Live classical music on the street below and a bottle of cava from our host makes a lovely first impression.
The beautiful Costa Blanca refers to the white sandy beaches of the Mediterranean coast in the southeast of Spain. The Costa Blanca begins slightly north of Denia and ends at Pilar de la Horadada in the south and between those two points are 150+ miles (244 km) of beaches, coves, cliffs and towns to explore and enjoy. Alicante, population 330,000, is the capital of the region and, for now, our home in the Costa Blanca.
Our apartment is on the most charming street in the city. Walking the pedestrian-only street, Calle San Francisco, is like strolling the yellow brick road. Overhead giant toadstools and friendly bugs peer down at you. Some of the shorter and rounder toadstools are large enough for children to play inside them. This vibrant street has hopscotches painted in a few places (we had to hop them of course) and there are a couple of small slides, designed in the same bug-like theme, for the youngest children. For the adults there is plenty of variety in the cafés and shops that line the street.
Castillo de Santa Bárbara
Clearly visible from anywhere in the city, it is easy to spot the Castle of Santa Barbara crowning Mount Benacantil.
The Castle of Santa Barbara was built in the 9th century by the Moors and refortified and renamed in the 13th century by the conquering Castilians. However beneath this towering structure, and on the slopes of the mountain, ancient artifacts dating back to the Bronze Age (3000 BC – 1200 BC) as well as items from the time of the Roman occupation (200 BC – 500 AD) have been found, suggesting there may have been even earlier inhabitants at this strategic location.
The history of the names of a place is fascinating. Although we didn’t learn if there was a name given to this area from the original Iberian tribes, we did discover that the Carthaginians named the settlement Akra Leuka (meaning white mountain or point). The Romans conquered the Carthaginians and changed the name to Lucentum. The Visigoth warlords ruled next as the Roman empire fell apart. Then the Arabs conquered the Visigoths and the Moors adjusted the name to Laqant or Al-Laqant (meaning city of light) and finally the Castilians tweaked the spelling slightly to modern day Alicante. Fascinating!
There was a handful of life-size iron medieval warriors strategically placed throughout the castle that added to the ambiance. We loved the time we spent at Santa Barbara Castle with the panoramic views of Akra Leuka / Lucentum / Al-Laqant / Alicante, the Mediterranean Sea and the semi-circle backdrop of dark mountains; all awe inspiring.
Explanada de España
One of our favorite things to do in Alicante is leisurely stroll the gorgeous marble-laid esplanade along the city’s seafront. In most Spanish cities a family walk is part of the lifestyle, one aspect that we have wholeheartedly adopted. Alicante’s stylish promenade is right next to the marina providing us with all sorts of activities to watch on the water and at the beaches as well as the market stalls and cafes along the way.
The “Georg Stage”
Last week we spotted a beautiful 3-masted Danish sailing ship. It was a rather windy day, and we noticed five crew high up in the masts attempting to roll up the largest heaviest sail all the while being battered about by the wind. We stood and watched the activity onboard for a while, taking in as many details as we could. Later that afternoon we found four crew members seated at an outdoor restaurant so we were eager to chat with them. The Danish Georg Stage, they told us, is a training ship and they were excited to be at the beginning of a five month journey.
We currently have a family member in the US Coast Guard and as part of their training they will spend 2 weeks sailing the USCGC Eagle. We feel we now have a slightly better idea and a visual aid of what life on a large sailing ship could be like.
Las Hogueras de San Juan
Las Hogueras de San Juan, in Spanish or Fogueres de Sant Joan, in Valencian (a dialect of Catalan) or the Bonfires of Saint John, in English. We found the word ‘hogueres’ and ‘fogueres’ are completely interchangeable and both are used extensively here in Alicante. Somewhat confusing for us, because although Valencia and Alicante are not part of the Catalan region, both the Catalan language and especially the Valiancian dialect are widely used throughout the area.
This festival began simply when people would burn their old furniture in bonfires at the beach to honor San Juan and celebrate the arrival of the summer solstice. In 1928 the city created a festival to accompany the fires and they chose a similar theme as the popular Las Fallas, held in March in Valencia. Beautiful specially-designed cardboard and paper-maché sculptures are created, painted, displayed and judged. Then on June 23, the night of San Juan, at an event called the Cremà, all the monuments are incinerated.
The best time to visit Alicante may be during the latter half of June when you can enjoy these festivities. As we are here in February, a visit to the museum was the best way for us to get a feel for this fiesta.
Museo de Hogueras
The Hogueras Museum is solely dedicated to this popular festival of Saint John’s Bonfires.
The museum has an audio-visual room showing videos of bygone festivals, fireworks and banyàs. (where the firemen with hoses extinguish the flames and “refresh the spectators with water”) There are five or six additional rooms filled with photos, posters and ‘ninots indultant’ (parts of the winning sculptures that have been “pardoned” from the fires). We read interesting background information about specific artists that have designed and created many of the structures over the years. The museum also provides a brief history of the festival.
Museo de Belenes
One of our favorite saints, Saint Francis of Assisi, is believed, during Christmas Eve of 1223, to have created the first representation of the Nativity of Jesus with characters and living animals. The oldest known nativity scene with figures dates from 1252 in a Bavarian monastery in Germany.
The Nativity Scene museum is located in a traditional house in the old town and although the museum space is fairly small, the diverse collection of figurines showing different aspects of the birth and life of Jesus, are extraordinary.
The tradition of setting up Nativity Scenes or “cribs” during Christmas, both in public spaces and in private homes, is popular in Spain. Dozens of the cribs in the museum are made by the Association of Nativity Scenes of Alicante and many more by well known artists from all over Spain. Additionally we saw exhibits from Germany, France, Italy, Poland and Portugal, cribs from China, Israel, Japan and Africa and figures and collections from Bolivia, Canada, Mexico and Peru.
The details of the faces and figures, their costumes, the animals, the decorative objects of the cribs, the landscape elements, the lighting of the scenes, not to mention the subject matter, makes an enjoyable visit to this intriguing museum.
Museo Volvo Ocean Race
The Volvo Ocean Race is considered the “Everest of Sailing” and this modern museum attempts to teach the visitor about the 45 years of history of this toughest sailing regatta.
The yacht race began in 1973 and was originally called the ‘Whitbread Round the World Race’. In 2001 the name was changed to the ‘Volvo Ocean Race’ and in 2019 it has been renamed ‘The Ocean Race’.
Every 4 years in October the race begins in Alicante (since 2008). Each race follows a different route to different ports of call. The entire race takes approximately nine months to complete and crews sail some of the world’s most treacherous seas. There are 9-10 legs, with in-port races at many of the hosting cities.
In the most recent regatta (2017-2018) there were 7-10 crew on board who race day and night for more than 20 days at a time on some of the legs. In addition to the regular crew there is one dedicated media crew member, called the On Board Reporter (OBR) who is not allowed to sail, and instead is responsible for reporting and sending live photos and videos to race headquarters via satellite from wherever the yacht is located.
Alicante in February, with temperatures 58°F (14C) to 68°F (20C), offers the perfect relaxing seaside life. We found plenty of history to absorb and sights to explore.
Salud from these Alicantinos,
Ted & Julia