Even travel writers need escapes. One of my favorite getaways is Alicante, a city on Spain’s Costa Blanca.
Yes, I know I’ve disparaged “the Costas” in the past. Spain-without-the-Spanish…paunchy northern Europeans overdosing on sun, sex, and cheap booze…hideous plastic donkeys…concrete jungles…acres of lookalike vacation homes.
So why Alicante? Well, there’s a big difference between seaside cities and purpose-built resorts. Alicante is lively, sunny, and inexpensive, for sure. But it’s also charming, fairly sophisticated, and its ambiance is as Spanish as that of Madrid.
A Mediterranean city of over 458,000 people is obviously no secret. But most visitors are Spaniards—the majority of foreigners only encounter Alicante’s airport. There are flights from across Europe, as it’s the gateway to sprawling Benidorm and other Costa Blanca resorts.
Yet Alicante also has splendid beaches—eight in total. San Juan beach alone stretches for over four miles. Below St Barbara’s Castle, an old Moorish fortress, there’s a marina, parks, shady plazas, cinemas, and a theater.
Lined with palm trees and paved with 6.5 million marble tiles, the Explanada is the promenade. It’s perfect for the paseo, the evening stroll when everyone is out-and-about, eating ice cream and chatting outside café-bars. For a cool-down non-alcoholic drink, try iced horchata—made from tiger-nut milk. The city center is also partly pedestrianized, so traffic isn’t a nuisance.
Flanked by the Explanada, El Postiguet is Alicante’s pristine town beach. Like all Spanish beaches, it’s free. If you haven’t got your own paraphernalia, you can rent an umbrella and two sunbeds for $17. Public transport is excellent, and regular buses serve beaches farther from the center.
As Alicante keeps traditional Spanish hours, your body clock may need adjusting. If you want an early lunch, think 2 p.m. Most stores and offices close for the three-hour afternoon siesta. They don’t reopen until 5.00 p.m. for the shopping/work evening session.
My favorite restaurant is Casa Ibarra, cornering Plaza Santissima Faz and Calle Mayor on the old town’s edge. With a choice of starters and mains, the two-course menú del día at lunchtimes is a bargain $14—a bottle of house wine is included.
At night, I don’t go out to eat until 9.30 p.m. or even 10.00 p.m. Lunch is so filling, I usually opt for tapas instead of dinner. Cod or ham croquettes, green peppers and patatas bravas (fried potatoes in spicy sauce) are staples, but you’ll also encounter unusual morsels such as squid stuffed with morcilla (blood pudding).
Depending on choices and portion sizes, a couple can feast well on a tapas selection for $28—sometimes less. In most bars and restaurants, beers cost $1.40 to $2.10 and a bottle of Rioja wine is $11 to $14. There are numerous tapas bars in the modern quarter and Barrio Santa Cruz. With its little houses and flower-filled lanes huddled below the fortress, this is the city’s oldest neighborhood.
But a tapas crawl is only the start of things. By midnight, I’m usually heading to Ruta 13 or El Tributo, a couple of goth/heavy metal bars behind the Mercado Central, the covered food market.
As for the weather, the Costa Blanca climate is arguably the best in Europe. It averages 325 sunny days each year, and humidity is low.
Even on escapes, I’m drawn toward real estate agencies. Prices in Alicante have plummeted since the Spanish market went into free fall. Five years ago, you wouldn’t have got a poky beach studio for $127,589. Nowadays that buys a furnished one-bedroom (484 square feet) with sea views, five minutes from central Alicante.
Within the city, a three-bedroom apartment (968 square feet) on Avenida Salamanca is $170,215. But prices are all over the place, and much depends on a vendor’s need to sell. And $163,175 buys another 968-square-foot apartment at Virgen del Socorro, just 300 yards or so from the beach.
Long-term rentals are plentiful. A two-bedroom furnished apartment (753 square feet) close to beaches in the El Altet suburb is $567 a month. A bijou one-bedroom bungalow (484 square feet) with a small garden and shared pool in a development near Muchavista beach is $539.
See my report in the September issue of International Living for more details and contacts. You can get instant access to the online archive when you subscribe with this link.