When we were looking to buy in Spain, we were shown a large selection of properties, and viewing could become overwhelming at times. To give ourselves a break, we went on a two day cruise, which we really enjoyed. Cruise-goers in search of the ‘real Spain’ beyond the Costa Blanca can opt for day excursions inland from Alicante to the fascinating hill towns of Elche or Novelda.
Alicante is now a popular cruise destination, so some passengers will already be familiar with this lively cosmopolitan port. Even first-timers may prefer a break from the sun, sea and sangria culture of the coast. Beyond the Costa Blanca lies a more traditional Spain of orange groves, palm gardens, ancient forts and pretty market towns dating from Moorish times.
Choosing an excursion to Elche or Novelda is a smart move. The route hugs the line of the port and coast for some distance, so it’s a good way to see more of the beautiful Bay of Alicante and breathtaking sea views before the road winds inland. Then the scenery changes dramatically to a land of olive, almond and citrus groves with vineyards framed by rugged pine-clad mountains.
Elche, City of Palms
Elche is on the Vinalopo, a small river carving its spectacular course through cream and butterscotch coloured ridges and scented Mediterranean scrub patched with fertile orchards and farms. Under Arab rule between the 8th and 13th centuries, Elche is now famous for its Moorish-influenced ‘oasis culture’ of palm groves, trickling water features and fragrant gardens.
El Palmeral, a shady park of 300,000 palms from most known species that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its unique cultural and horticultural interest.
Huerto del Cura – (Priest’s Garden) is part of El Palmeral and is a must for dry gardening enthusiasts, noted for its cacti, other unusual drought-resistant plants and delicious fresh dates.
The Municipal Park and elegant square with the 12th-15th century Altamira Palace (Alcázar de la Senoria).
Basilica of Santa Maria – 17th century baroque on older foundations
It’s hard to believe that outside the traditional heart of this town, so reminiscent of more famous Grenada further south, is Spain’s main shoe manufacturing area with around 1,000 factories – until you see the bargain footwear in Elche’s markets and boutiques.
Novelda – Classical Meets Modernist Spain
In a higher part of the Vinalopo valley (Valle Medio de Vinalopo) known for almond trees, vineyards and saffron production is another lovely town whose history shows in its ancient town walls and squares. The surprise here is that the Spanish Modernist style is also well represented and blends in so harmoniously with the older buildings.
Church of St Peter and town plazas where the marble for which Novelda is famous throughout Spain is used to perfection in 17th and 18th century baroque exuberance.
Cultural Centre and Archaeological Museum for impressions of the town’s 7,000-year-old history, through to modern art and sculpture.
Casa-Museo Modernista, a little gem for fans of early 20th century Art Nouveau domestic style.
The 14th century Castle of Molo with its Moorish pentangle design and an unusual triangular watchtower guards the town.
The nearby Sanctuary of Maria Magdalena has become a favourite for admirers of Antonio Gaudi, probably Spain’s best-known architect (Sagrada Familia, Barcelona). Invariable described as extraordinary, it was designed by one of his pupils and is now the civic symbol of Novelda.
Both these towns offer so much outside the usual Costa Blanca experience. Elche has echoes of the more famous Moorish centre of Grenada, while Elche combines elements of Gaudi’s Barcelona with reminders of Spain’s multi-layered past.