A January 2005 trip
to Alicante by Peter Reed
Quote: Often bypassed en route to Costa Blanca resorts, Alicante is well worth visiting for a true Spanish experience.
Swaying palms line the Esplanade de Espana, a waterfront promenade that stretches alongside the large marina. The paving has an odd effect; the tiles are so-designed that they give the impression of being in ridges. There are often market stalls alongside the southern end selling all sorts of crafts, jewelry, leather, carved ornaments, etc.
Around the marina can be found numerous restaurants, all with spectacular views across the harbour. In fact, Alicante boasts some of the best restaurants and tapas bars in Spain.
At right angles to the Esplanada is the Rambla de Mendez Nunez, with its many shops. This is also the route taken by the processions during the many fiestas. For El Corte Ingles addicts, there are three stores in the city, the main one being on Avenida Frederico Solo.
Off the Rambla is the Calle Mayor, a pedestrianised street for the shopaholic.
For the more culture-conscious, a visit to the Ayuntamiento (Town Hall) is a must, with its baroque façade designed in the 18th century by Lorenzo Chapuli, a local architect.
Nearby is the Cathedral of San Nicolas de Bari, which was restored after damage in the Civil War.
The main attraction in Alicante, which dominates the town, is the Castillo de Santa Barbara, of which I've written more elsewhere in the journal.
Breakfast is not supplied, but there are plenty of cafés and bars nearby, all serving desayuno for a couple of euros.
The location is just behind the Ayantumiento (town hall). If coming from the airport, take the bus from stop no. 30 and go all the way to the end at Puerto del Mar. From there it is a 3-minute walk past the Town Hall to Calle San Augustin and Les Monges Palace. Just a block away is the cathedral.A 10-minute stroll can take you to the entrance to the lift up to the Castille de Santa Barbara. Just around the corner in Calle Mayor are several restaurants. We went for 4 nights to El Buen Comer – see restaurant recommendation.
If searching the Internet, you may come across Hotel Les Monges and Hotel Les Monges Palace, with different addresses - don't be confused, they are the same. They recently had alterations and changed the door from one street to the other - San Augustin is correct.
The value for the money was great - only €39 a night and they don't overcharge from the minibar in the room, as beer was €1 and whisky was €3.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on January 15, 2005
Les Monges Palace
Calle San Agustin No 4
965 21 50 46
Another night we chose from the other special menu of mixed veggies and a variety of tapas to start, followed by a plate of lamb chops and a bottle of wine - all for just under €15.
When we went á la carte, we only needed a couple of courses. I especially liked the soups - one Castilian and one with shell fish, both excellent, as was the paella. Of course, by the fourth night, we were on good terms with the staff, who had been very good throughout. They speak enough English to explain the menu if needed. We went to eat at about 8 or 9pm, but bear in mind that the Spanish often don't come in until 10pm or later.
El Buen Comer
Calle Mayor 8
965 213 103
This is a seaside resort with an attractive promenade and harbour, but on the other side of the tracks, a steep climb takes you up into the old town. The roads zigzag through streets lined with white-washed houses reminiscent of the white villages of Andalucia. If you prefer a more direct route to the top, you can zigzag by taking the steps that climb between some of the houses. At the top you are rewarded with magnificent views along the coastline.
The climb will certainly have brought on a thirst, so it is just as well that, in the pleasant Placa l'Iglesia Santa Barbara, there are a couple of bars. It was here that we had one of those "small world" moments. Seated in the sunlit square by the church with a beer, I glanced up to see a friend with whom I enjoy a drink and game of cards every Friday back home in a club in Preston. Not only that, but I also took his wedding photographs 20-something years ago.
We went back to the train and made a stop off at Benidorm. Fifteen minutes from the station and straight down the main road and we were in the old town, where we found a tiled balcony overlooking the sea and both sides of the resort. Looking inland to the right was the high-rise forest of the Levante beach, where the Brits congregate for their pubs, fish-and-chips, and bingo. To the left was the more Spanish Poniente Beach. I reckon when in Spain, do as the Spanish do - so we avoided the Levante and headed for Poniente, where time on the beach brought on a doze - these siestas are a good idea!
An hour later and we were back to the station for the return to Puerto del Mar and Les Monges Palace.
Cost of the train journey: €7.20 each
The following day we took a bus trip inland for under €2 to the town of Elche.
Thousands of palm trees accost the eyes in Elche. The trees were originally planted around 300 BC and are still watered by an irrigation system introduced in the 10th. century. The palms are renowned for their succulent dates, which are harvested in December.
An amble through the Parque Municipal brings you to the main square with the blue-domed Iglesia de Santa Barbara. Opposite is the Alcazar de la Senoria, a Moorish palace that once formed part of the city wall. Just beyond is a bridge over a gorge that is covered in more palm trees. It is well worth a trip, and it’s only about half an hour from Alicante.
The third trip took us by bus again along the coast to the south – again only €1.70 each – to the delightful town of Santa Pola. If you want Spanish seaside, this is for you.
As the bus pulled into the Estacion des Autobuses, there was a huge market there.
Stalls stocked everything from pots and pans to ceramics, clothes, and food, all to the constant chatter of the Spanish locals wandering around and meeting up with friends.
A short stroll through the town brought us to the harbour and marina. There was evidence here of the fishing, with nets stretched along the quayside drying in the sun. The fishermen were mending those that needed it or sifting through the day’s catch. As we sat with a beer and zumo de pina (pineapple juice), we watched as more boats brought in their catch. From here it is possible to catch a ferry to the Island of Tabarca. This has a curious history – it was once a refuge for Berber pirates, and in 1760, King Carlos III ordered a fortress to be built here.
Back in Santa Pola, a palm-fringed esplanade lines the beautiful, clean beach. Facing onto the beach are villas and detached houses – no high-rise blocks here except one or two blocks of flats of no more than three storeys a couple of blacks back.
The town has a surprisingly large number of restaurants for its size, with some of the best seafood on the coast. The walk along the esplanade worked up an appetite and thirst for a couple of bocadillos and beers before heading back to the bus.
Attraction | "Castille de Santa Barbara"
From the top it is easy to see why this was such a vital fortress, with 360-degree views over the land and seascape. No invaders could get near without being seen.
The first reports of a citadel here come from the 10th century, and it seems to have kept its Moorish structure until the 15th century, when it had major alterations to convert it into a Christian building with a palace, church, cisterns, storerooms, kitchen, dining hall, stables, hospital, mills, oven, etc.
In the 16th century, the castle took on more of a military role with the provision of a governor’s house, engineering corps headquarter, dungeons, powder room, and bakery, as well as a parade ground, troop barracks, and a guard room.
It’s a truly remarkable place, particularly since, with all this history around, there are now very modern sculptures dotted around the site as well as various exhibitions of contemporary art in several of the rooms of the castle.
To really explore the site can take a whole morning, although for the best views, it is probably better in the afternoon, when any early haze has cleared. And if all that walking around in the warmth builds up a thirst, there is a tree-shaded area with a café cum bar to refresh those parts that are in need.
The walk down through that parkland can be quite pleasant. Just at the bottom, at the moment, there is a massive construction going on with the building of a new underground tram system.
Castle of Santa Barbara (Castillo de Santa Barbara))