Putting a pin in a map is perhaps not the best way of finding the place to spend the rest of your days, but this is what my husband Norman and I did when we decided to move overseas. We simply pulled up Google maps, closed our eyes…and left the rest to chance.
Fate must have been truly guiding our hand that day for we ended up in Oliva, a little town midway between Alicante and Valencia on Spain’s Costa Blanca, and have not been disappointed.
With the Mediterranean Sea in front and mountains behind, it was an ideal location for us with superb beaches, lots of restaurants and bars, warm, friendly locals, a thriving expat community and of course lots of sunshine.
The popular tourist towns of Denia and Gandia are just a few kilometres away, but Oliva seems to have escaped the attention of holidaymakers, leaving it quiet and peaceful for most of the year. The exception is the month of August when Spanish tourists, mostly from Madrid (which gets very hot in the summer months) frequent this little-known gem. The lovely coastline, mountainous backdrop and cooler air here are a welcome relief.
Life in Oliva is laidback and inexpensive. I pay $1.50 for a glass of chilled white wine at a bar on the paseo, a promenade that runs through the centre of town with shops on either side. It’s the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by.
We rent a five-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment right in the middle of the town for $590 a month. The beach and harbour are a short drive away, where there’s several bars, restaurants and ice cream parlours. Oliva has various shops, supermarkets and a smattering of Chinese bazaars, where you can buy anything from a lightbulb to snorkelling gear. There is also a weekly open-air market selling fresh produce, clothing and a variety of household goods. This is where I buy our fruit and vegetables. A sack of oranges weighing 1.5 kilos costs around $3, and a kilo of calabacin (zucchini), sets me back a mere $2.
Eating out here is inexpensive too. Most places offer a two-course menu del dia (menu of the day) including a drink for between $10 and $15. At Valevale bar, less than a five-minute walk from my home, I recently enjoyed a hearty salad, followed by a Mediterranean vegetable dish and finished with a scrumptious lemon meringue pie. A large glass of chilled white completed this substantial meal and cost me just $14.
There’s plenty to keep us occupied here on Spain’s coast. The local theatre, Teatro Olimpia, offers ballet, opera and movies, all at very affordable prices. Movies are shown in English on Thursday and costs around $7 for a ticket. Honey Dukes, the bar/restaurant opposite the theatre, offers a special cinema menu also costing around $7.
Norman spends the evening playing pool with his friends on Mondays, while I enjoy amateur dramatics on Saturdays. Oliva Drama and Cultural Association (ODCA) performs two or three times a year, with donations from the profits going to local charities. Norman and I sometimes take walks along the river which runs through lush fragrant orange groves. Meeting up with friends for a coffee and a chat at Sanchi’s Cafeteria is a regular Friday morning date, before heading off to the market for my fruit and veg.
If you’re after a more cultural experience, head towards the old town to visit the small museums or to explore the churches with their Moorish architecture, blue domed roofs and elaborately carved or gilded doors. Alternatively, if you have the energy—and the stamina—head to the top of the hill, up the narrow cobbled streets to the ruins of the 16th century Santa Ana Castle. From there, you’ll get amazing views of Oliva with the Mediterranean Sea in the background.
While a pin in a map is not a method I would normally recommend for choosing your new retirement home, it worked for us. And we’re happy we put our future in the hands of fate.
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