May is the month of holidays here in Germany, so ideal conditions for many short weekend trips. This time the destination was something simple and easy: Spain and the Costa Blanca. I had heard several bad stories about mass tourism in Benidorm and Alicante, but also remember the fond memories that my grandmother shared of the time she lived in Calp with her boyfriend. And many of my friends recommended seeing Valencia, so when the chance presented itself, I decided to have an open mind, grab short notice tickets, and fly down.
Day 1: Early morning flight from Weeze to Valencia and full day Valencia
Day 2: Day trip to Xativa
Day 3: Denia, Calp and Fonts D’Algar
Day 4: Altea, Alicante, with a late evening return to Weeze
Trip Cost (all in): 380€ p.P. (95€ / day – cheap)
Trip Duration: 4 days (w/o travel time)
Vacation days required: 1 day
The flights with Ryanair are always a pain. They force you to sit separately, charge for everything, and annoy the crap out of you during the flight. But prices are amazing. I paid less than 140€ for both of us. Usually the Ryanair flight times are not good, but you can combine a flight into Valencia with a return from Alicante. This way you arrive on Thursday morning at 9am – ready for breakfast – and return to Germany at 11pm on Sunday night. Perfect as you get the full four days.
After an early arrival in Valencia, the day started a bit bumpy due to trouble with the car rental company and it took me 1.5hrs until I finally had the car. However, the cool thing was that I started talking to a Portuguese guy while we both were waiting. Turns out he worked for the U.N. who run their major Datacenter here in Valencia. He was a really interesting guy and we had a fun time together, so I was in a good mood when we finally drove into the city. Driving and Parking(!) is super easy in Valencia and you don’t need to worry about finding a (free) spot. I’d never expected that and it was a pleasant surprise. We had booked a hotel right in the middle between the two main tourist hubs (old town and Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències) and all was 1-2km distance. We dropped our stuff in the hotel and went on to the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències. This area is an amazing archiectural achievement. Valencia was suffering from a major crisis 60 years ago due to the flooding of Turia river. As a consequence they redirected the entire river and turned the riverbed into a huge park. At the mouth they built the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències – the center for arts and science, with museums, operas and concert halls. Now this is the clear highlight of Valencia and strongly [recommended].
We explored this area all morning / noon and then went for a late lunch (actually normal time for Spain) and the first local specialty: Paella! 🥘 This trip is promising to be another food-heavy activity 😉
Make sure you also try the Orxata de Xufes that is sold at little stands around the city. It is (mainly) made from almonds and very good.
To walk off the Paella, we followed the course of the turia riverbed north and into old town. This is beautiful for a walk or bike ride. The streets and houses of the old city center are impressive and we spent all afternoon / early evening exploring the area and stopping at one of the many great cafes for lots of Granizados to cool down.;)
One special [recommended] sight is the old silk trading post Lonja de la Seda. This is a UNESCO heritage site and quite impressive. Entry is just 2€ and it just needs half an hour, so be sure to check it out.
On the way back we stopped at the 100yr old northern train station and the nearby bullfighting colloseum. I have always had an ambivalent relation to this entertainment. One my favorite writers – Hemingway – absolutely adored this and set it as the background of one if his finest novels (Fiesta). Still, I consider it cruel animal torture.
I also had to have a quick stop at this barbershop… I think it’s clear why 😉
For dinner – again Spanish-late – we had local tapas, mainly seafood, and a couple of drinks before heading over to take some night shots. We got lucky, as there was a show in the Hemisféric that night. We could just sit on the other side and watch for free.
Since all dinners and lunches are late anyway, we also slept in late and started the day slowly with brunch. Afterwards we took the car out to Xativa castle. It is a 45mins drive to this ancient castle and highly [recommended]! There are only few parking spots right at the castle entrance, but we came on a weekday and were almost alone. It is very similar to Carcassone castle and has two main sections that span a millennium of history.
Xativa city is also nice and old, but there’s not too much to see. You will need roughly 1.5hrs for the castle. The cafe up there has a nice location but quality is just so-so, better places can be found in town. We headed back to Valencia afterwards. The city is great to explore by bike as it is a bit spread-out and bike roads are everywhere. Check with your hotel as most of them rent out bikes. We explored the remaining parts of the old town and then went to a [recommended]
restaurant called Tintofino
The food was amazing, as was the service and the prices were very low. This is a must-do for great local tapas. But you have to reserve! Portions are big, don’t order more than three tapas.
I wrote earlier that there are two main tourist areas. Actually this is wrong – there is a third: the Russafa district. This city area is full of bars popular with locals and the streets are a sight themselves – strongly [recommended]. The bars are equally unique and we did our own little pubcrawl into the night…
Time to leave Valencia and head down the coast. Weather had turned and risk of thunderstorms meant I cancelled the planned diving trip and we switched to exploring the hinterland. For breakfast we headed to the coastal town of Denia. Forget about Denia castle though [not recommended].
You drive through beautiful hills and lemon plantations on the way along the hinterland of the coast and I can really recommend the drive. We continued to Calp – the former home of my grandmother. The city is very touristy and [not recommended], but up the hills you have a beautiful city quarter and a great view of the bay.
Luckily (?) it rained on and off throughout the day, so instead of being underwater, we headed to the Fonts de l’Algar. I actually didn’t expect much from this backup plan, but I was very wrong. See for yourself, a clear [recommendation].
The water is crystal clear and great for a bath. Word of warning though: it rained and wasn’t holiday season. Still people were not few and the whole area is very touristy and must be totally crowded on a good day. It is immensely beautiful, but you really should go very early in the morning. We spent the rest of the afternoon here and got to our hotel in the early evening. I had prepared this as a surprise and reserved a very remote place built and designed like a Moorish Castle, with two private beaches and my plan for the remaining evening and following day was just to relax.
But my better half was still active and hungry for Tapas, so we went to explore the nearby village called La Villa Joiosa
, famous for its colorful facades at the beachfront. With the rainy weather, the beachfront didn’t impress much. But we got really lucky with our dinner choice of La Taverna El Posit
They have a surprise Tapas Menu of new creations by the chef and we later learned the place is actually regionally famous for this. The waiter did us a huge favor as they were fully booked and he let us stay if we promised to leave before 10 – we made 9:55 😉 The dishes were fantastic, although my Spanish wasn’t good enough to understand everything. Check it out:
Our last day and it started amazing. The clouds were gone and the sky was clear. Do you know the feeling when everything is fresh and new after a storm? It was cold and you could see as far as the next major city. So time for an early morning swim. Waves are stronger after a storm, but it was still safe enough. There was noone else around and the water was warmer than the cool morning air. (I went down in my swimming trunks and with just a towel, so that pic is of the stormy day before 🙂 )
You feel so refreshed afterwards…and hungry! So time for breakfast with a view: 😉
After this we made ample use of the SPA and other facilities and departed the hotel much later than the checkout time (Great place they were totally relaxed about this)
In the afternoon we headed into Alicante. I had low expectations and this time I was right. This is a typical drinking & partying place and [not recommended] unless you are with a bunch of friends and just here for that. The water is great however, and if you are here I really [recommend] to head up to the Castillo Santa Barbara. The view across the bay and harbor is beautiful and entry is free (also free parking right up at the castle)
Supposedly it’s even better for sunset or after dark, but we couldn’t stay that long. Instead we headed down into the Vera Cruz district. The drive/walk along the coast towards Fabraquer or Urbanova is also nice, but Alicante itself is horrible for driving, so go straight for one of the public underground garages and don’t waste time driving. Vera Cruz was nice and we concluded our Alicante visit with an Ensaladilla Rusa and Tinto de Verano cocktail (really good on a hot day!) before heading off to the airport.
- Torres de Serranos
- Street Art in El Carme
- Torres de Quart
- Plaza de la Virgen
- Lonja de la Seda
- Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (day&night!)
- City Hall Plaza
- Estacio del Nord
- Streets & Bars of Russafa district
- Bay of Calp from the Mirador Monte Toix
- Alicante from Castillo Santa Barbara
- Fonts de l’Algar
- Xativa Castle
- During main season good hotels sell out fast and coastal cities are crowded.
- Many top restaurants in Valencia need reservations.
- Distances between sightseeing spots in Valencia are larger than usual. Rent a bike or go by car (both easy).
- The sun is strong, come prepared.
- Rental car condition is often awful. Really check when picking up the car and have it documented. Check the tires: we had severe tire damage.
- Without Spanish it will be more difficult. English is spoken in the tourist areas, but nowhere else. Even many restaurants don’t have English speaking staff.
- Credit card works almost everywhere, some museums/sights need cash, but entrance fees are very reasonable.
- Tipping is the standard 10%
- Driving in Alicante is not recommended
- Benidom, Denia, Alicante are all standard mass tourism destinations. Unless you want this, cut them short and focus on the smaller villages and the hinterland.
- Stay clear of the toll highways. Prices are very high and the alternative routes are more beautiful.
- Petty theft is common, watch your bags.