Alicante is a wonderful weekend city – everything you could want for a couple of untaxing days! There is a good variety of shops (including a Mango factory outlet – those in the know will make the pilgramage just for that!), the wonderful, sandy El Postiguet beach, a pleasure marina, one of the most well-known esplanades in Spain, a castle with photographic views and an old town with bars a plenty!
Best shopping is on and around Avenida Maisonnave, with 2 Corte Ingles shops, shoe shops, Mango, Zara, etc, as well as the ubiquitous bridal shops!.
The Explanada de España is Alicante’s equivalent to Barcelona’s Rambla (although Alicante does have its own
Rambla) in that it is the place for meaningless wandering and looking at the wares for sale on the stalls that line
it. During the summer there are also street entertainers and portrait artists. There are plenty of kindly-provided wooden chairs to sit on and take a rest/watch the world go by if you want, as well as a number of bars (although, fairly obviously, this is an expensive place to have your drink).
The Castillo de Santa Barbara presides over the old town (casco vieja) and, apart from housing sculpture exhibitions (included in the entrance price) provides wonderful views over the town, beach and marina. To reach it,
walk along the road that backs the beach – there is a not very well signposted tunnel right opposite the tourise information kiosk that takes you to the lift that takes you to the top! The price is around 4€ and the lift attendant is very helpful.
Hotels/restaurants in Alicante
Fortunately we have found a wonderful little hotel situated right in the old town and convenient for the beach – the 4* Mediterranea Plaza. It is right on Plaza del Ayuntamiento and has a roof-top gym and terrace with views of the castle. Double rooms are around the €100 mark if you use www.hotelsearch.com.
The best place to ir de tapas, is in the old town in the streets behind Plaza del Ayuntamiento, where there are plenty of bar/restaurantes. We shared a wonderful plate of suckling pig in one of them for 13€, but we were so full of wine and wandering by then that we can’t remember where!
Do try the Lizarran bars while you’re in Alicante. They specialise in montaditos (fancy things on bread!). The concept is take what you want from the counter – the waiter calculates your bill on the number of cocktail sticks on
your plate (each montedito is finished with a cocktail stick!) – flat cocktail sticks 0.85€; round ones 1.15€ . Amongst our favourite combos were Sobrasada and cream cheese, herring and tomato, red pepper, anchovy and egg mayo
and black pudding and goat cheese. Lizarran can be found on Rambla Mendez Nunez, 18 and Avenida Maisonnave, 20.
If you bore of Alicante, you can try a trip up the coast on the Lemon Train – it’s worth it for the scenery alone as you get north of Benidorm and the train goes through mountain tunnels and across bridges. The train goes from Alicante to Denia with plenty of stops on the way. It leaves Alicante on the hour from 0600 to 2000, and from Denia at 0625 every hour until 1925. Alicante to Denia takes 2 hours 20 minutes. The station in Alicante is situated
next to the beach past the castle.
The Costa Blanca runs from Valencia in the north down to Alicante in the south. The countryside inland is very pretty, with constantly visible mountains and beautiful orange groves in between. In April the orange trees compete with the fruit-laden nisperos, a cross between a plum and a peach that you peel like a banana.
The beaches are all good and sandy and pretty much developed. None half as much as Benidorm, where the high rise hotels seem to go on for miles and you wonder how they can possible fill them all. It’s worth making a stop though: the old town is still mildly interesting, though not exactly quaint. Standing on the headland where Benidorm’s two beaches meet, you realise why it came in for so much development – two long, wide, golden sweeps of coast. The small, traditional Hotel Colon, right here, will provide you with a drink and the chance to ponder how it all must have been 50 years ago. Heading north the scenery improves with every mile. The next largest resort is Calpe.
I was pleasantly surprised by a recent flying visit to Calpe. Although a large resort (probably the next largest to Benidorm) it is not without its charm. The coast is dominated by the massive Peñon de Ifach, a huge off shore
rock (Peñon meaning just that). There are 2 long, wide, sandy beaches – the best spot to stay is at the western end
around the Manzanera urbanisations. This end of the Arenal-Bol beach is entirely unspoilt, being backed by steep cliffs, and apartments in this area usually afford you a view of the resort at a distance.
Manzanera is also convenient for walking into Calpe old town, which is a pleasant wander around narrow, sometimes stepped streets, with shops and bars/restaurants enough to keep you occupied. Unlike some very quaint ‘old towns’, their one appears to be a lived-in, worked-in one, with useful shops, rather than just rugs and pots! C/Gabriel Miro is the main street lead if down from the old town to the Paseo Maritim and beach. Yes, there is high-rise along the main sweeps of the beach, and it is undoubtedly very developed, but choose carefully where you stay and you will find it an enjoyable experience (I must admit it’s certainly not my usual style, but I wouldn’t turn down the offer of another stay in Manzaneras!)
There is a general market on Saturdays along Avenida del Norte/Puerto de Santa Maria; a flea market on Wednesdays on Avenida del Pais Valencia. The covered daily market is somewhat hidden on Avenida Ifach, labelled Galerias Oltra- it looked closed down when I went, but go down the stairs – it’s on the basement floor.
There is a wide variety of eating places encompassing Spanish, Chinese, Pizzerias, Burger King of varying quality and value for money (except Burger King which is the same wherever you go!). Those nearer the sea tend to be more expensive. There are some particularly interesting looking ones in the old town, including one whose chef claims to have trained with Jamie Oliver!.
Don’t be afraid to try some of the slightly out of town sites, which often offer especially good value.
Mejias II is just such a place – a typical Spanish venta, 2 km along the N332 towards Altea. The menu offers a wide range of grilled meat (including the best grilled rabbit I have had – sometimes it can be tough, but this was perfect). The fish choice was limited (to sole and swordfish when I went), but all was simply and beautifully cooked. Basic Spanish fare at its best (you know what Spanish puds are like, so don’t ask!).
Here’s what we had for €24 for the 3 of us:
G+T, 2 tinto de verano
grilled sole + chips
grilled entrecot and chips
grilled rabbit and chips
glasses of wine
A generous set menu for €7 is also available.
Further afield but highly recommended, particularly for a Sunday lunch paella, is the venta Montgo, situated just outside Javea, on the road to Jesus Pobre. In the shadow of Mount Montgo (the elephant shaped mountain) you will eat very well and very economically. They will also cook you a take-away if you supply them with the pan! Tel 965795020.
Calpe is also a great base for exploring the Costa Blanca – the E15/A7 autopista provides a fast, convenient way of seeing much of the area. Those looking for property will find prices rather steep on the coast here, but move a little inland to say, La Nucia, and the prices become more reasonable.
FUENTES DE ALGAR
A pleasant drive through the orange groves and a good half-day excursion (which you could combine with Guadalest, the hilltop fortress – one of Spain’s most visited sites – a must see, in its dramatic, built into the rock face settings,
or Polop). The natural waterfalls at Algar, however, are just north of Polop and Callosa D’en Sarria.
There is a footpath you can follow through and up the series of Cascades, as well as the right amount of services: loos and bar/restaurants. If you go in August, however, the swimsuit is de rigeur and the place will be packed with Spaniards using it as a cheap waterpark!
Polop is famous for its freshwater springs. The water surfaces through 221 outlets set in tiles around the Pla de
Font. Take an empty bottle to fill as the locals do and look out for the artisan shoe shop here – a very reasonable
place for a pair of hand made shoes (up to the minute as well as more traditional) and alone makes the trip worthwhile.
The old town provides a pleasant wander (look out for the Forn Tradicional – it’s worth the price of a loaf to go in and see the old bakers oven and the men in pinnies out back). Head on up towards the Castillo from where there are lovely views over the old town and church to the mountains beyond. Notice the so-called sleeping lion mountain.
There is a pretty little hotel in the old town which would make a pleasant stay for a couple of nights – the Devachan – but it was closed due to a change of owners and I wasn’t able to go in.
ibi, Jijona, La Nucia, Monoua,
Benitaxell, Campals, Polop, Teulada
Alfaz de Pi,
Denia, Gata, La Nucia, Teulada, Moraira
Benissa, Calpe, Gandia
– Benissa, Jalon, Polop, Teulada, La Nucia
– Alicante (stamps & coins, Pl del Ayuntamiento)