A Weekend in Alicante

July 1, 2010

While idly wandering the cobbles of Alicante’s Explanada de Espana, it struck me how perfect the city is for weekend breaks. Although it’s a firm favourite with European holidaymakers looking for relaxing sun holidays, Alicante seems to offer something special besides. You know – the type of qualities you encounter in much larger cities.   Not only is the old town friendly and charismatic, it has its very own international airport (I would be flying out of here), clothing shops galore and there are enough interesting attractions and curiosities to keep even the most world-weary traveler amused for a day or two should the sun go AWOL.

So how come it’s not up there with Madrid, Bilbao and Barcelona?

Believe me, it’s getting there.  A new Maritime station was constructed here just 5 years ago to encourage cruise tourism and with the Old Town just a 10 minute walk from the port, tourist numbers have been steadily increasing over the past few years.

Alicante is fortunate in terms of its location.  Set on the east coast of Spain in the heart of the Costa Blanca, it may find itself on the Mediterranean coast but there is definitely an air of the exotic about the town. On the waterfront and esplanades there’s a distinctly African feel.  Street traders selling hand carved African masks hustle for your attention, while women dressed in vibrant kaftans preside over colorful jewelry and craft stalls.

At the center of Alicante is the historic heart of the city.  If you stand around here long enough, you can almost hear the aged Baroque buildings whispering swashbuckling tales of seafaring adventures. Not really, but if the walls could indeed talk, they’d tell you all about Alicante’s rich maritime history.  Unfortunately they can’t so instead, visitors must make do with the exhibits in the cool, air-conditioned surrounds of the Municipal Archeological Museum and the Bullfighting Museum.

Not all of the city’s sights are locked away behind glass cases.  Keep your eyes peeled and you won’t be disappointed in the old town.  Close to the middle, you’ll find the impressive Cathedral of Saint Nicholas, which is encircled by the narrow streets of the old quarter known as El Barro.  This is the place to find the best nightlife and cheapest accommodation if you’re on a budget. Heading a little further along here, you’ll come to Calle de Italia, the main tourist information center where you’ll see post offices as well as bus and trains which lead into and out of Alicante city.

Like fashionable Barcelona, Alicante has its very own colourful thoroughfare called Las Rambla. It is lined with palm trees, sunny pavement cafés and cute little ice-cream parlours.  If you have time to spare around here, I’d recommend you try the local horchata, a traditional drink made from almonds.  There are plenty of places to stroll and explore in the vicinity.  You can basically take your pick from lush gardens and parks, marble paved plazas and the wide Explanada d’Espanya that surrounds the yacht harbour. Wooden benches are dotted all around, making it tempting to take the weight off your feet and watch the world go by for an hour or so.

Should you choose to walk a little further, you’ll be rewarded by the view of the Mediterranean which looks so inviting that it’s easy to see why so many people visit Alicante for its beaches alone.

The beach at San Juan is worth the trek, even if you’re not into sunbathing, you’ll find a fine selection of restaurants and cafés where you can try local favorite, Mandeditas.  Similar to tapas, the waiter calculates your bill based on the number of cocktail sticks on your plate.  Sobrasada and cream cheese, herring and tomato, red pepper, anchovy, egg mayonnaise, black pudding and goats cheese are just some of tasty snacks waiting to tempt you.

Unfortunately, I got home just before the whole town erupted for the traditional San Juan celebrations of June 23rd. I was sorry I didn’t stay longer.  If you’re not familiar, San Juan is the festival of St John.  It is a celebration of change.  It is about night turning to day, fire turning to water. Although it has religious connotations today, its origins can be traced back to pagan times when people believed that fire purified while water refreshed and rejuvenated.

I would have loved to have witnessed all the weird and wonderful traditions that go along with San Juan.  It must be quite something to witness the haze of bonfires and fireworks on the beaches while thousands of people wade through the water after midnight.

Oh well, there’s always next time!

About the Author:

Fiona Hilliard usually writes about Alicante car hire for award-winning site ArgusCarHire.com.  On a recent trip to Spain, she stopped off in the old town of Alicante for a spot of sight-seeing.  Here she shares her impressions of the tourist hotspot.

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