Amongst the good-natured brashness of the Costa Blanca, Spain’s ‘City of Light’ shines ever brighter.
Not all travellers take flights to Alicante for 18-30 holidays, all-day English breakfasts and mobsters on the run. But while kiss-me-quick Benidorm is only a quick hop down the coast, it’s a world away in terms of atmosphere. With a rich history of Roman and Moorish occupation, Alicante is a joy to explore, and these days new bars and restaurants seem to pop up on a weekly basis.
Wine aficionados are getting increasingly excited about the region’s new generation of reds, starring the local Monastrell grape. If you don’t fancy drinking your way along the boutique vineyards and bodegas of the Ruta del Vino, you can always opt for something a little less headache-inducing. The traditional beverages named Horchata are back in vogue and nowhere does it better than Peret, a kiosk on the esplanade that has been perfecting the balance of vanilla, rice milk and cinnamon for almost a century.
In another city, the grand dome of the Mercado Central would denote a cathedral. Here the object of worship is more earthly. Inside, gleaming towers of fruit reach for the skies, and locals stop to grab a gossipy lunch or haggle over the gaudy bunches of flowers that perfume the air. After the hubbub’s over for the afternoon, take a stroll through the Museum of Contemporary Art. MACA’s clean, calm lines are the perfect backdrop for the wild excesses of Picasso, Dalí and Miró.
Speaking of wild excesses, Saturday night starts early in Alicante. Yes, you read that right. While few Spanish hipsters venture out before midnight, here it is all about the liquid lunch. Friends meet for copas, mixed drinks, on the terraces along Calle Castaños, before moving on to the tiny bars of El Barrio. In the small hours they may even stumble over to El Puerto, a long pier with dozens of slightly garish bars and clubs, to drink, smoke and salsa ‘til dawn.
It was the Romans that dubbed Alicante the ‘City of Light’. But contemporary travellers will find plenty of their own accolades for her – city of beaches and wine, art and revelry. Book a flight to Alicante and choose your accolade.