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Alicante, an important port on Spain’s south-east coast, was once known as Lucentum, or The City of Light. Its name remains as appropriate as ever today as a vibrant holiday destination with bright sunshine and dazzling nightlife. Alicante airport brings tourists in droves throughout the year to stay in the good-value hotels or self-catering accommodation on the Costa Brava coast and to experience some of the best beaches in Spain. Alicante, however, still has plenty of historical significance and charm to offer – particularly its castle Castillo de Santa Barbara and pretty whitewashed old quarter, El Barrio.
If you’re flying to Alicante before heading off elsewhere in Spain, there is a wide selection of hotels near Alicante Airport. There are also many local or chain hotels within, or en-route, to the city of Elche, just 20 minutes from the airport, and a frequent bus service to the centre of Alicante, around 12 kilometres away.
The city of Alicante stands where the Carthaginian fortification of Akra Leuke was constructed by Hamilcar, the father of the legendary Hannibal, in 231 BC. It has witnessed many struggles since with the Romans seizing power from the Carthaginians before the port fell under Moorish rule between the 8th and 12th centuries.
Alicante’s massive castle, Castillo de Santa Barbara, is one of the largest medieval fortresses in Europe. It has protected the city from its elevated position on Monte Benacantil since the 10th century. Climbing up the steep path to the summit will give you an idea why it became such an important stronghold. You will also appreciate even more the jaw-dropping 360-degree views over the Costa Brava coastline and Alicante’s harbour. Alternatively, you could just catch the lift to the top for a nominal fee. Starting its ascent from near Postiguet Beach and carved into the cliff face, it is an experience in itself!
Once you have scaled the hill, you can clamber over the castle walls until your heart’s content. There is no additional charge and a whole host of awesome viewpoints to discover.
Once you have filled your nostrils with fresh air and the strong, calming scent of pine and eucalyptus from the numerous trees which adorn the hillside, you may opt to take the slightly easier descent to the old town through the pleasant Parque de Ereta. The bright white facades of El Barrio’s typical and beautifully presented Spanish houses, contrasting with the vivid colours of the hanging flowers will entrance you. The streets are full of small boutiques too, growing in number as you approach the main shopping avenue, La Rambla, in the centre of town.
Above the mass of white buildings you may be able to make out a blue dome. This belongs to the Concatedral de San Nicolas de Bari. Although relatively uninspiring from the outside, this cathedral is typically grand inside and possesses some lovely cloisters and 17th-century baroque chapel. This church, however, is pretty banal in comparison to the beauty of the Basilica de Santa Maria at the foot of Monte Benacantil. This 14-16th-century Gothic church with a wonderful baroque facade, built on the ruins of a Moorish mosque, is perhaps the most beautiful structure in Alicante.
This idyllic sounding image this may tempt you to search an apartment, charming B&B or hotel in Alicante’s old town straight away. Its narrow streets, bursting with character, are packed with a wide variety of bars and restaurants. You can also get to the beach and harbour in no time.
Lively Alicante likes to put on a party. There are many events held on the beach and festivals, parades and fiestas often take over the streets such as the Carnival in February or March and the Hogueras de San Juan in June.
The best nightlife can be found in the harbour area El Puerto. This is where you’ll discover the most expensive restaurants and tapas bars. There is also a large selection of pubs jostling for your attention along the lovely promenade Esplanada de Espana.
There is a lot going on in the daytime too – with several attractions such as theme parks, water parks and safari parks. If the buzz of Alicante gets too much though you can escape to one of the lesser-known and less crowded beaches outside of the town – some of which have acquired an EU Blue Flag award for their cleanliness.
Other popular excursions include the beautiful marine reserve of Tabarca Island and the serene Guadalest Valley, with its mountain-top village and castle overlooking an idyllic lake, about half an hour from Benidorm.
So whether you are going to Alicante to enjoy the sun, sea and sand or for a hotel break packed with adventure, the City of Lights is sure to brighten up your mood.