Discover Northern Costa BlancaPosted on: 29 May 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
With lush fruit groves and quaint whitewashed villages, a Costa Blanca holiday doesn't have to be full English breakfasts and concrete.
If anyone had told me I'd go to the Costa Blanca and come away raving about it, I'd have seriously begun to doubt either their - or more likely, my - sanity. I don't do big brash resorts; hate crowds, prefer not to rub shoulders with Brits day in, day out, and I tend to go to destinations where history, architecture, fine food and wine, a private pool, and a hearty hillwalk are on the agenda. I'm so not a Benidorm babe!
This change of heart about the good old Costa, however, came about because I visited not the southern part of the that coast, with its concrete towers, sardine-packed beaches and ubiquitious British breakfasts, but I travelled instead to the Northern part - just an hour or less to drive, but a world away.
Think lush green valleys of orange, almond and lemon groves; quaint Spanish villages where bar owners speak ten words of English, low rise whitewashed villas and charming old towns such as Javea and Denia - that's what you find when you head North. Here you find the real Spain, with fabulous Tapas bars and where siesta culture is still decidedly the order of the day.
The portside town of Denia is a good base. Named after the Roman goddess Diana, Denia's skyline is dominated by the Castillo de Denia. Not only does a trip to this honey-coloured fortress give you an insight into the region's long history, but the building's strategic position offers an excellent opportunity to get the lie of the land and gain your bearings.
From the top of the fortress you can see the 20 miles or so of Blue Flag beaches extending north - all perfect for beach bathing, volleyball and windsurfing. You'll also spy the labyrinth of narrow streets, awash with restaurants and individually-owned boutiques.
Don't miss little gems like the indoor market where you can shop for fresh produce at bargain prices and quaff a coffee with the locals, or the tree-lined main shopping street of Calle Marques de Campo which becomes pedestrianised at night when the restaurants take over with outdoor seating and excellent Spanish food.
Also worth mentioning is neighbouring Javea, enclosed at either end by the dramatic cliffs of its two capes. Down by the sea lies its bustling port. Its old village, Pueblo, has made few concessions to tourism, despite this being a popular resort. At the southern end of the bay lies Playa Arenal, with its restaurant-lined promenade - the place to enjoy a sun-downer and leisurely dinner.
If you're going for the sun you'll be pleased to know that Javea is known as being 'the first of Spain's towns to catch the sun' and it enjoys the longest hours of daylight and 300 sunny days a year. Lap up the UV on its extensive coastline which has a number of pebble bays, some, such as Grenadella, are nestled in a pine-clad coves, which provide much-needed shade in the months from July to September.
Running inland from Denia, I discovered the Orba Valley, home to the Girona river and charming, atmospheric little villages such as Tormos, Rafol, Benidoleig, Sagra and Pedreguer. These five villages are collectively known as the 'Rectoría'.
Tormos is indicative of them: a sleepy little hamlet, located at the foot of the Sierra del Recingle which makes it is an excellent base for hiking.
The charm of these villages is that they remain totally uncommercialised. It's real time-warp country, in the nicest possible way.
In an area still mainly devoted to growing fruit, the inhabitants are country people, living off the land and proud of it. Expect no smart restaurants or swish hotels in the villages, but if you want to encounter the real Spain, you won't do better.
In the Jalón Valley, just to the south, the most attractive villages are Llíber, Alcalalí, Parcent and Gata de Gorgos. Each has its own distinct character and boasts its own unique specialist produce drawn from the surrounding countryside - wine from the vines, baskets from the reeds or honey from the orange blossom.
My favourite is sleepy little Parcent. Enjoy a glass of wine with the locals in the village square as you listen to the peeling bells of the Immaculate Conception church. Eat in the local Co-Op. They don't get many tourists so yes, chances are heads will turn, but in a friendly way. A three course lunch with beer or wine will set you back no more than a fiver or so, and all the village's working men will be joining you in the hearty fare.
Gata is worth visiting for its crafts shops and roadside stalls selling cane and wicker goodies. Pedreguer is another charming typical agricultural village located at the foot of the Muntanya Gran. Surrounded by abundant farmland on which fruit and vegetables are grown, the village also specializes in the manufacturing of bags, hats and leather goods. Many of the façades of the houses here are painted in vivid colours, adding to its charm.
For those with stamina and a head for heights, a five-hour return hike to the 753 metre summit of the magical mount Montgo - said to resemble a sleeping elephant - offers breathtaking views. On the mountain one can find up to 600 different species of plants and flowers, many unique to this area.
This area has so many wonderful surprises in store, and the great joy for us Brits these days is that all of this is now accessible using low cost flights to Alicante from numerous UK regional airports. A cheap and easy journey with an excellent result at the other end - now, how often can one achieve that?!
By Katie Wood
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