When it starts to feel like winter will never end and I pass people on the sidewalks wearing heavy coats, toques (in non-Canadian English, this means fuzzy warm hats) and boots, I start to wish for a little escape.
Oh how I would like to vacate the grey skies of Brussels for a nice break in the sun. How about Alicante, Spain? It’s not like the well-known coastal cities of Valencia or Barcelona, but its still pretty and warm this time of year and it has lots of character.
One great benefits of visiting Alicante, besides the warmer weather and fewer tourists (in the off-season at least), it’s quite affordable. You can splurge on a nice meal in a restaurant and not worry about breaking the bank. You can have a three-course meal (appetizer, main course and dessert) with wine for a reasonable price. I really enjoyed all the meals I had in Alicante, even breakfast on the patio in January! They just know how to do it right.
One thing’s for sure, the Spanish do love their pork. Other travelers told me that if you ever go to Spain and in any way even hint that you don’t like pork, it could be a catastrophe. So if you don’t like it just smile and say something along the lines of, “ohhh, I just ate pork yesterday, today I’m craving some fish.” You can’t go wrong with fish either. Being a coastal city, it comes in abundance.
There is a long boardwalk dotted with patio tables along the 900m beach, Playa del Postiguet. You have a few options, you can enjoy sitting down right on the beach, being protected by glass walls from the wind and get a great view of the action and the sea. If you don’t like the chance that perhaps a few grains of sand could slip between your toes while sitting down for a refreshing drink, you can find many restaurants along the pedestrian only marble sidewalk lines with palm trees behind the road. You can still see the sea, but the atmosphere is akin to a real restaurant.
On the pedestrian-only boulevard, there are wooden huts full of gifts from scarves, sunglasses, jewelry and Alicante-adorned souvenirs. You can get an ice cream and easily spend a few hours walking up and down this boulevard. There are also green areas with grass and trees where people walk their dogs. It was surprising to see an orange tree in full blume in January, but of course the oranges weren’t in season to eat.
One of the must-see landmarks is the Bullring, Plaza de Toros de Murcia, one of the oldest in Spain being originally built in 1849. Unfortunately it was closed when I was there, but then again maybe I was lucky because I don’t know if I could stomach watching bullfighting. It would be interesting to view the empty ring though. Though I did catch a glimpse of the bronze bull statue outside of the huge ring.
There are many activities at your disposal in Alicante. You can try your hand at some water sports, if you’re there in the summer, might be a bit chilly in the winter months. I visited in January and there was not one person swimming or lounging on the beach. Its still pleasant enough to wear lighter clothes during the daylight hours, but after dark, your better off with a sweater and maybe a jacket. You can also go boating to enjoy the sea and take a 60minute boat ride over to the Island of Tabarca, which was used in the 1700s by Carlos III, King of Spain as a military lookout for pirates who used the island to attack Costa Blanca.
Alicante has no less than six beaches to choose from and the most renowned, San Juan is 7 kilometers long and is a short tram ride away. Although, one disadvantage of visiting a smaller city is that there is no metro (underground). The only options for transport are taking the bus or a taxi and be forewarned the taxi drivers drive fast – I’m talking at least 130kms/h with a trunk full of bags in the dark with no street lamps. Yeah, the ride from the airport might be scary if arriving very late or early in the morning. Actually, all of the people seemed to drive fast, so be careful to cross the street only when the unusually skinny stickman turns green. If your hotel is the city center, you should have no troubles walking everywhere, but if you choose to get a beautiful apartment-style hotel on the outskirts of Alicante, you will spend a lot of time waiting for the bus, which is always late and never runs on schedule or you can take your chances with a taxi.
There are two places in the city that you must see when in Alicante. The Old Quarter, El Barrio, on the way up to Mount Benacantil, which isn’t too high to climb.
The houses stand out against the cream-coloured rock in royal blues, fire engine reds and canary yellows. The neighborhood is charming with the potted flowers in front of each house and with the numbers painted blue on white tiles. The courtyards have trees and benches to sit on to enjoy the shade. It is so welcoming that you’ll want to live there after taking about three steps into the neighborhood. Cats laid on the stoop sunbathing and looking lazily at the passersby. People were enjoying themselves at a small café drinking and chatting spiritedly and laughing. These people know how to enjoy life.
It’s ok if you are afraid of heights because at the top of the mountain there is a big open area with picnic tables to sit at to enjoy the view from a good distance away from the cliff’s edge. Even in January you can find flowers opened up to the sun and the fountains running adding even more ambiance to the location.
One of the most entertaining things I saw while a top the mountain was a rap video being shot on the rooftop of a building. I can see why they choose the spot because it has the amazing backdrop of the beautiful houses, the beach, sun and sea.
One of the places to be at night is the harbor. The boats sitting quietly on the still water and the lights in the many bars and restaurants are so inviting that it’s hard to choose which one to stay at. There is also a casino at the end of the harbor. This harbor is the best place to be at sunset.
As I was only there for the weekend, I didn’t get to explore and see everything Alicante has to offer, but I would like to go back again in the summertime to really get the full experience.