Sandwiched between tourism hubs of Malaga and Barcelona on the Mediterranean Sea, Alicante is not the first stop on a tourist’s itinerary. But this port city, with its 3,000 years of rich Islamic and Christian heritage is worth a visit for the perceptive tourists.
Big, but not huge; touristic, but not crowded; rich, but not expensive… Please let me welcome you to Alicante, my beloved hometown, and a nice option if you are looking for a vacation in the sun. I am sure you will have a marvelous experience, whether enjoying the beaches and terraces on the hot summer days, or exploring the city and its surroundings in its warm winters and their mild nights. Now let me tell you all about my city by guiding you through its history, landscapes and legends…Get your walking shoes, a camera and your swimsuit, and be prepared to discover this multicultural, sunny and welcoming little paradise!
A conquered city
Alicante has been inhabited for more than 3,000 years, having been witness to quite a few conquests, as many other port cities around the world have, and being shaped by history into the multicultural community that it is today. Populated by Iberians in the third century B.C., and then by Greek merchants, it was really the Romans who left their trace here, creating the first real city and merchandise port. Many centuries later it was dominated by the Arabs, who also left their own legacy, and finally, around 1248, it was reconquered by Christians. The best place to learn more of these ancient cultures is without doubt the Marq museum, which tells the story of our city and shows you the actual remains of the civilizations who occupied this land.
However, if there is a witness of honour of all these changes, it is the Castillo de Santa Bárbara, the famous highly fortified castle which reins the city. From which you can see the town, the sea and even small islands further away in the sea. The castle can be accessed on foot if you are courageous enough, but it also has an elevator hidden in the hillside facing the sea. On the opposite side of the slope, you will find the old town. Developed around the castle as a mean of protection, this charming little neighborhood has preserved its small houses and narrow streets, which you can explore taking the multiple stairs that go up and down through them. Chances are you will cross old men and women, long-time neighbors, sitting at their front doors, maybe drinking something cold, and most likely solving world’s problems from their front steps… They will probably greet you kindly, and maybe even try and talk to you… in Spanish!
To complete the history of the city, I would like to tell you a little legend about the name of Alicante… Legend has it that back in the Moor days, there was a Califa which had an only daughter, Cántara. She had two pretenders to marry her, Ali and Almanzor, and to choose which one was the best for her, the father decided to assign a task to each man. Almanzor was sent across the world to India to bring back some spices, while Ali had to dig a ditch near a village. Ali decided that instead of that, he would conquer Cántara with songs and poems. They soon fell in love. When Almanzor returned with the spices, her father chose him to marry Cántara… Ali killed himself by jumping off a cliff, and Cántara followed him. The lovers would have the city named after them, Alicantara.
Now that you have some context, let me announce the good news: the white and brown sand beaches are long and wide; the sea is mostly clear, calm and temperate. And yes, the numbers are correct: with an average of more than 300 days of sun, and only around 30 days of rain per year, the city of Alicante is a privileged place ensuring nice weather at almost any time. Chosen by curious tourists who want to escape other wellknown, more expensive, cities, and by retired couples who have made it their permanent residence, Alicante offers a wide range of beaches, promenades and surrounding typical villages to enjoy a summer holiday. However, it also is a great option to discover and enjoy the mild, warm winters like we locals do: strolling along the Mediterranean seashore and tasting delicious and fresh seafood dishes, among other pleasures.
Unlike other coastal cities, Alicante actually has a beach at the city centre. If you are staying at old historical area, you can easily take a walk and reach the beach in a couple of minutes. If not, many buses and also the tramway stop nearby. However, if you are looking for more beautiful stretches of sand, without a metropolis right behind you, take your car or ride the tramway to San Juan, a village located about 15 minutes away. Here you will find one of the six longest beaches in Spain, meaning more than six kilometres of sand and sea, just for you (yes, that’s right!). Bring your own beach umbrella or hire one and grab a picnic under it, very Spanish style! You can also take a break and sit at one of the many restaurants and cafés along the esplanade offering a vast variety of food: from the original Spanish tapas and, of course, paella (a rice dish with seafood, meat or both mixed) to grilled fishes and shellfishes with fresh vegetables and fruits… If you’re spending the day, do not forget to take a siesta (the world-famous Spanish afternoon nap) and then go for some ice cream!
Not a beach person? That’s not a problem at all! Whether it is because you are coming in winter, or because you simply prefer the mountains, Alicante has a solution for all tastes. Head to the North and you will find breathtaking mountains where you can walk, hike and even abseil! Located about an hour from Alicante into the interior of the area, the Sierra Mariola Natural Park offers routes as easy or long as you want, saving a well-deserved surprise at the end of some of them: a dip into the clear waters of river Vinalopó’s source emanating from the earth, an absolute favorite of mine.
Even if Alicante is a coastal city dipping its buildings, promenades and locals into the calm Mediterranean Sea, the province carrying the same name is larger and covers a big portion of the Valencian Community territory. If you come in winter, you could be lucky and also enjoy some rare snow at the Aitana mountain range. With the highest peak of the province, at 1,558 m etres, m ountains a re actually located at only 41 kilometres from the sea, forming a spectacular view and one curious landscape. Whatever maybe the season, you cannot miss Guadalest, a small village not far from there, that will leave you speechless by its natural beauty and the traditional homes that lead all the way up to the castle and its unique tower, that emerges from the rocks at the highest point of the village.
After spending a nice day in the mountains, I really recommend you to drive to Benidorm. A place you must stop by if visiting the area. This city will show you how cultures, ages and pleasures that could not be more different merge together in complete harmony. Benidorm has been one of the preferred European holiday destinations for many decades, attracting tourists from any age and nationality thanks to its fine beaches and its vast range of restaurants and nightlife, one of the strongest attractions of the city. Indeed, for many years, its tolerance for a noisy but respectful and safe nightlife with fair prices, have transformed Benidorm into the ideal place to spend a few days and get the most of cheerful Spanish way of life. You will find young Spaniards and Europeans looking to party all night long as well as old English or German retired couples settled here as permanent residents. The contrast is not only in terms of people. You can also get lost among its small, paved streets full of lined-up white houses in the old town center, or be astonished by the In Tempo skyscraper, the highest in Spain. The city has seen me, as many other locals, in many different periods of life: I went there with my parents to play when I was little; I went there to party when I was younger; I still go there to walk and enjoy a nice restaurant with my loved ones. It is hard not to recommend a place that has seen you grow like this.
Not just sand
Located on the Mediterranean Costa Blanca (the White Coast), on the southern part of Spain, Alicante is not only known for its beaches. It is also a modern, vibrant municipality, counting 3,30,000 habitants, an international airport with direct flights to almost everywhere in Europe and beyond and a spacious train station which connects to Madrid and Barcelona on a daily basis. As in many cities in Europe, you won’t need a car to explore Alicante. Well connected by buses or the tramway, you can also easily walk almost everywhere. A must on the to-do list is a shopping detour around Maisonnave Avenue, the artery of the city where you can find some of the best Spanish high street brands, as well as the most prestigious mall in Spain- El Corte Inglés. Founded first in Madrid in 1945, and now established in the most important cities of the country, as well as in Portugal, you can find everything here- clothes, shoes, make-up and accessories from local and international brands, music and books, souvenirs…and a lovely gourmet supermarket, the best place to get some Spanish delicatessen such as Serrano ham or the finest olive oil.
Continue your stroll and you will discover the Luceros square, the most emblematic square of the city, where takes place a unique event that you won’t regret experiencing: the Mascletà. During the Hogueras de San Juan, the local festivities take place every year from 20 to 24 June. Everyone gathers at this square for an impressive display of fireworks, firecrackers and gunpowder. It is, I can assure you, a combination of visual effects, sounds and smells like you’ve never experienced before. Standing there with the locals, watching and cheering while everything explodes around you, is one of the strangest, yet beautiful, feelings you will be taking home with you.
When the show is over, continue your tour and enter the pedestrian streets, where all bars and coffee shops take out their tables and chairs so you can enjoy a fresh beverage under colourful umbrellas. While taking a break and enjoying people watching, do not forget to ask for horchata, a typical summer beverage that could be described as a kind of almond milk drink. If you have a sweet tooth, get one of my favourites: Cubanito, a similar drink with an added scoop of chocolate ice-cream. Absolutely delicious!These pedestrian streets will lead you to Rambla, a wide boulevard with direct access to a charming government building, a baroque palace dating from the 18th century.
On Crossing the arc you will recognize the famous marina of Alicante, a large sea port where you can find the smallest, modest fishing boats, and the biggest and modern, state of the art yachts berthed next to each other. Alicante is very proud to have received the Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Seas, the biggest cruise ship that sails the Mediterranean, as well as being the host for Volvo Ocean Race, the world’s premier off shore race around the world! During your visit, you can admire a replica of the Spanish galleon Santísima Trinidad, world’s largest warship of its time, now docked here and open to public; enjoy a delightful dinner at Dársena, one of the most celebrated restaurants in Alicante, and maybe try your luck at the Casino. Who knows, Alicante maybe the place where you can have it all!
Stellenbosch, South Africa