Alicante is the destination for most sun seekers coming to the Costa Blanca, but there is far more to the area than just the airport. Based on our previous travels, we wanted to share some places we found that were off the beaten track, but well worth a visit, in the province of Alicante.
When we first came to live in Spain after leaving the UK we found ourselves in the province of Alicante. It’s a large area, geographically speaking, covering about 2,300 square miles and with a population of about two million which often increases massively, but temporarily, in peak holiday season.
When we moved here we wanted to explore the REAL Spain and headed inland, on purpose, away from the beaches and the tourists, especially as houses are much cheaper when you move away from the coast. For the definition of REAL SPAIN, subtract beaches, hotels, people who speak English, shopping malls, tourist attractions and so on and you are left with the normal, sometimes humdrum everyday life of the Spanish – but if you plan to move here, it is vital to see this and get the holiday image out of your mind for good.
We picked five of perhaps the most obscure places you could find yourself in, and explain in a little bit of detail just why you should check out these places too.
- Aspe. Home of the 12 grapes.
The twelve what? Each year, on New Year’s Eve, people across Spain practice a not-so-ancient tradition created, in fact, by the ministry of agriculture to boost grape sales many years ago. They each take 12 grapes, grown here in the area around Aspe, and try and eat each grape, in turn, by the chimes of the bells at Midnight in the main square in Madrid.
I have tried and failed to do this on many occasions!
The town itself is situated a few miles outside of Elche and is only a 20 minute drive from the airport. It is a normal Spanish town and you won’t find much there, but if you are looking for the real Spain then tourist attractions should generally NOT be on your “to do” list.
In the town centre you will find all the usual shops, banks, bars etc., and last time we were there we found a British pub, and an Irish one too, although given that we are in a recession I have no idea if they still exist.
The town hall square is a nice area to relax and features a casino, a lovely old church, and some nice bars to sip the super-strong coffee everyone seems to drink. For the sports-minded, the “pabellon” (sports centre) at the edge of town here is especially good.
There are a small number of expatriates living here, mainly retired folk, from the UK, Germany and Holland.
- La Romana
The small town of La Romana is an obscure little place of around 3,000 inhabitants which has made it’s living from the nearby vineyards as well as the local marble quarries, so watch out for huge lorries when driving around the windy roads here.
There are plenty of small villages and obscure places around the area too, and public transport is almost non-existent so a hire car is advised. You can hire cars from Aspe, Novelda, Elda, Elche and, of course, the airport itself.
The town grew quite a bit from around the year 2000 when a small handful of expats from both the UK and Holland settled here and subsequently much building work was started, but never finished. Four years ago there were two English bars here and an international food shop, although I don’t know if they still exist today. There are several cave houses in the region too, which are so cute and quirky and some caves are available to rent or buy too!
- Alcoi. Packed with history
The city of Alcoi, sometimes known as Alcoy, is located just off the main AP-7 toll motorway (for N-340) and is home to about 62,000 people, although the town itself has roots stretching all the way back to the Neanderthals, almost 60,000 years ago!
The town is quite an industrial centre, although noted for its lovely, traditional Spanish architecture such as the hermitage of St. Anthony the Abbot, the Barchell Castle, dating from the 12th century and built over a mosque, the convent of Saint Augusti, a nice but small museum of archaeology, and the imposing baroque church of Santa Maria.
The town is famous across Spain not only for its lavish productions of the three kings arriving in Spain in January, which is extensively covered on local TV station Canal 9, but also its Moors and Christians festival, which is not to be missed.
- A day trip to Novelda
The town of Novelda is another everyday town, with a bustling town centre, but without much to see for the eager tourist; however the point of the article is the fact there are so many undiscovered towns in inland Alicante. Somewhere off the beaten track may really interest you, you never know.
There are, however, places of interest to see in Novelda and they include the Gaudi inspired monastery of Santa María Magdalena, the Moorish castle of the Mola, which has a strange triangular tower, and an odd Museum of Modernism located in a lovely art nouveau house in the town (where a lot of research and work in documenting similar architecture goes on).
When heading out of the town, take the A-31 dual carriageway and head for somewhere nearby called Monforte del Cid, where upon you will find a rather unattractive and half-built housing estate. There is a hill overlooking the houses with a little chapel on top and it is worth driving up the windy road to the summit to see some utterly breathtaking views over the province.
One wonderfully quirky thing about this is the fact that the whole road is lined with carefully placed pot plants and a lone monk walks up the hill each day before sunrise and waters every single plant, and there are thousands of them too!
The lovely little chapel, hand built by monks, has a shrine where offerings can be made to the local “Virgen” and you are encouraged to take an envelope from a table, which you can either take away with you or use to post a donation. Sometimes the monk will place a gift, sort of a religious lucky dip, into one or two of the envelopes and, by chance, my daughter got a silver necklace!
The last of our inland Alicante towns to visit is Pinoso, 45 minutes from the airport by car, which also has a small expat community despite its relatively small size. Industry here is based around grapes, like many places in the region, and the entrance to the town is dominated by huge co-operatives which process the grapes brought in by the farmers, who get a cut of the profits from the grape sales, which are normally turned into lovely wine!
In fact grapes seem to dominate the land and the incomes of the people here, rather along the same lines as the importance of oranges for Valencia. The town lies on the border of Alicante and Murcia and in recent times it saw an influx of expats and holiday homes for rent, largely due to the Costas becoming crowded, along with the sharp rise in house prices the Costa Blanca has seen in recent times.
Pinoso is a small but friendly place that has all the amenities you could need if you are considering buying a holiday home as there are some great value ones around now the market has dropped here in Spain. The town is noted across Europe for the high quality of its wine and as your average bottle of £10 wine back in the UK only costs around £2 here there’s no reason not to try it!
Pinoso won’t take your breath away but it’s an everyday Spanish town with enough for you to enjoy a fairly normal life in Spain; the town has a nursery school, two junior schools, a secondary school and quite a few indoor and outdoor leisure facilities which are never crowded.
The province of Alicante has a lot to offer for the traveller who wishes to discover the real Spain, away from the glossy brochures, and there are some great places to stay here too.