About Costa Blanca North
An hour north of Alicante the landscape changes from brown and arid to green and mountainous.
The high-rise concrete hotels gave way to smart villas, and lush valleys of oranges, almonds and lemon groves. There are few places in the world where the northern part of a small coastline contrasts more with the south.
You will not find a landscape of mass tourism in the northern part of the Costa Blanca. Instead you'll find quaint Spanish villages where bar owners speak only a few words of English, and a part of Europe where life goes on the way it has for decades with siestas the norm, and local customs and culture still very much a part of everyday life. The weather is one of the main attractions and the sun is said to shine 320 days a year.
Denia's skyline is dominated by the 18th-century Castillo de Denia. Not only does a trip to this honey-coloured fortress give you an insight into the region's long history, the building's grandness offers an excellent opportunity to get your bearings. Twenty miles of Blue Flag beaches extend from Denia to the north; head south and the rocky coves provide excellent scuba sites.
Denia, with its pavement cafes, smart shops (wonderful fashion boutiques!) and bustling indoor market is reminiscent of a small version of Nice. There's just so much life about the place. The town celebrates more fiestas than any other in Spain - quite an achievement. The biggest is the Hogueras de San Juan in June and is similar to the Fallas Festival in Valencia, it features hundreds of huge papier måché sculptures, representing anything from politicians and celebrities to hot issues of the moment. These are set up in the main streets and squares, only to be set alight in spectacular bonfires to celebrate the arrival of summer and the carnival lasts through the night.
Take a look at the fantastic yachts moored on the quayside and dream a little. There is a ferry service from Denia to Ibiza and Majorca but there is so much to see and do locally, why would you want to go?
What to Do, Where to Go and What to See in Denia
Well worth a visit is neighbouring Jávea, a portside town with it's narrow streets and old houses built from Tosca sandstone clustered around the 15th-century Gothic fortress church of San Bartolome. No high-rise buildings are allowed in Jávea which explains its attractive landscape.
Pueblo, the old village of Jávea, has made few concessions to tourism. Whitewashed houses surround the bay, and it's a great place to just sit in one of the many outdoor cafes watching the fishermen bring in their fresh catches or watch the sailing boats set off from the marina.
Or, just relax in the sun on the big sandy beach or stroll along the promenade where a welcome beer or coffee can be drunk, watching the world go by.
What to Do, Where to Go and What to See in Javea
About fifteen minutes inland from Denia is the beautiful 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'.
This is the Spain people hope to find but do not dare to count on. Old men sit in the street playing dominoes; children and dogs playing in the squares and narrow streets. Located at the foot of the Sierra del Recingle, next to the Caval and Migdía Sierras, it is an excellent base for walking and keen walkers come from far and wide to enjoy the walking and climbs that this fabulous area offers. Wherever you look in this area there is a beautiful view, out to the azure coast, up to the mountains that surround the valley and across the valley with the blossom and orange groves as far as the eye can see. The majestic Montgo in the distance is now a National Park.
The charm of the 'Rectoría' villages is that they remain totally uncommercialised. In an area still mainly devoted to growing fruit, the inhabitants are country people and proud of it. This is the place to head for a complete chill-out if you like quiet time out but still want the beach or town options within easy reach.
There are some very attractive options for eating out in the area and all restaurants offer a 'Menu del dias' (Menu of the day) which usually consists of a three course meal including a bottle of wine for as little as 8 euros. There are also the more expensive fine dining options which offer very good value. Having a lovely lunch in the sunshine, with a glass or two of the fine wine usually followed by a relaxing siesta. Heaven!
In the Jalón Valley, just to the south, the Gorgos river running through it is a striking feature and the road follows its twists and turns for several miles. The most attractive villages here are Llíber, Alcalalí, Parcent and Gata de Gorgos. Each has its own distinct character and unique specialist produce drawn from the surrounding countryside - wine from the vines, baskets from the reeds or honey from the orange blossom.
The local wine is produced and marketed under the 'Vall de Xaló' label by the Virgen Pobre cooperative. Their pride is the Muscatel and after half a bottle you'll know why. It's perfect with the garlic mushroom, sardines and stuffed tomatoes you often find in this region. The bodegas in Jalon opposite the car park are well worth a visit and the wine can (and is!) sampled free of charge. Coach trips from the more tourist areas visit on a regular basis and the wine can be purchased so cheaply that the coaches probably weigh half as much again on their return journey.
Another beautiful place is the hillside village of Parcent. Parcent is sleepy for most of the year, but certainly not so in August when the entire village celebrates the feast of their patron saint, St Lorenzo.
Gata de Gorgos is worth visiting for its crafts shops, though more business in cane and wicker goodies tends to be done on the plentiful street stalls than in the shops. The houses here, white with ivory lintels, give the village a specific character, and don't miss the wonderfully ornate church which dates from 1535; the same year the village became an independent municipality from Dénia.
Benissa is an enchanting medieval town. Located on the windy coastal road between Valencia and Alicante, its highlight is the 'Cathedral of the Marina Alta' which was constructed in the 1920s by pious local masons who relied on their own physical strength and finances. It serves as a wonderfully cool haven on an otherwise baking hot day, but there is a quality about it - which has nothing to do with the shade it provides. Perhaps it was the abundance of art in a small, unprepossessing town, for here you find a truly magnificent altarpiece in honour of the venerable patron saint of the village, the Blessed Xiquet. Its detail is incredible. The church also houses a statue attributed to the famous 16th-century Spanish artist Juan de Juanes.
Explore the old quarter of Benissa starting from the Ayuntamiento -the former Hospital for the Poor - where you can see the beginning of the track used by the ancient ribereros (the workers who emigrated from Benissa to harvest rice on the Valencia coast). The houses here have ornate iron grilles on their windows and the floral display in the window-boxes are the cause of local rivalry. The result is a charming, photogenic little gem, reminiscent of the old parts of Granada.