We had a couple of days between visitors before welcoming Ken and Ray (Ray is female despite the spelling of her name!)
On our way back from Valencia after saying cheerio to Eglė we explored the South side of the coastline from Valencia which is also part of the National Park. Much more wild with dunes protecting the Albufera. No doubt still busy in summer.
Elche (Elx in Valenciano (Catalan))
Ken and Ray were flying into Alicante about 19:30 (hopefully!). After Storm Ciara, storm Dennis arrived at the same weekend as their flight. Lots of flights to and from England were cancelled. Fortunately we Scots are tough and the flights from Edinburgh were fine 😉
As K&R arrived in the evening we booked a hotel in Alicante to explore a bit of the city with them. Before that, we headed down to Elche which is about 30 minutes south of Alicante. We had never heard of it until a Bird Watching guide we met for a day-out a few years ago asked if we had stayed there the night. We hadn’t as we had stayed in Murcia instead which we loved. too!. After a Lonely Planet read-up, it sounded worth a look. We had driven past it on the motorway a few times and it was invisible so we were sceptical. Most places here are built on, or round a hill!
We drove into the flat landscape passing the normal unimpressive suburbs. As we approached the centre we started to “get it”. Palm trees everywhere !. We parked close to the centre (in nice weather) and popped out at the funky Tourist Information building next to the Public Park (more palms).
The Archeological Museum was an old fort-like building surrounded by palms. There was lots of interesting Public Art , sunny squares, an impressive Cathedral and “North Africa” buildings.
It was a Saturday and around (Spanish) lunchtime, so it was quite busy and buzzy, with lots of young well-dressed people. It is a university town and we read somewhere it had a much higher percentage of people 30 years of age or less than most places. We liked it for a visit.
From Lonely Planet ” Thanks to Moorish irrigation, Elche (Valenciano: Elx) is an important fruit producer and also a Unesco World Heritage site twice over: for the Misteri d’Elx, its annual medieval play, and for its marvellous, extensive palm groves, which are Europe’s largest and were originally planted by the Phoenicians. The palms, the mosque-like churches and the historic buildings in desert-coloured stone give the city, 23km southwest of Alicante, a North African feel in parts. “
Alicante (not a good start…..)
We headed into Alicante to arrive in daylight and explore a bit before K&R arrived in the dark.
As ever, getting hotels in the heart of an old-town with parking can be a challenge. We went for the quirky looking Les Monges Palace Boutique. It was right in the heard of the night-life area and right next to the oldest part of the city with the Castle above. As usual, I waited in the car hovering in the narrow lanes while Aileen nipped into the hotel for directions to their Garage.
Aileen came out with the receptionist who pointed me to their garage which was on the other side of a bollarded square. I had to reverse and go back the way I came to get access to a parallel lane.
As I reversed (top-down), I heard a commotion. Aileen came across to tell me a wee dog had fallen from the balcony and landed literally at the entrance to the Garage. The poor older lady owner was distraught 🙁
The poor wee dog wasn’t dead but the prognosis didn’t look good. We had to wait for it to be picked up and put in a cardboard box before we could do anything. Not nice 🙁
Then the next challenge. The Garage was small with maybe 6 cars in it. It had a huge ramp most cars would never clear without grounding….. and certainly not the low SAAB, but if I kept close to one side where it was more shallow, I “might” get in.
First I was given the keys to manoeuvre an old Mercedes SUV out of the space they wanted to give us, and stick it somewhere else.!
Job done, and we checked into the quirky hotel with the choice of the historic room or the modernised historic room. We thought K&R would prefer the greater character, so we went for the modernised one (honest 😉)
We explored a bit before it got dark. Spain is normally quiet until later in the evening (21:00 and much later), but Alicante was lively with Spaniards even at 18:00. Quite a lot of youngsters hanging about or queuing outside Clubs? Very odd!
We had the lay of the land so we retired until K&R arrived about 20:00.
First stop was grub!. The receptionist recommended a place round the corner. In fact it was the same outfit where we had fab tapas 2 years ago (in a smaller establishment a short distance away). It was busy when we went in, but the waiter took us round the corner to an annexe where we could get a proper seat. That soon filled up too, and was lively and raucous as well after a short time!
We explored a bit more after our tapas. My god, Alicante is a happening place on a Saturday mid-February!
Lots of young people, mostly Spanish and no trouble or hassle or shouting or screaming!
We were all ready for our beds well after midnight!
The following morning after moving the car from the Garge (Obstacle course !)……after first being given the keys to move someone else’s car!, we stuck the car in a public car park and walked to the lift which takes you up to the castle (166m high …it looks a lot higher than that sounds !)
Santa Barbara Castle has a massive footprint and dominates the landscape, Unfortunately, there was a mist hanging around so the views weren’t as clear as we would like. Still pretty impressive though. Artefacts have been found from the Bronze Age, Iberian, Roman, with the current castle being of 9th Century Moorish origins.
It had a few interesting exhibits including photographs of Alicante people from days gone by, and a wall covered in ceramic fragments found all over the city. There was also a Photoshoot going on with a couple in Moorish costume. The photographic team were waiting for punters to clear rather than taking charge of the situation and stopping people walking into the shoot.
We walked back down to the old town. It really was a long way down so we were so glad we took the lift up!. A really nice lunch in a sunny busy Plaza was a great way to round-off Alicante.
Alicante is definitely worth a visit and it is buzzing at night even in winter, but it doesn’t have the same pull as Valencia, Malaga, Cadiz etc.
When we got back from Alicante on Sunday afternoon I wasn’t feeling too great. Just a cold / bug which has been hanging about for a while. We were going to walk to L’Arenal to see the Flamenco, but I ended up just driving…..in case I had to make a quick escape. We had a meal booked in Sotavent our favourite restaurant which was also their last night before closing for holidays. I wasn’t well enough to go so the whole booking was cancelled and the troops got a Chinese carryout…and I went to bed! I felt better after a talk on the big white phone!
We had a nice walk up to Xabia old town and a great tapas lunch sitting outside in the sun at La Trastienda Wine Bar.
Benidorm & Altea
We had a cloudy day so decided not to head for the mountains or do anything too scenic …….so we hit Benidorm!
We parked on the outskirts as even in winter the parking in town was mental. We were determined to find the “old town” this time!.
The back lanes near the cliffs looked nice (during the day) with some fab looking pintxos on display in the bars. The old town was mobbed with local Spanish people. As we walked towards the small harbour there were a big group of locals singing with song-sheets in their hands. Not hymns so we didn’t know what was going on. I asked someone who told me it was local people who get together to sing 6 days a week (non-religious!). It was nice to see and hear.
We parked up in Altea on our way back. We have driven through it but have never explored. It has the ubiquitous church on the hill and surrounded by white buildings. It was really very pretty with narrow, mostly pedestrian, cobbled streets and lanes on the way up the hill to the church….despite the weather!
We passed Bistro Shabby Chic near the church as we were checking out lunch eateries as we explored. Andre (we later discovered) did a great job explaining the menu. It all sounded good, fresh, interesting and a reasonable cost. After a look round the area round the church, we headed back to the Bistro for lunch.
We really enjoyed our meal. We didn’t want much so we ordered the bottle of wine and 5 tapas for 15 Euros. The wine was excellent (their own label). we had a complimentary cava (which was also great quality) and 5 small but interesting and beautifully presented tapas. We ordered a couple more normal size tapas to supplement. The whole thing was rounded off by complimentary “chupitos” (shots). A surprise, nice dining experience.
We only wanted a small lunch as we were booked for Restaurante Cajita in Xabia, which is a quirky place with a “character” running it ….and entertaining … and playing a “Cajon” (Flamenco percussion instrument / box-drum) whenever the mood took him !
We went to see “Judy” (the Judy Garland movie) at the cinema (excellent film), then had a glass of wine in the “Shitting Pig” before hoofing it 30 odd minutes up the road to the old town. Ken and Aileen weren’t best pleased as they both wanted to take a taxi but we couldn’t find one!
We got to the Cajita a few minutes late, joking they may have given our table away…..the ******* place was closed !. A sign said it was closed due to an “Accident”. I wasn’t best pleased as I had booked using WhatsApp so surely they could have told us!. Anyhoo we had a traditional tapas in Bar Imperial which was a different but nice experience too.
As K&R had to fly to and from Alicante we didn’t so the Valencia tour, so we decided to spend the night there as it really is worth a visit.
We took a turn up to the lighthouse on our way as we hadn’t made it up there yet, then onto Valencia. An explore round the “City of Arts and Sciences”, then an explore round The Cabanyal area (Bario) mentioned in the Guardian as an interesting unexplored neighbourhood. We didn’t have enough time to do it justice, but probably not worth a special visit. If you are down near the beach anyway it is worth an explore.
Back to our often used and much liked Hostal Venecia in a fab location.
Settled in, we explored the city. The ornate train station now had a display of traditional dresses made from silk used in the Fiestas. Las Fallas is the big one here in early March.
Unfortunately it as Ken’s turn to feel a bit under the weather, so he headed back to the hotel after a drink in Colmado LaLola. Fortunately, he recovered the next day!
The following morning with Ken fully revived we had another fab breakfast in the un-appealingly named “Brunch Corner”. Very trendy and with a great quality international “brunch” menu.
Later on a coffee in the Central Food Market, a wander round the Jardins del Real (Royal Gardens)…..and spotted a Kapok tree which bizarrely, Kirstie had asked me what they were on Facebook the previous day! We even had some great views of Kestrels perching nearby!
We rounded off the trip with a fantastic late-lunch at Arroceria Meribel at El Palmar in L’Albufera. We walked past lots of sunny restaurants which all looked nice, but the food being served at this one looked particularly nice and the Trip Advisor reviews were particularly good. It was a great choice!
The menu and dining was “foodie” rather than standard fodder, and the staff were really good too, We will definitely use this place again when we are back in the area.
For the last full day, we had good weather. We headed for Guadalest via Col de Rates. What’s more, we even did it top-down!
We let K&R explore Guadalest House, Castle and Village on their own as we sat in the sun, then back to Altea (only 10 miles away !) for lunch at Bistro Shabby Chic. We had a 10% discount card and a free glass of Cava after all !. Unfortunately the owners Kevin and Andrei weren’t there, so we were left in the care of a very inexperienced waiter.
The food was mostly good but the desert wasn’t. We didn’t get our 10% and we didn’t get the glass of wine which should have been included with the Menu Del Dia …but it was too much hassle to discuss with the inexperienced waiter.
I sent the owners a Facebook message to express our disappointment with the whole experience. They sent a very good apologetic reply. They both had to leave urgently to sign some legal papers. They invited us back for a complimentary meal at a later date. Unfortunately, K&R didn’t have time to take advantage of that….but we did 🙂
We visited Moirara on our way back before enjoying a couple of G&Ts at Bambula in L’Arenal
We took K&R down to Alicante, but before our trip to the airport we had breakfast at Bar Fuego L’Arenal before driving to Elche, 30 minutes south of Alicante.
We drove into Elche a different route this time….and it wasn’t as pretty an entrance.
We had a walk around Huerta del Cura the well regarded (small) Plam and botanic gardens. It was certainly pretty and worth a visit. Elche was much quieter than last time (only last week at a similar time on a Saturday too). That alone changes the whole “feel” of a place.
Lonely Planet liked Restaurante Meson El Granaino so we crossed the river to the more residential/commercial area (not touristy) and came across the very busy tapas bar/restaurant very busy with locals. There were no seats so we stood and had a few pintxos. Not cheap but nice quality. I need to go back with a bigger appetite as some of the dishes other table had looked great!
We said cheerio to K&R at the airport (despite missing the sign for the drop-off parking) and made it back to base.
The weather K&R enjoyed wasn’t the best, but it could have been worse!
Hopefully, they saw and enjoyed another aspect of Spain.
Click a pick to open a gallery with captions. There are multiple albums so scroll further down for more.
Pre Ken & Ray
Elche (Elx in Valenciano (Catalan)) / Alicante