Visiting Alicante, Fabulous City Great Base For Exploring The Region
Best known for being the airport you land at on your way to Benidorm, the city of Alicante is often overlooked by the hoards of package holiday Brits swarming to the coast for a week of sun, sand and too much beer. Which is a shame (for them) as Alicante is a real gem of a place. For those looking for a break in an attractive, lively and friendly Spanish city, I would definitely recommend this place.
Alicante boasts a handsome harbour and marina and a delightful old town with narrow streets bursting with bars and restaurants to cater for all tastes and budgets. Whilst busy during the week, at the weekend the city really comes alive and is full to bursting with life, noise and people enjoying themselves. International tourism, whilst clearly and important source of revenue for the city, is dwarfed by the huge influx of holidaying Spaniards who hit the bars on a weekend to party through the night (as well as the locals of course). What became very apparent to us on Friday night, after a few fairly chilled nights sampling the local atmosphere and cuisine, is that Alicante is the go to place for Spanish hen and stag parties. You couldn’t walk round the corner without bumping into a large group of giggling men or women in fancy dress.
The nearest beach to the centre of town is Playa del Postiguet., just a short stroll from the old town. Not surprisingly, due to its proximity to the town, it gets very crowded in the summer, but it is still a nice place to park yourself in the early evening when a little shade is available. Due to a regular breeze, the sea can be surprisingly choppy here so apparently its not so good for snorkeling. Due to an excellent public transport system though, it is very easy and cheap to explore further afield if you fancy somewhere different. A 20-minute tram journey (Line 3) takes you to the enormous Playa de San Juan. Due to its size you will always find a quiet spot somewhere, with the number of bodies reducing quite dramatically at each tram stop along the coast. Further still on the same tram line is the little town of El Campello, which in addition to beach has an abundance of Fish restaurants along the front if your hungry, and some Roman ruins down the end if you fancy a bit of culture.
All of the above beaches are basically long stretches of sand with zero shade. If you prefer coves, inlets and interesting landscapes, I would recommend the area of Cabo Huertas, also accessible by tram (Line 4), albeit with a short 15 minute walk to your destination. This rocky headland provides you with little pockets of shade, far less crowds, and more rewarding snorkeling. This is an unmanaged stretch of coast so don’t expect to find sun loungers, public toilets or lifeguards. In some parts of the coast in this area , it is prohibited to swim due to strong currents, and the rocks can be quite slippy in places, so be careful getting in the sea! Another word of warning is that this area is very popular with nudists so if you are offended by lots of naked flesh, don’t go here. There is a coastal path round the headland, so if you fancy a walk, get off the tram at Avenida Benidorm on Playa de San Juan, and walk round the coast to Albufereta to catch the tram back to the city.
Another beach oriented day trip destination is the small island of Tabarca, just off the coast of Santa Pola, and an approximately 50 minute ferry journey from Alicante harbour. As stated earlier, due to a regular breeze, the seas can be quite choppy, so even for this short journey, if you suffer from sea sickness, be prepared to feel quite ill. The island itself is lovely, with a gorgeous little village at its heart , which is well worth wandering around (not to be confused with the slightly soulless restaurant area directly next to the harbour). Again, the island gets very crowded, especially so on the weekend, but if you wander along the coastal path away from the main beach, it becomes a little less busy and you should be able to find a square of sand to yourself.
One other notable landmark in Alicante is the Castillo de Santa Barbara, which towers over the city way up high on top of a big hill. You can certainly see why they chose to build a castle here- the views from the top are spectacular. We chose to walk up to the top along a well-maintained footpath, but if you’re unable, or can’t be bothered to make the climb, there is also an elevator, which takes you to the top. The walk, after having spent a few days motivating ourselves to complete it, was actually not that bad. It only took about half an hour, and whilst steep in places, the views were so impressive I felt no shame in pausing for breath every now and then. For our return trip down, we walked along the castle wall, (closed in bad weather). If choosing to walk, the most difficult bit is finding the entrance to the walkway as there are zero signs anywhere, and even the maps are a little ambiguous. In case your wondering, its just past the entrance to the Mercado Tram station, up the road a bit. The castle itself is very impressive, lots of interesting exhibits, and completely free.
So in summary, Alicante is great. Its pretty, its clean, it has lots of nice beaches and the nightlife is great. Its conveniently located next to a major airport so next time you are planning a weekend break, forget overcrowded Barcelona and hop on a plane to Alicante instead.
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