There’s something strangely satisfying about landing somewhere you think you’ve got the measure of and finding there’s much more than meets the eye.
Alicante and Murcia fall squarely in that category for us. Both well-trodden Spanish tourist trails, just a hop and skip from each other, but if you dig a little deeper (no bucket and spade pun intended) there’s plenty more to see and do than laze of the beach.
When British European Airways introduced flights to Valencia in the 1950s the Costa Blanca was born, a tag dreamed up as a marketing tool for the new must-visit stretch of coastline.
More than 60 years on, you’d be forgiven for thinking the region may have seen better days but there’s a definite air of renaissance going on. Alicante itself, with its busy marina and bustling port-side market, is well worth a trip and stroll along the promenade.
There is no shortage of restaurants, most with a family-friendly feel, thanks to a significant but sympathetic redevelopment in the 1990s which helped redefine Alicante’s tourist offering.
For a few Euros you can take to the water for a boat tour of the harbour, a nice way to get a different perspective and also a shortcut to the attractions nestling at both sides of the dock.
We were really just passing through, flying via Alicante and popping back for day trips during our stay, but definitely plan a return. Another one for the list (growing all the time).
Home for the trip was actually the nearby Murcia on the Costa Calida, a short drive away on the effortless Spanish roads and another region of pleasant surprises. Perhaps best known as the home to a network of polished golf resorts but offering much more than that.
Despite not really knowing one end of a golf bat from the other, we stayed at the El Valle resort – based around a championship course and with an impressive, yet relaxed, clubhouse complex. Manicured grounds, a nice mix of villas and apartments as well as facilities including tennis courts and either private or communal pools makes it an ideal choice. We certainly weren’t disappointed, even if the lack of hubbub was a little disconcerting (not complaining though!).
Given the plethora of resorts in the area, there are deals to be had and we were delighted with our villa tucked away in a far corner of the resort … yet an easy walk to the shop, restaurant and bar. With a good-sized pool ideal for impromptu swimming lessons (a constant on our holiday to-do list), it was just the job. A car is essential, otherwise you would find yourself isolated.
El Valle sits within easy reach of Murcia itself, the capital of the district it lends its name too and a charming university town complete with cobbled squares, an impressive cathedral and meandering shady lanes perfect for escaping the fierce summer sun.
Murcia sits inland, so for a coastal vibe we found ourselves gravitating towards Los Alcazares. If you do nothing else, be sure to pay a visit to El Patio II for the best barbecue food around. It isn’t at the heart of the tourist traffic in the town, but one to seek out.
When it comes to seaside fun, the Mar Menor – Europe’s largest salt water lagoon, separated from the Med by the sprawling resort of La Manga – is surrounded by good beaches (with shallow water) and benefits from lovely warm water. Watch out for the jellyfish though.
(Top image -via Murcia Today)
Cartagena, with its naval heritage, is another city reinventing itself. Lots of history all around (Roman roots abound), but also a real buzz around more contemporary virtues of good food, good shops and good hospitality.
Three traits that we found at every turn in a region full of pleasant surprises.