Monday, July 4, 2011

Touring the Costa Blanca

One of the reasons we decided to return to Spain was because we had so much enjoyment exploring the Costa Brava outside of Barcelona last summer. It seemed that each town was a little bit more beautiful than the one before, and some of the medieval towns were absolutely marvellous. While we did not know whether we would find the same quality of towns on the Costa Blanca, on a number of occasions we set off in our large comfortable Saab looking for memorable places. And we found quite a few.

One such place was Xativa, about 50 km south of Valencia. An ancient mountain town, and supposedly the first place in Europe where paper was used, it was also where two of the Borgia popes were born. A large castle dominates the old town, and not wanting to wait for the little train that takes you up, we set off for the top by foot.

However, I’m ashamed to admit we quit about half way, blaming the 30 degrees plus weather, and the bottle of wine we had with the assorted fried small fish and an excellent seafood rice ‘soup’ we had for lunch.

The whitewashed buildings and narrow streets we discovered near the top of our climb reminded us of Cadaques on the Costa Brava, and places like Mykonos and Kefelonia where donkeys replace cars as a mode of transportation up the long, winding streets.

Perhaps the highlight of Xativa was its main street lined with giant plane trees…it was remarkable, and I wondered which civicly minded individual had convinced his (it was most likely a man) peers that this would be a worthwhile investment. I can hear him now….”I want to make Xativa the greenest town along the Costa Brava….” . Well, he certainly succeeded as you look down the main street.

Another memorable town was Elche or Elx, south of Alicante. In the white and ochre tourist office, set in a central park, we learned that the town is known as one of the shoe manufacturing capitals of Spain...

and has twice received UNESCO World Heritage Site designations, once for the magnificent palm trees that were planted by the Phoenicians thousands of years ago, which now are seen throughout the town; and also for the Mystery of Elx, a medieval mystery play dating back to the 13th century, that is performed annually.

One of the advantages of a house exchange is that you can often invite friends to come and stay. This year we were joined by Sally' longtime friend Maxine, and a couple I got to know when I worked for Building Design Partnership in the late 1960's...John and Lynne Townsend. When John was staying with us, he wanted to take us to Altea, known for its leather markets

Unfortunately, after a long day of sightseeing, culminating with a visit to the very awful Calpe, the ladies in the car wanted to return home. But we did subsequently make it to Altea and I’m glad we did. While we didn’t find the leather market, we did find a delightful white pueblo town, with narrow streets and lively attractive squares. Nearly all of the buildings were painted white, and were well cared for. It was a very delightful place. Another remarkable place was Guadelest, a 'must' on most tourist itineraries in the northern Costa Blanca. We drove to this medieval town along a very narrow, winding 10 km road…for quite a while we were the only car on the road...and didn’t really know what to expect when we arrived. What we were not quite ready for were the hordes of people who had arrived by the busloads to explore this outstanding place.

Nor were we ready to view a magnificent bright turquoise lake that was visible from the top of the town. Sadly, the souvenir shops have overtaken the place, and they seem to be selling some very ridiculous things….while I quite like some of the metal work, who would ever think of buying a rubber front door mat that says ‘welcome’ in a place like this?

(I did enjoy this white lady, who was one of many 'statues' we came across while touring the Costa Blanca...yes Jackie, I did give her a few coins before taking her photo!)

While many of the places we visited along the Costa Blanca were not as impressive as the towns and villages we discovered last year along the Costa Brava, these four towns were definitely 'must sees'....I just wish we had spent more time in each of them...well all except Guadelest....which sadly is being over run by souvenir shops which dominate the place...sort of like the T-shirt shops in Gastown!


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