Alternative Costa Blanca: beaches, fishing towns & tapas
There’s a lot more to the Costa Blanca than the classics of Benidorm and Alicante.
Why not Javea town and the Marina Alta region? These idyllic locations are situated between Alicante and Valencia airport, making this part of the Costa Blanca a must-visit if you find yourself at either of these two major city attractions on the east coast of Spain. It’s just a short drive up the coast from Benidorm, too.
Called ‘Marina Alta’, this province of Valencia takes in some of the most attractive scenery and sights on the eastern coast of Spain. From typical Spanish towns and beaches untouched by tourism to the beautifully lined promenades of Moraira and Javea town, the Marina Alta region boasts rolling hills, beautiful sunshine and of course, excellent sea air.
Playa de la Granadella
We start with Playa de la Granadella because it’s one of the most famous beaches in the Costa Blanca and probably in the whole of Spain.
Recently the Javea region faced an enormous bushfire. You may have seen it on the news, as there are many British expats living along the Costa Blanca in areas like Moraira and Javea. A few years ago, the hills around Playa de la Granadella were lined with Spanish pine trees, now the hills are bare and stark. New life is growing up from the ashes of the old forest. We think this makes the area even more beautiful – the harsh lines of the cliffs clash with the blue sky, and the eggshell colour of the cliff faces blur together with the hazy green and blues of the ocean. If you still want that classic ‘we’re on holiday’ aroma that a Spanish woodland produces, just half a mile off the beachfront you’ll find a hiking path that takes you deep into the verdant forests which escaped the fire.
Enough about the trees. This is about the beach. Playa de la Granadella is a rocky stretch, and even though the pebbles are small, we still recommend beach shoes. If you were just going to be lying on the beach, it wouldn’t be such a problem, but Granadella is famous for its snorkelling. You’re going to want to find out what lies beneath Granadellas clear waves. Large seagrass beds make a perfect home for all kinds of aquatic life. The fish seek even calmer and safer waters between the grass in an already sheltered bay, making Granadella one of the best spots for scuba diving in the Costa Blanca. There’s even a shack on the left-hand side of the bay where you can hire gear.
Just behind the beach, there are local restaurants serving up tapas with a focus on fresh food caught right from the coastline. Booking ahead might be necessary. These are the only restaurants in the area and during peak season one of the only places you’ll find any shade or a cold drink. They get busy! There are a small number of beds and umbrellas available for hire on the beach (20-30 euros), but most locals and tourists take their own seats and umbrellas.
A narrow, winding hill leads down to an untouched and undoubtedly Spanish beach, Playa Ambolo. On your route down the path (as you can’t park your car right next to the beach) the stark cliff faces and sparkling oceans are enough to dazzle even the most seasoned beachgoer.
Head down Richard Wagner road – yes, you heard that right, the roads around this part of the Costa Blanca have an interesting naming scheme – and hit the pebbles. There is a small patch of sand, but we recommend picking up some of those funky jelly shoes, as with all the snorkelling opportunities on this beach you’ll want to head to the waves and that means traversing some tricky underwater stones.
Trust us, it’s worth it. Even with just a pair of goggles from a local souvenir shop, you’ll see a host of underwater life, and you can push onwards to the rocky island to practice your diving. This is a beach preferred by the locals, some of whom don’t mind taking their clothes off (this is a nudist beach, although most opt for bathing suits.) If you get there early in the height of summer, you’ll still find room to settle down for an afternoon of ‘beaching.’ Even so, due to the hit-or-miss parking, we recommend getting in early and getting out quickly before the roads leading down to the beach become congested with parking or parked cars. With so many other beaches on the Costa Blanca to check out, why wouldn’t you?
Just up the coast, as if you were driving towards Javea, there’s a hilltop restaurant and a bar. Here you can enjoy a drink and a light tapas lunch with fantastic views down over Playa Ambolo and the surrounding cliff faces. A good pit stop before heading further up the coast.
Playa la Barraca
Finding Playa la Barraca is tricky, the roads leading down to the beach cut and wind across the hillside through a maze of villas. If you’ve got Sat-Nav then this will be no problem. Plus, because the road leads right down the hill, there’s plenty of parking right next to the beach.
Another benefit of having a convoluted route down to the beach is the fact that Playa la Barraca remains fairly quiet. It’s larger than both Playa Ambolo and Playa la Barraca and has plenty room if you get there early. This is still the Costa Blanca – during summer all the beaches are very busy. There’s a mix of rocks, sand and pebbles along Playa la Barraca, and some parts of the sea are calmer than others. There have been known to be rough undercurrents in the bay, but just stay vigilant, like you would on any beach.
Flanked on both sides by quintessential Costa Blanca cliff-faces lined with villas, some old, some new, some decidedly modern, Playa la Barraca might at first seem like an upmarket beach. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Just past the only restaurant servicing the beach – La Barraca, where you can enjoy tapas and drinks overlooking the ocean – there are a small number of original fisherman’s shacks. If you’re looking for the sights, tastes and smells of what the Costa Blanca once was, Playa la Barraca is a good place to start.
Playa del Arenal
Playa del Arenal is the only sandy beach in the Javea region of Costa Blanca. It’s also the largest and most popular beach. Lined by a modern promenade and home to dozens of fantastic restaurants, bars and clubs, Playa del Arenal is an awesome beach for a family day out.
Playa del Arenal has soft sand and gently slopes into the sea, making this a great spot for kids. With lots of beach activities like volleyball, football and of course, water sports, there’s plenty to do for the whole family. With Blue Flag rating for the water quality, you can take a pleasant and cooling dip in the Costa Blanca’s famous turquoise waters.
Playa del Arenal is backed by the town of Javea. During the summer months, Javea comes alive. There are festivals, fireworks and night markets offering up some of the finest entertainment in a laid-back, truly Mediterranean style.
Altea old town
Just 10 miles from Benidorm, Altea couldn’t be any more different than its raucous big sister. Idyllic narrow streets, a beautiful old world square, sporting a fantastic blue-tiled church dome as a centrepiece, and some of the most delectable eateries in the area.
Built with defence in mind, sometime in the 16th century, Altea is poised on top of a large hill. From this advantageous position, there is a host of stunning views over the Costa Blanca countryside. Beginning the central square of Altea, you can head out in any direction through the town and end up with another unique perspective over the surrounding area.
Altea has plenty of shops, too. Local crafts, upmarket boutiques and souvenir shops are paired up with traditional tapas eateries, sophisticated restaurants and one or two rooftop bars and restaurants. Altea is ideal for an evening meal, or for an entire day trip.
Denia, the largest city in the area, is, to say the least, beautifully Spanish. With a 1,000-year-old castle standing at the heart of the city, you’ll find gorgeous tapas, Blue Flag beaches and narrow streets galore. There are many, many miles of golden sands, with even more within reach if you’ve hired a car. We recommend Les Marines and Les Deveses, just a short drive from the centre.
Check out the old town, enjoy a light meal in a medieval atmosphere and enjoy the gentle lull of this peaceful city. If you’re staying in Denia you’re also perfectly located for day trips up and down the coast, or to the larger city of Valencia. If you’re looking for the action of the Costa Blanca, but want somewhere to stay that is relaxing, provides all the sights and amenities of a fully fledged tourist destination, and want to eat great food, Denia is for you.
Cap de la Nau
Meaning ‘Cape of the Ship’ this rocky headland offers up some of the most beautiful views you’ll see in all of Spain. From this height, the entire ocean shimmers in the sunlight, and considering the Costa Blanca’s amazing Mediterranean climate, this is likely to be 300 days a year. From atop these craggy cliff-faces, you can hop on and off a hiking route that winds along the coast.
Exploring at your own leisure is the best way to experience the Cap de la Nau coastal path. Turning off towards the ocean you might just stumble across a secluded cove or beach (we particularly like Cala Sardinera, or Sardine Cove, so named for its once prolific sardine industry.) Make sure to pack light, take lots of water and wear appropriate shoes. The route isn’t really difficult, but in 30c heat, even small hills can seem mountainous! Any sweat is completely worth it for the views of the cliffs, sea and the various large islands and jutting rocks that line the Costa Blanca coastline.