Welcome to Alicante! On the Costa Blanca (the ‘white coast’), in the southeast corner of Spain lies this jet-set port, laid back beach town, urban metropolis and historic city. Know both as Alicante and Alacant, the city is home to some 350.000 people, plus another 450.000 people in its surrounding towns and hundreds of thousands of tourists and summer residents that flock to Alicante each year.
I had a chance to revisit Alicante a bit earlier this year. It had been a while… a looong while. I was picturing in my head a plain sandy beach and a 1990’s cookie-cutter beach resort but - to my pleasant surprise - found a lot more than that!
City life in Alicante
Alicante is not as touristic as what I expected having visite many other cities in the Mediterranean coast. It’s hard to imagine there’s only about 350.000 people living there - the city is buzzing with locals and tourists alike (more locals in the end of April when I was there), shopping, sitting in the cafés, restaurants and bars or strolling in the many squares, parks and pedestrian avenues.
In central Alicante you can find three distinctive areas; the seaside, the old town and the commercial centre.
The most prominent of the three is probably the seaside, with its beach and harbor. When you arrive from the city to the shore you’ll probably first come across one of my favorite parts of the city, the wide pedestrian avenue covered in smooth marble tiles (6.5 million of them, or so I heard) and lined by tall palm trees reaching for the sky; Passeig Esplanada d’Espanya. There you’ll find many stalls selling the usual array of clothes, bags, crafts and souvenirs - but it’s not just the tourists there. Plenty of locals stroll the esplanade in the evenings. At the north end of the walk, sitting below the Mount Benacantil is the city beach, Playa del Postiguet - one of many beaches in and around Alicante. It was still quiet in late April with only a handful of brave sunbathers, but I can image how packed it gets during the summer months.
At the south end of the beach lies the main port; hundreds of bright white boats are bobbing in the big harbor area and the colorful Casino like a circus tent shining behind them. The port has also been the starting point for the three last round-the-world sailing competitions, the Volvo Ocean Race. In the quay, at Muelle Levante, you’ll find many popular bars as well as the mentioned Casino. In the evening it’s a must place to stop by for a beautiful post-card view of the port, the old town and the lit-up Mount Benacantil and Castell de Santa Bàrbara.
Behind the port and the beach there’s the old town, on the northeast side of the city centre. There you’ll find an array of narrow streets, old squares with historic buildings, age-old churches and of course lots of small restaurants, boutiques and souvenir shops. It’s a mix of touristic and charming - during the high season surely packed with people! I enjoyed the quiet morning and evening hours strolling among the old buildings.
Then finally on the southwest side of the centre you’ll find the commercial centre of the city. There are lots of more modern buildings on wide avenues, rows of brand-name shops and franchise restaurant chains. I could spend hours and hours there, shopping and people watching. Perhaps my favorite area was somewhere there in the meeting point of the the old town and the big shopping streets, between Carrer Girona and Carrer Colon, where I found the cutest restaurants and the most interesting small shops. Also the main Mercado, market hall, is very impressive! I love food shopping and the never-ending produce section in the bottom floor was superb.
All three parts - the seaside, the old town and the commercial centre - have their own charm, their own purpose, and together they make a nice compact combination of “all you need”.
The most distinctive landmark of Alicante is the hill looming behind the old town - Mount Benacantil. On top of the hill you can see what appears to be a small sand-colored fortress with a Spanish flag waving in the corner. That’s Castell de Santa Bàrbara you’re looking at. Or Castillo de Santa Bárbara... everything seems to have their name in at least two languages in Alicante.. pardon me, Alacant.
A visit to the 'Castle of Saint Barbara’, the fortress, should be on your must-do list. You can walk up from various sides of the hill, drive (if you have your own wheels), take a tourist bus or take the elevator from the beach. One sunny morning I took the latter option, the elevator. You’ll find the entrance to the elevator on the road along the city beach. Pay the cashier and walk through what looks like an entrance to a doomsday bunker. At the end of the long corridor you’ll find a simple little lift - go up to the second floor and you’ll be on the top level of the fortress.
The place and its wall expand a lot further than what it looks like from the city - plenty of things to explore. The history of the fortress dates back all the way to the 9th century and, like many important sites, have changed its ownership and form many times in the past centuries. While the history is ever present on that hilltop, there’s something even more alluring, for me at least - the view. A 360-degree panorama of Alicante is alone worth a visit; you can see all of the city and past it to Santa Pola in the south, the beaches right in front and continuing in the northeast and the mountains all around. Pick a day with good weather to make a trip there. If the weather is bad you can still enjoy touring the many indoor spaces and the free museum.
Nightlife - and dancing, of course!
The hundreds small restaurants, cafés and bars are not there in vain. Even though it wasn’t the high season yet, the terraces were full of people, mostly locals but some tourists as well. Surely the amount of North Europeans will increase over the summer - and they’ll be a welcome boost to the local economy that is still getting through a time of depression. Though it’s hard to see the effects of the economic slump; you’ll look at the amount of people out and about on any night and wonder where do they all come from! Especially on a Saturday night the pedestrian avenues were full of people in an endless row of restaurants & bars. For a slightly more relaxed evening take a walk to the harbor side esplanade. Once you reach the end of the restaurant area it gets calmer and once you cross to the west side of Av. Oscar it’s pretty much dead quiet - perfect if you want to escape the nightlife.
Weekly salsa parties
If you’re looking for dancing, stop by in the wharf at the port. There you’ll find Capital Haddock, a bar serving you salsa & bachata several nights every week - check their latest events here on their Facebook page.
Of course I had to go check it out! It happened to be a rather quiet Sunday evening and once I got there at around 9-10pm there were only a dozen dancers. The music was fun though, mostly salsa, and the people were in a good mood. The local dancers seemed to be quite shy about asking a new visitor for a dance; the first person that came to ask me was a visitor himself too. Well before midnight, the place was all but empty. I have to say I wasn’t thoroughly impressed with the local salsa scene but perhaps it was the torrential downpour of the early evening that kept the people home that night. In addition to Haddocks’ At many other smaller bars here and there around the city I also saw notices for salsa and bachata classes & parties - so you should be able to get your dance fix!
Zouk in Alicante and southeast Spain
There’s no zouk classes or socials to be found in Alicante - so far. The closest thing you can find is an event called the Sensual Splash, which is held in the summer (June 14-16, 2015 was the latest edition) in the very nearby town of Calpe.
Also, some zouk classes are held by Xandy Liberato in his Spanish hometown of Valencia, not too far from Alicante. Contact Xandy and his dance company for more information!
To and from Alicante
You'll find Alicante is quite well connected. Fly in to the Alicante airport or arrive by car or train. Madrid is just about two hours away with a high-speed train; Barcelona is about 5 hours away as are the beaches of the Costa del Sol. Valencia, the home of paella, is just 170kms away and the many daily trains take you there in 1,5 hours. To get to beaches of Benidorm, it’s just a half an hour drive from Alicante and the trip is also served with a local rail link.