Cultural Guide to Alicante
Thousands of beach lovers and sun worshippers are drawn to the warm climes and sandy shores of Alicante each year. You would be more than justified in spreading out your towel and refusing to move for a week, but there is so much more to Alicante than just the three S’s – sun, sea and sand. The city has its origins in the 16th Century and bears the marks of the different civilisations that have settled on its site. Visit Alicante’s historic buildings, tour its museums, and join in the frivolity of the fiestas. Don’t strain yourself too much however – you are on holiday after all! Hire a car with easyCar to get to all the must-see places with ease.
Mount Benacantil was home to some of Alicante’s first tribes, who inhabited the area in 3000 BC. The site of this first settlement on the slopes of the mount is now the home of Santa Bárbara Castle. Originally a 10th Century Moorish castle, Santa Bárbara has been added to over the years and is now a true castle-lover’s castle, complete with dungeons, cannons and a moat. To reach the castle you can either drive, take the lift, or walk up the steep hill past the little cafes, tapas bars and colourful, flower adorned houses. At the top, look out over the ledges and parapets at the amazing views of Alicante and the Mediterranean. Next go hunting for hidden doors and explore the castle’s rooms, turrets and towers. If the lure of the beach is too much in the day, then make an evening visit to the castle and stay around to watch the sunset from this ideal viewing point.
Back down in the old quarter you can find the Concatedral San Nicolás de Alicante. Notable for it bright blue cupolas, this Herrara style cathedral is enough to draw any architecture fan from the soft sands of the beach. The building has a simple charm with a decorated ceiling, attractive altars, striking statues and paintings. Should you feel the need, there is a peaceful chapel where you can retreat from the bustle of the town. At night the domes are lit up making the sombre church feel incredibly warm and welcoming. Opening times are limited, so plan your visit to this serene space with care.
If you are still hungry for more culture, then a trip to Alicante’s Baroque Town Hall is in order. Making up one side of a pretty square with fountains and orange trees, the building is near plenty watering holes that will refuel a hungry explorer. The building’s grand entrance has beautiful spiralled columns, decorated with garlands that deserve a close inspection. In the Blue Room, there are portraits of the town’s mayors to admire and a sculpture by Salvador Dali displayed by the entrance. There is a plaque at the foot of the main staircase from which point the heights of the all the cites in Spain are calculated. Alicante is defined as being zero metres above sea level because its still waters (where tides are hardly visible) provide the ideal measuring point. The ground floor Town Hall features an entertaining exhibition of the city’s history with archaeological remains. The building is viewed at its best when decked out in red for the Holy Week processions in March – April.
Sometimes you can just have too much fun in the sun and need to retreat somewhere cool and calm. Fortunately in Alicante this needn’t be boring as the city has a great selection of museums, covering areas as diverse as bullfighting to the nativity. Set in an 18th Century palace, Gravina Museum of Fine Arts (MUBAG) houses 16th – 20th Century art, furniture and textiles. The ground floor is an impressive cave of large stone archways leading you from exhibit to exhibit, which are, in turn, displayed on stark, unadorned walls. The Alicante Museum of Contemporary Art (MACA) has a great collection of surrealist and cubist paintings and the Archaeological Museum of Alicante (MARQ) houses eight different interactive experiences with people from the past.
When it comes to fiestas, Alicante really spoils you. One however, is particularly special – Hogueras de San Juan (Bonfires of St. John). Declared to be of international tourist interest and an important event in Alicante’s cultural calendar, the locals are always keen to encourage visitors to take part in the festivities. The largest celebration of this kind in Spain, Alicante’s San Juan celebration marks Midsummer’s Eve on 24th June. The fun involves bonfires, beautiful papier maché effigies (that are burnt in the main squares), and a glittering white, palm tree shaped fireworks display to round off the festival. To learn more about the festival’s history, stop off at the Fogueres Festival Museum where you can watch screenings of festivals from previous years.
So as you sit sunning yourself on Postiguet beach, look up at Santa Bárbara Castle and make it (or any of the other cultural spots in this blog) your destination for tomorrow!