With a population of just 300,000 Alicante is not a large city in European terms, but as the capital of the Costa Blanca it is a major travel destination for many European tourists. Over the years this has injected a cosmopolitan feel to the city, while retaining much of its traditional culture.
Already well known for being relatively inexpensive, with excellent beaches and a wide choice of accommodation, Alicante has a lot more to offer. A great deal of investment has gone into the preservation of its historical & architectural heritage. There are many fiestas (festivals) throughout the cities calendar, some of which are a real spectacle and well worth a look. The cuisine is another major bonus, with (affordable) good food available everywhere, alongside the middle to high end restaurants. Plenty of shopping opportunities also exist, ranging from souvenirs, local goods & handicrafts, to fashion items & modern shopping centres.
As with many Spanish towns & cities Alicante comes alive at night. Do not be put off by this; there really is something for all ages here. It is after all customary for Spanish families to go for a walk after their evening meal, perhaps to have an ice cream in one of the many Italian ice cream parlours, or to have a drink.
Whatever your preference, Alicante & the area surrounding it is bound to have something to offer you.
Alicante, Valencia and Castellón make up the three provinces of the Valencian Community, which covers 23,500 km² and is situated on the eastern coast of the peninsula. The coast is 485 km long and borders with Cataluña in the north and Murcia in the south. Each provincial coast has its own name; la Costa de Azahar in Castellón, la Costa de Valencia in Valencia and la Costa Blanca in Alicante .
The community has a population of 4 million, and the city of Alicante has 300,000 inhabitants.
Alicante´s history begins around the year 30,000 B.C. when Neanderthals lived here and their cave paintings were found in the province. However, many of today’s customs, gastronomy, art and architecture (baroque and gothic) were influenced by the Arab culture, as the Muslims attacked and ruled this area for nine centuries in 714 A.D.
The climate in the area is excellent, with an average temperature of 18°C in winter, and 32°C in summer, which means that one can enjoy the pleasures of the sea during most of the year, and the beach can be used for sun-bathing even in the winter!
The area’s gastronomy is rich in oils, vegetables, fruits, seafood and rice dishes, which are the main ingredients of the “Mediterranean Diet,” which is considered to be the healthiest in the world. The province is also famous for its sweets. One of the typical products is turrón, which is made out of almonds and honey and is a treat brought down from the Arabic culture. Today it is mostly eaten during the Christmas period, when 13 million tonnes of turrón is enjoyed each year, and 90% of it is devoured during the festive season.
Citrus fruits are the Valencian community´s biggest export, and stand for 80% of Spain´s production. Other important exports include olive oil, leather shoes, toys and wine. If however, you are more interested in craftsmanship, the area is renowned for its traditional ceramics, baskets, fans and furniture.
Alicante province is home to a number of English speaking private schools, or international schools as they have come to be known.
Santa Pola is located on the southern part of the Costa Blanca, approximately 17 kilometres south of Alicante . It has long been a fishing town, and indeed Santa Pola’s fishing harbour is one of the largest in the Mediterranean . In more recent years tourism has also become important, although most of the tourists here are Spanish. Many come from the interior of Spain , from cities like Madrid .
Like many Spanish towns the centre piece is its square; the square at Santa Pola is known as the Plaza de la Glorieta. A 20th century creation, the square is nothing amazing in itself, but many families congregate here in the evening to have an ice cream or a drink (well into the early hours), giving it a vibrant feel.
On one side of the square there is a magnificent 16th century castle, still used today to host events, and the focal point of various fiestas throughout the town calendar. Immaculately preserved it now houses a small museum and a chapel dedicated to the Virgin of Loreto. Entrance to the castle is free, but there is a small charge for the museum.
The town has several wonderful beaches, including over 4km of fine sand & crystalline water. At the Playa Lisa beach you can walk out to sea for kilometres and the water only reaches knee-height. The beaches are well maintained & facilities present have been recently upgraded, with wheelchair access/facilities, to floating platforms, numerous water sports, lifeguard stations & regular police patrols.
In addition to its fishing harbour a sports marina is in existence. This is in the process of being expanded to counter the rising need of mooring space.
Cuisine in Santa Pola is mainly traditional Spanish fare, although international tastes are also catered for. The highest concentrations of restaurants are lined up along the sea front. With those nearest the harbour focusing on dishes made from the catch of the day. Many of these are tapas restaurants serving freiduras, which are essentially fish & shellfish fried in batter.
The town of Guardamar del Segura is located on the Costa Blanca, 35 kilometres south of Alicante . With a population of 11,000 Guardamar is popular both amongst tourists & those seeking a more permanent home. Prettier than other towns along the coastline, Guardamar has a lot to offer, in its history, its cuisine, & more modern sporting/leisure facilities.
The beaches around Guardamar are very good; in fact the town is famous for its sand dunes. These are formed when the eastern winds push the sand inland from both the sea & the Segura river, creating dunes several metres high. In the past these so-called “flying sands” advanced over 1,300 metres before entering the town. Today pine trees & other plants have been planted, which stop the progress of the sands. As a result a “tree day” is now celebrated in Guardamar, symbolising the importance of the pine trees to the town for the younger generations.
The sheer quantity of trees planted has lead to large areas of attractive parkland (much of it protected), separating the beach completely from the interior in many places. Perhaps the best known section is the Reina Sofia Park, which makes for an ideal late afternoon stroll. Many birds & other creatures also benefit from the ecosystem all this has created.
Salt Water Lagoons/Lakes
Alicante province is home to a number of salt water lakes/lagoons. Many of these are host to wildlife, considered to be nature reserves & therefore protected. Others are worked for their salt deposits, exported for many uses all over the world, even as far as New York (to salt the roads).
The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers this part of Spain (Costa Blanca-Alicante province) to be one of the healthiest climates on the planet. The major reasons behind this are both the mildness of the climate throughout the year, & the low levels of humidity in the air. A major contributing factor to this low level humidity is the drying effect of the salt lakes.
As a result people with conditions often aggravated by the cold & damp, such as arthritis have found the climate here beneficial, & many of them seeking to move or purchase holiday homes in the area in later life. Since Roman times people have flocked to the region in order to visit some of the many spa’s & healing centres dotted around the coastline. Many of these spas offer skin healing treatments using the mud of the salt lakes, which is said to aid in the treatment of conditions such as eczema.
Covering over 3,700 hectares the reserve includes both the La Mata & Torrevieja salt water lagoons. The Torrevieja lagoon is largest at about 1,400 hectares & the La Mata lagoon about half that size. The rest of the reserve is down to pasture or scrub land. Connected to the sea by 2 artificial channels (Acequiones) & each other, the Mediterranean flows through to this shallow depression & the warms in the Spanish sun. The water in the Torrevieja lagoon is allowed to evaporate & the salt collected (1 million tons per year).
The salt marshes & reed beds are used by over 100 species of birds, feeding on the small crustaceans & larvae that live in this highly salty water.
The lagoons are famous for the flamingos, grebes & avocets that live here.
Why not take a walk or cycle around the lagoons, & don’t forget to visit the Reception Centre where there is a permanent exhibition.
Situated on the coast in the Southern Costa Blanca region. It is surrounded by two natural saltwater lagoons, which form the “Salterns of Torrevieja” considered the biggest in Europe . Located just 47kms from Alicante (the provincial capital) with its international airport, & 35kms from San Javier international airport in Murcia , it is ideally located for a 2nd home/short breaks alike. Its climate is dry & equable throughout the year with over 300 days of sunshine. This region of Spain is rated by the World Health Organisation, as being the healthiest climate on the planet.
Torrevieja was the home port of the largest fleet of sailing boats in the Mediterranean . Today the esteemed Real Club Nautico of Torrevieja & Puerto Deportivo Marina hold in excess of 1500 mooring places of high quality. Smaller marinas are dotted along the coastline (many within easy reach of the town).
Among the opportunities for recreation, the town has easy access to some of the best golf courses around. Villamartin (hosted the ’94 Mediterranean Open), Las Ramblas, Quesada, Campoamor, & the newly built La Finca course are all less than 15 minutes drive away. Further a field is the renowned La Manga Golf Club. A multitude of tennis clubs, a flying club, municipal football stadium, bull-ring, water-park, fairground, theatre & several cinemas are also in place.
Also of interest is the town of Cartagena (30 minutes drive), a delightful Roman port city, which has recently been revitalised. The Moorish capital of Spain, city of Granada, is also within reach (3 hours drive), this reputed to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world with an enormous amount of attractions, including a ski resort nearby.
Torrevieja like most important Spanish towns has a number of Fiestas. The procession on the night of Good Friday is one of the most admired on the eastern coast of Spain . In May the “Ferria de Mayo” is host to 300,000 people & the town comes to life with music, dance & costume. In June the “Holy Heart Festivities” are celebrated with children’s games, popular dances, & musical performances. On the 16th July there is the festivity of the “Virgin del Carmen” who is patron saint of fishermen & seamen. Finally from the 1st – 17th December the “Fiestas Patronales” (Patron Saints Days) conclude the year’s festivities with the main event, a procession on the night of the 8th.
Torrevieja as a town dates from the early 18th century when it was a fishing village built around one of the watchtowers that flanks the Costa Blanca coastline. This watchtower was called the ” Old Tower ” or la Torre Vieja, because of the bad condition that it was in, and this is where the village took its name from.
From the very beginning, the people of Torrevieja have carried out three main professions; sailors, fishermen and salt workers.
Sailors: The men from Torrevieja were ship builders and great sailors who transported wine, salt and flat roof tiles to America and the Phillipines. They had a long tradition of exporting salt to Cuba , and that is how the typical songs form La Habana came to us from the sailors of Torrevieja.
Fishermen: These men used to do what we call “night fishing,” where an artificial light was used to attract fishes like red mullets to the nets.
Salt workers: The salt works started to be developed in the 18th century when large amounts of salt were discovered in the lagoon. Today, the salt works in Torrevieja are considered to be the most important in the world, after the Dead Sea .
Torrevieja has a population of 100,000 inhabitants during the low season and 500,000 in the high season. There is a saying which describes the town as “white of salt, tan of sun” and this is written on the city shield and reminds us of the city’s basic elements; the sun and the salt.
The town’s salt is exported to northern Europe, Canada, the United States and Western Africa and is used for a variety of purposes such as a dressing for salting meat and fish, in industries as a water softener, and in colder countries it is used on their icy roads and airport runways. In African countries it is used as a fridge, to conserve food and prevent it from dehydrating.
All of the Valencian coast beaches are controlled by the European Community which sets quality levels for the swimming areas. The most prestigious award is the European Clean Water Blue Flag, which means that the beach has achieved an optimum level for swimming and recreational activities. The Valencian coastline has 94 blue flag beaches, several of which are here in Torrevieja, such as Los Locos beach, El Cura beach, Los Náufragos beach and the Royal Nautical Club.
The town of Orihuela is located on the southern Costa Blanca, approximately 30 minutes drive from the sandy beaches of the Mediterranean . With a population of over 56,000 it offers an excellent selection of markets, shops, restaurants & other facilities; in addition to government run institutions, such as a hospital, train station, schools, doctor’s surgeries etc.
Historically Orihuela is an important town, & evidence of this is clearly noticeable in the older parts of the city; where an impressive collection of churches & other fine architecture can be found. It was here (at the Santiago church building) that the Monarchs of the Catholic countries met to generate funds for the conquest of Granada in 1488.
Although well away from the tourist enclaves, sporting enthusiasts are still well catered for; with the town boasting good municipal swimming pools & many other facilities. Orihuela is no more than a 20 minute drive from a good selection of golf courses; with La Finca & la Marquesa clubs significantly closer.