Photo by Tomas Fano, CC BY 2.0 Chic and synonymous with luxurious yachts and glamorous…
Yes, I know how easy it is to get into total relaxation mode as soon as you step off the plane and into the Spanish sun.
Down the beach by day, lying on a sun lounger by the pool at midday and a tour of the bars and restaurants in the evening can easily slip into a routine, especially when it’s a totally different one to the regimen you are used to back home.
Let’s face it, the resort of Benidorm is very much a mini city, offering just about everything you are likely to need for a week or two.
But for those who get restless sitting too long on deck chairs or bar stools, there are a couple of nearby towns that take little effort in getting to.
Both for the charm of the place and the ease of getting there, I would suggest Altea which was recommended to me by a fellow guest at the Sol Pelicanos. It’s only 15 minutes up the track on the coastal tram route. Yet as soon as you start to walk up the low hill the original town sits on, you know you are in for something different.
It’s pleasant to come at virtually any time of the year, for lunch or dinner, or perhaps a tapas crawl at the restaurants on the way up to and around the cobbled main plaza at the top.
But it’s also a town to get a feel for some of Spain’s long and varied history – one that dates back to the very earliest residents of, and visitors to, the Benidorm area.
Some people believe that the name Altea could actually derive from the Greek for “I cure”, which will sound pretty logical to anyone who’s come to the Costa Blanca to breathe in fresh sea air, eat and rest well.
Others suggest its roots are in the Arab aṭṭaláya, which minus a t still exists in Spanish as the word for a vantage or observation point – another very appropriate idea given its stunning views.
Long after the Romans had come, seen and conquered, the Arab Moors arrived and were pushed out of town, more than seven and a half centuries ago.
But other invaders have been back since, including what were probably the first “package group” of British “tourists” to the region.
Walking around Altea I wondered how many modern UK visitors might unknowingly be descendants of those ‘squaddies’ who landed in the bay back in 1705. They probably cursed the hot sun, being part of the multinational Army supporting Archduke Carlos of Austria in his forlorn campaign to win the Spanish throne during the War of Succession.
Once you arrive in Altea, it’s very tempting to simply stop down by the beach, to walk along the seafront to the bars and restaurants around the old fishing village. But, believe me, it’s well worth making the effort to walk up the hill behind, up through the narrow lanes of classic whitewashed houses.
If it’s any solace to making the climb, you’ll find that at the top where the two very different towers of the Nuestra Señora del Consuelo (Our Lady of Solace) overlook the main square, the vistas are simply spectacular.
There are also a couple of former watchtowers among the various viewpoints for looking back over the bright blue Mediterranean, including the Torre de Bellaguarda which sits alongside a small park in the district of the same name.
Check out the programme with the tourist office before you go and you might be able to combine your visit with an opera or a pop concert at the Palau de Altea. But, even if there’s no music playing while you are in Benidorm, there’s always plenty of culture on hand for such a small town.
Museums include one for the works of local 20th century artist Juan Navarro Ramón, and another celebrating one of the most famous of the region’s fiestas, the annual “Christians v Moors battles” that recall the reconquest of Spain from the Arabs. We’re just pleased we staged our own mini invasion of Spain.
Katie is a rookie food and travel blogger who writes at delightso.me, where you can follow her adventures in the kitchen and on foreign shores.