By Marilou Trias
Few ports embody the all-natural beachy goodness of Alicante, Spain. This port city is located in Spain’s southeastern Costa Blanca and is the Capital of the Alicante Province. It is also the second-largest city in the Valencian Community with approximately 330,000 inhabitants.
For over 7000 years, this area appears to have been inhabited. The first tribes, who moved in slowly over time, were considered to be hunters and gatherers. They migrated from Central Europe somewhere between 5000 and 3000 BC. Their early settlements were on the slopes of Mount Benacantil. By 1000 BC, Greek and Phoenician traders who visited the eastern coast of Spain established small ports. They educated the native Iberian tribes with the alphabet, brought iron and the pottery wheel.
Alicante Spain Travel Guide
Throughout history, Alicante had been christened several names. When the Iberians first settled in about the 7th century BC, the Greeks called it Atra Loce. It meant “White Mountain” after the first thing they saw when they arrived there. Then Romans came and settled the city, they changed the name to Lucentium. Its meaning, “City of Light,” as a reference to the many days of the sun making the city bright from sunlight. During the Arabian conquest in the 8th century, it was the Moors who finally gave the city its modern name, Alicante. It means “City of Lights” in Arabic.
By the 18th century, the town had grown and developed. Small buildings popped up, the fishing industry was a way of life and agriculture was mainly of grapes. The arrival of the railway during the 19th century linked it to major cities. It became a major port for maritime traffic, Alicante had received its cosmopolitan makeover.
Alicante experienced its industrial decline in the 1980s. Most of the mercantile traffic had been lost to Valencia’s harbour. Alicante resuscitated itself as the Port Authority incorporated it as one of the most important ports in Spain for cruises. As of 2007, approximately 80,000 passengers and 30,000 crew come into the city yearly through the 72 calls to port. Development of the port for more tourism has been gratifying for the city and its residents.
Weather in Alicante
There are 330 days of sunny weather yearly, attributing to the dry weather and beautiful beaches. The city has a subtropical hot semi-arid climate with an average rainfall of almost 11 inches annually. While September and October are the wettest months, rare rainfall can be torrential. During those times, rain can reach 4 inches within a 24-hour period causing severe flooding. On an average year, only 35 days of rainy days can be observed.
Things To Do In Alicante
1. Water sports
It wasn’t a surprise to learn that most enjoyed water sports in Alicante. Mild temperatures, an overabundance of sunny weather and clear Mediterranean waters personify this city. I too would take advantage of twelve different deep golden filled sandy beaches within the city if I were to live there.
The shops begin to open as the city awakens. Normally shops open at about 10 am, then close for lunch at 1 or 2 pm. Lunch is then followed by a siesta. Shops open again from 5 pm until 9 pm. Dinner is served late, about 9 pm or 10 pm, and it starts over again the next day. Alicante has a wonderful variety of shopping from its Mercado Central to the artisan market by the Esplanade, souvenir shops in El Barrio and of course, all the Spanish high street names you would hope to find.
3. Try Paella
Their popular dish, paella, they simply call “arroz”, meaning rice. Yes, this popular dish is a battle that hasn’t had any bloodshed. It is well known that paella originated from Valencia, there is no doubt. However, in Alicante, the rice is cultivated from the area, along with the fresh herbs, vegetables and protein. In Alicante’s many century-old dishes, rice plays a central role. It is common that snails are added to this rice dish to enhance and bring out the flavours.
4. Go Tapa Hopping
In Alicante, “tardeo” is what they refer to as their tapa bar-hopping activity. On Saturday’s crowds gather near Mercado Central taking advantage of the overabundance of food and drinks in their stalls.
5. Try The Local Wines
Like many in the area, Alicante’s winemaking history stretches over centuries. Not too long ago, wines from this area were simply referred to as “Alicante’ which most certainly was the Fondillon. The semi-sweet wine is made from over-ripened Monastrell grapes that are native to these parts. It is said that while King Luis XIV was on his deathbed, he refused all wines except those from Alicante.
6. Visit Barrio de La Santa Cruz
The narrow streets in the old town, Barrio de la Santa Cruz, possess brightly painted whitewashed houses. The antique residential charm maintains its character due to the elevated slopes of a mountain.
Children play alongside the streets as locals bask in the sun on their porches. Delicious aromas waft during lunchtime as different meals are cooking inside. Its neighbourhood streets are for pedestrians only as they were built before motorized vehicles were invented. One would think that they were in the countryside small town rather than only minutes away from the bustling city. In the evenings on Calle San Rafael, inhabitants gather with family and friends for dinner. Others can be found singing at small restaurant terraces that serve typical Alicante cuisine.
7. Mercado Central
The two floors of Mercado Central buzzes with activity in the heart of Alicante city. Top-quality fresh food and locally grown produce are at the best prices. Approximately 292 stalls owned by families from Alicante or surrounding towns have worked on the stalls since the market first opened 95 years ago. Individual businesses that continued are passed down through generations. The eclectic styled building with modernist ornaments designed by architect Enrique Sanchez Sedeno was built in 1921. Basilica style topped with a semispherical cupola with a small circular side building with a domed shaped roof.
Two floors in the Mercado Central, ground floor selling fresh meat, hams and cheese and underground floor selling everything else. Fresh fish, vegetables, fruit eggs, bread, cakes, pastries, nuts, honey and herbs. There is also a pharmacy and herbalist store and various bars selling food and drinks.
Adjacent to Mercado Central is Plaza 25 Mayo where flowers are sold during the market hours. On Saturday afternoons, locals gather for “tardeo”. A form of leisure developed in Alicante and other cities in South-East Spain. For some time now, the people of Alicante have been taking the practice of tapas bar-hopping to a whole new level. This phenomenon was benefitting to the market as food and drinks are purchased from the stalls of the market. A well-established culture allowed the market to open its own bars, selling tapas to accommodate large crowds.
Also, around this area, you can see some of Europe’s best graffiti.
8. Explanada de Espana
One of the most famous maritime promenades in Spain is Alicante’s most distinctive feature. The Explananda de Espana is deliberately located near main logistical passages of the city. It was originally named Paseo de la Martires (promenade for the martyrs) in remembrance of shootings that took place there in 1844. Men who lost their lives there were greatly respected and commemorated by Spanish liberals of that time. However, after the Spanish War, in 1941, it was renamed.
The most emblematic spaces for leisure in the city was originally a narrow sandy pathway. In 1959 approximately 6 million tiles were used to build this promenade. The marble mosaic used three colours; Alicante red, ivory cream and Maquina black were purposely done in waves to represent the sea. The new pavement was built between rows of tall palm trees, flowers were planted and wooden benches installed on both sides.
9. Castillanno de Santa Barbara
Santa Barbara Castle has origins dating back to the 9th century when the Muslims had control of the Iberian Peninsula. Perched on top of Mount Benacantil, one of its walls surrounds the city centre. It is one of Spain’s largest mediaeval fortresses. In 1248, one of Spain’s largest mediaeval fortresses was captured by Castillian forces under Alfonso de Castile, King of Portugal. It was then that the castle was named after Saint Barbara. One century later it was Pedro IV, King of Majorca captured it. Finally, it was fortified by King Carlos I of Portugal.
King Felipe II of Spain built the majority of the complex in the mid-1500s. The French bombed it in 1691. In the early 1700s, it fell into the hands of the English and partly dismantled. For centuries it had been abandoned until 1963 when two lifts were installed.
The upper enclosure of the castle holds the most ancient remains of the fortress, mostly dating from the 14th century. During the 16th century, the mid-levels were added while lower areas dated to the 18th century built to accommodate vehicles. From various locations, incredible views of the harbour can be enjoyed. One of the walls surrounds the city centre.
10. La Casa Carbonell
La Casa Carbonell was built in 1922 using several styles. The building has 365 windows representing each day of the year. As one of the most outstanding and emblematic buildings in Alicante, it has its own legend.
As the story goes, Carbonell is the surname of a wealthy businessman who lived in the mountains in the city of Alcoy. As his daughter became ill, Enrique Carbonell was told by her doctors that the sea would improve her health. He brought her to Alicante frequently as the pleasant weather would lift her mood.
During one of his arduous travels there, he contracted an illness. By the time he entered into the City of Alicante, he looked haggard. He showed up at the swanky Hotel de Palas seeking medical assistance and a place to rest. People thought that he was a beggar and would not let him stay at the hotel.
As revenge for the poor treatment, the eccentric man decided to purchase the land across the street with a waterfront view. He made sure his building exceeded the hotel. The majestic architecture incorporating iron, glass and marble make this classic building stand out.
Currently, the elegant La Casa Carbonell sits on that very spot. To this day the Carbonell family still owns the building and inhabit some of it while the rest is rented out.
11. Alicante Town Hall
18th Century Baroque-style building, townhall sits in the old part of the city near a square. Its construction took 90 years due to the war with France. The king’s son, Luis the XIV, sent a bunch of ships to bomb the city-destroying almost all buildings in the city. Only buildings to survive was the Santa Barbara Castle, St. Peter’s Church, however, all were impacted.
The city would build the town hall then bombings would destroy townhall’s progress of construction. Builders would start over again several times as bombings would destroy their work, repeatedly. Finally, it was finished in Baroque style with Salamani columns which were common during that era.
Alicante is at sea-level. Inside the town hall, there is a striking golden statue sculpted by Salvador Dali in 1973. This gold-covered bronze statue of Saint John the Baptist is near a brass marker, called the Cota Cero. It marked where the sea originally ended.
12. Townhall’s Blue Room
A room that was decorated ornately in blue and gold includes a large chandelier and a chapel. In 1859, The Queen of Spain was scheduled to visit Alicante. The city had trouble figuring out her sleeping quarters as there were no big hotels at the time. The inaugural celebration included Elizabeth II as a passenger of the 1st train to enter Alicante.
The event was important for the town. They decided to renovate part of the town hall building into a palace giving it a palatial ambience. Expensive carpet and décor were brought in for the queen’s visit making it luxurious for her. She prayed daily at the chapel built for her as she was residing in the town hall.
Editor’s Suggestions For Travelling To After Or Before Your Time In Alicante
Check out Benicassim which is best known for its music festivals but has so much more as well. It is a 2 hour and 40 minutes trip heading north.