Ten Things To Do On The Costa Blanca
The Costa Blanca or White Coast is one of Spain’s most popular holiday areas. Stretching for 125 miles, it has numerous safe, fine-sand beaches and buckets of sunshine for most of the year, but if you explore a little further there is much more to discover. From cosmopolitan towns to quaint villages, rugged mountains and artistic endeavours, beach walks at sunset or partying until dawn, here the choice is yours.
1. Don’t Miss The Airport City
So many people fly into Alicante and then head straight out again, which is a shame because the city has so much to offer and even has its own beach. It also boasts a lovely waterfront promenade that gives the illusion of walking on waves and a 16th Century fortress accessed by taking a lift inside of the mountain. There are two fine cathedrals to wander around, a quaint Old Town to explore and a host of museums and art galleries to absorb. The MARQ Archaeological museum is a fascinating delve into history, or for something quirky try the Museo de Hogueras which is a series of festival stalls, but most impressive is the MACA, the new contemporary art museum opposite the Basilica of Santa Maria. Housed in an imposing building that was built as a wheat granary in 1685, it showcases works by Picasso and Miro as well as other Spanish and International artists.
2. Visit A Castle
With a hundred castles to choose from there will be one to suit you. The Spanish website www.costablanca.org has five different routes that encompasses them all but it’s fun to just grab a map and plan your own route. Don’t miss the fortress town of Guadalest. The drive inland past citrus and pomegranate groves, vineyards and olive trees is delightful and the dramatic sight of the Castillo de San Jose perched on its rock is worth the trip alone. Reached through a natural tunnel, it offers spectacular views that reward you for climbing all the steps and after exploring the old settlement and museums you can sit in the lovely courtyard and sip a drink in the shade of the impenetrably-thick stone walls.
3. See Two Towns in One
Benidorm is a fun-friendly resort of two distinct halves. The Old Town is an evocative maze of winding cobbled streets spilling over with cafes and tapas bars looked down on by a blue and white domed church. The modern town is the place to be when you want entertaining. The enormous, impressive aquarium showcases every species living in the Med and many that are not. If like to watch fish, you can also catch a glass-bottomed boat from the harbour to the island to view them in their natural habitat. The market is where the locals shop. On Wednesdays and Sundays they flock to the huge outdoor market in the marketplace, but the Indoor Market is where they go for everything from a haircut to gift shopping. You can also exchange money there at a good rate and there is a delicious cake shop and cafe. In the Old Town, Oliver’s Bar, with its British feel to it, is a quieter place to watch the world go by and for great cocktails in a friendly atmosphere try Bar 69 in the Placa De La Constitucio.
4. Catch A Festival
There are hundreds of fiestas each year on the Costa Blanca so you are bound to be able to find one. The most important one, held in every town, is the Moors and Christians Festival, which dates back to the 16th century. The streets are decked out like the Middle Ages and it usually begins with the mass arrival of both armies in procession all wearing sumptuous costumes. Then follows battle re-enactments and a spectacular gunpowder finale.
5. Imitate A Twitcher
The Costa Blanca is one of the most important stopovers for migrating birds in Europe and 172 different birds have been recorded here. On your walks, look upwards for golden eagles, kites, buntings and cuckoos and down for herons, red ducks, purple swamp hens and avocets. There are many viewing centres, from the wetland reserves and marshes all along the coast, to the salt flats and inland parks. The magnificent La Mata Lake close to Torrevieja and the salt mountains of Santa Pola near Guardamar are also perfect for seeing flamingos whose numbers are rapidly increasing. El Hondo near Eliche has been officially designated ‘An Area of Outstanding Beauty’ and its 1000 hectares of water boasts endangered species of duck as well as being a good place to see a murmuration of starlings at dusk.
6. Discover the Smaller Towns
Every one of the towns and villages along the Costa Blanca has its own unique character, from rocky-coved Denia or relaxing Benisa, to places on the tourist trail like the ancient village of Calpe dominated by it’s large rocky outcrop. Elche has extensive palm groves to wander in; Torrevieja with its fine beaches and clear waters is the Spaniards holiday choice; Santa Pola is a small port with wild sand dunes; Moraira is mountainous and Javea, full of history. Altea is one of the most photogenic. The steep walk (or taxi ride) up the winding streets from the sea to the old town leads to a rather special and beautiful church. From the viewpoint here you can see for miles along the coast. Altea is home to a lot of art shops and some very good restaurants - try Sabor, which has an excellent chef.
7. Go For A Walk In The Park
The area behind the coast is dense with natural parks. Visit the Algar Waterfalls on outskirts of village of Callosa d’En Sarria for an unspoilt spot where the water glistens in sun and you can take a dip in a cool pool. Macizo del Montgo near Denia has a mix of easy and tough routes for walking and the really energetic can climb the Montgo Mountain for stunning views. The Parque Natural de Penyal D’Ifach, Calpe, offers a climb of the rock and the Serra Gelada, or Ice Mountain, is huge, rugged and tranquil. If you want a flatter more urban retreat, The Jardin de los Sentidos in Altea, with its 400 species of plants, is somewhere you can wander then sit and have a cup of tea.
8. Awaken Your Inner Child
For kids and kids at heart there are numerous theme parks. Whether you want animals, water, gravity-defying rides or a more educational sort of fun you will find it here. The area abounds with Animal Parks like Rio Safari Park in Elche, Safari Aitana, high inland on the Alcoy road, and Terra Natura Animal Park in Benidorm. Benidorm also offers water fun at Aqua Natura, Aqualandia and Mundomar, where you can swim with dolphins. For an adrenaline rush try Terra Mitica, Benidorm, where you travel around the ancient world, or Pola Park, Gran Alacant. There are also watersports galore offered at most beaches. For a quieter day, hire bicycles on the safe, flat, converted rail-track in Denia, then visit the toy museum, or go to Torrevieja and take a look at the Spanish Armada’s first submarine.
9. Eat Paella In Its Birthplace
This is Spain’s largest rice producing area, originally planted by the Moors over 1200 years ago. Paella is actually the name for the pan used by farm labourers to cook the rice over their wood-fires adding whatever else was to hand – tomatoes, onions, beans, herbs, snails, a bit of rabbit. Now there are at least 200 versions. For an authentic Paella experience you can’t beat the smaller towns. Raco De L’Arros in Moraira is worth travelling to as they have a huge variety, including the original rabbit and snails version. In Rojales, Bar El Resspiro is a welcoming family-run place whose seafood paella has a great reputation and in Javea you can find traditional Spanish food including paella at the Posidonia, where they also cater well for gluten-free and vegan clients. El Andaluz in Calpe is a local favourite and the vegetable and pork paella comes highly recommended and Alicante’s Casa De Comida is a local, tucked-away secret. For an adventure, To-Bar, Alicante, has a six-course tasting menu for two for around 40 euros.
10. Discover The Gypsy In You
Flamenco was originally the word for a gypsy song. It now encompasses the music and particularly the dance, which is a physical expression of passion over a story that is usually heartbreaking. The guitarists have to follow the dancer as she stamps and clicks and pours out all her emotions. The fabulous costumes and shoes are sourced from specialists and the guitars are often handmade. Shows can be found in most big towns but Alicante has some of the more authentic ones, including a popular one involving the famous Spanish horses. To book see www.torreveija.com or www.flamencotickets.com.