For most northern Europeans Alicante is a well-known charter destination for the sun worshipping sun starved northerners. It is more known as a destination than a vibrant Spanish town with great food, plazas and wonderful narrow streets filled with cafes and bodegas. Alicante is blessed with a beach in the city centre, so to combine a weekend of swimming in the sea, eating and drinking in a cosy atmosphere around town, all within a few minutes’ walk of your hotel is no problem. We will compare Alicante to it’s bigger brother Barcelona, both boast a pristine beach in the city and a plethora of restaurants and bars, plus the typical Spanish old town areas with plenty of soul and charm. Alicante is the perfect weekend destination if you crave sun, sea, and delish Spanish food!
It is not so often that we rave about our accommodation, usually a hotel is a hotel, and hotels tends to be quite the same wherever you are. In Alicante we found an exception to that rule. We got a recommendation from a friend in Spain that claimed that the Hospes Amerigo was unique and worth staying at for the nights we had in Alicante. And it was a very cool surprise. The hotel is a former Dominican convent, very nicely done up and decorated in a Mediterranean style interior. All over the hotel you can see the old walls, niches, and remnants of the old convent. Also being a stone throw from the waterfront helps elevate this hotel to an all time favourite.
The Spanish Mercados
An institution we always visit in any Spanish town is the main mercado of the town. The mercado is something we do not have any more in Norway, a grand market where fishmongers, cheesemonger, wine merchants and fruit sellers do their daily business, and the local housewives goes shopping every morning for fresh produce. It is an assault on the senses, the smells, the brightness of the fruit, the colours of the vegetables, it is a fascinating sight for a foodie to walk the mercados of Spain. The other good thing is that the merchants happily hand out small tastes of their produce, with pride they present ham, wine and other small morsels to whet your appetite.
Or you could go for the tasting platters many of them offer, cheap ways to get high quality food from local people who take pride in their craft. The Mercado Central in Alicante in no exception to the rule, it is grand! The eclectic modernist building was completed in 1922, and it is a must see for any visitor to Alicante.
We realized while going through the photos we took in Alicante that we had eaten a lot of great food while visiting. We love Spanish food, and in Alicante we had many great food experiences in a couple of different establishments. Most of them we just stumbled by and our normal rule being “if there are a lot of locals eating in the bodega/restaurant/café, the food must be good” and normally this rule is king. If you hear non-Spanish languages spoken around the tables, and if you are on the main street or beach promenade of the city, you might expect touristy food and touristy prices.
Do not be afraid to explore the unknown dark bodega, we have ordered mystery items more than a few times when the menu was not in English, and mostly the food we get is delish, even though we are not sure what we ordered. Basically avoid the main streets and beachfronts, stick to the backstreets and local neighbourhoods. And it is worth mentioning that the Spanish eat dinner late, very late compared to us northerners. Many restaurants will not open until 8pm and most locals will not eat until 9-10pm at nights, so if you are early for dinner, the restaurant might seem empty, but that’s just because the locals have not arrived yet.
Just across the street from the Amerigo hotel was a small corner restaurant called Tapa-Caña (D`Tablas) that we stumbled into an afternoon when the hunger was great, and the energy levels were low. Here they served small glasses of beer (cañas) and planks (planchas) of food. The waiters came around the room with trays filled with planks that had some small dish of food on top of it. And they cost 1 Euro per plank! I think the beer was 1 Euro as well. Planks with fried fish, calamari, cheese, sausages, and other tasty morsels came by our table, and we picked what looked good. It was so delish that we came back every day for lunch or dinner, a great way to get cheap drinks and cheap fantastic, tasty food! The address is Calle Rafael Altamira, just across from the Amerigo hotel.
Arroz is rice in Spanish. Not to be confused with paella, that is something slightly different. To make an exceptionally long history short, paella is from Valencia region, and not served traditionally with seafood. Arroz is rice dishes served outside Valencia, and the menu will refer to “Arroz con….” And whatever the ingredients for the rice dish should be for the day or region. Both dishes are served in the same type of shallow wide pan. And the rice dishes of Spain are normally eaten for lunch, not dinner. We had some great arroz in Alicante, and we recommend seeking out a traditional bodega that serves this very Spanish deliciousness.
And last but not least we would like to give another shoutout to the humble but might Spanish bodega! The number of mouth-watering meals we have eaten at those very local restaurants are amazing. Ørjan loves the Spanish ham from the black footed pig, the pata negra (jamòn Ibèrico) ham comes in different qualities and price range. From slightly industrial made mass produced, to artisan almost wild roaming pigs in oak groves eating grass, herbs, acorns, chestnuts, and roots. The curing process of the meat takes at least 12 months, and the best producers cure their ham for up to 48 months. It is mouth-watering good to get a plate of freshly cut ham, the smoky oak like taste is like nothing else, it is pure meat luxury.
We happened to be in Alicante during easter holidays, and this is a big thing, if not the biggest thing, on the Spanish calendar during the year. The holy week or Semana Santa is one of the most flamboyant religious festivals to witness, and it is held in every city across Spain from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday.
A series of spectacular weeklong pageants and processions take place to mark the occasion with large floats carrying lifelike figurines and effigies carried by groups of people through the city streets. The floats are paraded through each district by members of the local Catholic fraternity or Brotherhood. A common feature or the processions are the nazareno penitential robe which consists of a tunic and a hood, it looks extremely dramatic and a little disturbing if you do not know what is going on in the processions.
The first time we saw this we had to ask the locals who the hooded figures were. In short those who wear the robe with the pointed hood are persons who seek atonement to repent for sins committed, the hood letting them keep their privacy while walking in the procession. Combine all this with marching bands, kids, roman soldiers and lots of robes and colourful hats, you have the easter processions of Spain. We were so lucky that the local procession walked straight under our hotel room window, so we had front row seats to this spectacle.
The Santa Barbara Castle is located on the top of Benacantil Mountain, 166 metres above sea level; it gives to the city a great strategic value. From there, you can see almost the entire bay of Alicante.
Playa Postiguet is the city beach, great for morning swims or lazy afternoons. There is also a good hotel option on the beach in the Melià Alicante hotel.
A great ramble is to walk the narrow street of the old town just under the Santa Barbara Castle. This neighbourhood is filled with local bars and restaurants, narrow alleyways, and cosy plazas. Plaza Quijano and Plaza Del Carmen behind the cathedral is very charming and great for a drink and some tapas a late lazy evening after a long hard day at the beach. Check out Visit Alicante for more inside tips to a great city and region.