took the long two lane road out to Key West, along the way were signs every mile or so, “Stay in Your Lane!” It made us laugh like a couple kids back then. Now when we see something or someone “out of line” one of us will pipe up with, “Stay in Your Lane” and we’ll crack up while those around us scratch their heads about the 2 senior locos!!! Life’s too short not to have fun with your bestie! Thanks for taking us along. Mariah

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perfectly said, Mariah. You are exactly right about life being too short not to spend every moment you can with a smile on your face and laughing with your best friend! Like all couples who share memories that go back over 3 decades, it doesn’t take more than a glance or a phrase sometimes to get us laughing and know exactly what the other is thinking. Loved your “Stay in the Lane” story too – there are all sorts of ways to walk down the fun side of memory lane! 🙂

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  • Very interesting and fun post Anita and Richard. And the photos are wonderful. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  • In your former life, you would not have to travel 7 hours to find a Western ranch . Life is a movie set.
    Wonder what your European friends think of the current political fiasco and our own real life ” shoot. Ups” in Lousiana, Minnesota and Dallas? It is quite disturbing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re right about our former lives, as we lived only an hour away from the historic King’s Ranch in Texas, one of the largest ranches in the world and also lived in true western country, Montana and Idaho for many years. And unfortunately, life is sadder and more unbelievable than a movie set at times, Maida. The black and white westerns made very little effort to include diverse groups of people except in stereotyped roles and justice, as we know, doesn’t come with a bullet … And we agree, the racism, sexism, religious intolerance and violence is extremely disturbing … 😦

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  • Yee Ha! That was a fun interlude. I had no idea such a place existed.
    Those teepees are intriguing!
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yee Ha indeed, Alison! Like so much of our travels it was fun to just bump in to this attraction on our way to somewhere else. There we were, admiring the Alhambra and lovely vineyards and olive trees and, all of a sudden, we were in the old west! If we were in the US we probably wouldn’t have even stopped but the total unexpectedness of finding such a link to our American past made this a place we couldn’t pass up. And it was fascinating to learn about Europe’s story in the old spaghetti westerns too!

      Liked by 1 person

  • I loved this post, as well! Just looking at your wonderful pictures takes me back to my childhood. Even though the price seems a bit expensive, we may visit Fort Bravo on our upcoming trip to Spain. Thanks for sharing and writing such an interesting post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a bit spendy but we loved our trip down memory lane and the feeling of going way back in time as well as the total unexpectedness of finding western Americana in southern Spain! If you have time, a visit to Fort Bravo, Texas Hollywood might be a fun change from the beaches and grand old cities, ruins and museums. And if you’re a “spaghetti westerns” buff a visit to the old sets is well worth it. They also do a “Shoot ‘Em Up” stage act in the old saloon three times a day that’s corny and a lot of fun to watch. Thanks for stopping by Maggie!

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  • What a funny tourist location. I doubt it would be quite so entertaining in the States 😉 Love your then/now comparison. Sometimes it’s not so much ‘the good old days’ as we might recall.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Definitely a place out in the middle of nowhere, Susan! I remember visiting Knot’s Berry Farm as a kid near Anaheim, California and loving their old western ghost town but I think kids and their parents are a lot more sophisticated than we were then. (What’s with the vampires and zombies???) The old TV shows and westerns from a few decades ago were magic but, like we said, sometimes those good ole days might not have been so good!

      Liked by 1 person

  • How interesting to see a bit of the old West in Europe. It would be a lot of fun to tour this. I remember many of the movies and television shows you’ve mentioned.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even though the price was a bit steep we really got our “bang for the buck” Donna! We had a vague memory about hearing somewhere that some of the old westerns were filmed in Spain and I remembered that Clint Eastwood’s career really took off because of the spaghetti westerns in Europe. However, it was completely unexpected to run into a look-alike southwest desert while we were driving through Spain and find out that this was where so many of the movies were made. So much of great travel experiences is total serendipity!

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  • Loved this post as those old westerns were the entertainment I grew up watching (on that black and white television)! Had heard the phrase ‘spaghetti westerns’ before but not given it much thought. . .your post was both entertaining and informative. Keep ’em coming!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jackie – Definitely a trip in the “way back” machine! Richard can remember when his family actually bought their first TV and, while I’m a few years younger, I remember when my mom and dad bought the big console color TV! It was a lot of fun writing this post as so much of our growing up memories revolved around the old westerns and it was just a hoot to find out that so many were made in Tabernas, Spain and Europe.

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  • Oh, l love this post. The man with no name trilogy DVD set is one of the very few things l kept after clearing out our storage unit. I have seen them so many,many times along with other faves like the Corscican Brothers. I always look forward to seeing my neighbor here because he looks like Eli Wallach ☺️. I would have balked at the entry fee though, much as l would have loved to see it. I’d heard of this place before, but it’s such a long drive. You know what, l am going to search for “for a few dollars more right now” while we wait for Eden’s plane to land😊😊😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • We downloaded “Once Upon a time in the west” and “A fistful of dollars” and watched them with our friends after we’d visited Fort Bravo and they were fun to watch again. The music soundtracks were especially amazing as Ennio Morricone scored a lot of the films. It was really a crack up though to watch the roles for women – so totally stereotyped and just plain awful! And your comment about waiting for Eden and Denny’s plane has me thinking again how small the world can be for travelers. We’ll let you know when we make another trip your way!

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  • Good post! 35€ sounds a bit steep but your pictures make it look good value for money. I once went to a similar sort of place in Gran Canaria called Sioux Cit and we even had one in Derbyshire UK called ‘American Adventure’ but it wasn’t very successful and closed down a few years ago now.. I used to love TV westerns and even now I will watch the reruns. I wrote about them once –
    https://aipetcher.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/dads-scrap-book-tv-westerns/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the link Andrew! That was a great list of old TV shows you put together and we could remember watching so many of them. Loved your question about some of the costumes which were really over-the-top, especially the “Lone Ranger’s” powder blue duds. I think we’re going to have to take a trip down memory lane and check out a couple of our old favorites one of these nights… 🙂

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