Tag Archives: Package Holidays

Travels in Spain, Alicante

alicante-esplanada-de-espana

It was mid-November and the weather was just perfect.  Shirt-sleeve weather in fact with sunshine and big sky so after breakfast we were away to the nearby city of Alicante which I was sort of surprised to discover is the eighth largest in Spain.

The short drive north took us through a wild landscape of lagoons and wetlands and for me this was another surprise.  I would have to say that it is hardly the Camargue in the South of France but away from the urbanizations and the towns it wasn’t what I was expecting and it turns out that this is a region for bird spotters and wild life photographers and I could see why as flocks of vermillion flamingos strutted through the shallow waters like statuesque flamenco dancers.

flamingo-flamenco

We arrived in Alicante and found plenty of room in an underground car park – plenty of room because Spanish drivers object to paying for car parking in the same way they boycott toll roads and would rather drive around in ever decreasing circles wasting time and fuel until they disappear up their own exhaust pipe looking for a free spot than spend a couple of euro to leave the car in a secure place.

As we emerged blinking into the sunlight, even though I have never been to Alicante before I had a strong feeling of Déjà vu.  We were on the Esplanade de España where the coloured floor tiles undulate like a rolling sea in a storm and I knew that I had seen them before.  It took me a moment or two to drag up the memory but then I remembered – I have a picture of my granddad in this very avenue, perhaps even this very spot taken nearly sixty years ago.

Alicante Old Picture 1960Alicante promenade 1959

In the photograph below my grandparents whose names were Ernie and Olive were probably about fifty years old or so and they were clearly having a very good time sitting at a bar enjoying generous measures of alcohol, the same sort of good time that I like to enjoy when I go travelling.

I’m guessing of course but Granddad, who looks unusually bronzed, seems to have a rum and coke and Nan who looks younger than I can ever remember her appears to have some sort of beer with a slice of lime and that’s about forty years before a bottle of Sol with a bit of citrus became anything like fashionable.  With him is his brother George (no socks, very impressive for 1960) and his wife Lillian. Nan and Granddad look very relaxed and with huge smiles that I can barely remember.

Benidorm Bar 1960?

We walked first around the marina and stopped briefly for a drink and then on to the beach, abandoned today because although the sun was shining it was perhaps a little too cool for a dip in the Mediterranean so we bypassed the opportunity of getting into our bathing costumes and made our way instead to the castle which sits on a rocky outcrop and looms large over the area.

Finding a castle to visit is not difficult in Spain because, according to the Spanish Tourist Board, there are over two thousand five hundred of them, for comparison there are eight hundred in the United Kingdom but France claims almost five-thousand but it includes a lot of questionable  small Chateaux in that number.

It looked like a strenuous climb to the top but fortunately there was an express lift so we took the easy option and in a few seconds were standing at the very top of the city.  Alicante castle turned out to be as good as any in Spain, there is a lot of reconstruction and renovation of course but I find nothing wrong with that and we enjoyed an hour or so walking around the battlements, looking at the exhibits and enjoying the elevated views.

Alicante Castle

We had return tickets for the lift option but walked down instead and at the bottom at around early afternoon we searched for the old town and somewhere nice to eat.  We were looking for a tapas bar and found one that we liked in a pleasant square in the last of the Autumn sunshine where we ordered a beer and selected our favourite food.

According to legend, the tapas tradition began when the King of Castile, Alfonso the Wise (if I was King I think I would like to be called ‘the Wise’, so much better than ‘Andrew the Fat’ or ‘Bad King Andrew’) visited a tavern in the town of Ventorillo del Chato in the province of Cádiz, and ordered a glass of sherry.  There was a gusty wind, so the innkeeper served him his glass of sherry covered by a slice of ham to prevent the sherry from getting dirty.  The King liked it, and when he asked for a second glass, he requested another tapa or ‘cover’ just like the first.

Wine and Tapas

This developed into the practice of using slices of bread or meat as a practical measure meant to prevent fruit flies from hovering over the drink. The meat used to cover the sherry was normally ham or chorizo, which are both very salty and activate thirst and because of this, bartenders and restaurant owners began creating a variety of snacks to serve with sherry, thus increasing their alcohol sales.

As we finished lunch the sun slipped behind the tall buildings and cast long shadows across the square so as the temperature quickly dipped we paid up and left and strolled for a second time around the marina before returning later to the town of Quesada where we were staying and spending an hour or so in the garden before preparing to go out for an entertaining evening meal.

Alicante Tapas

Spanish Islands, Lanzarote

Lanzarote Postcard Multi Picture

What now seems an awful long time ago I used to like going on holiday to the Canary Islands, that agreeable part of Spain which is located just off the north-western African coast and in December 1983, before I was even thirty years old, I flew to Lanzarote with a group of friends with the intention of having a pre-Christmas party week in the sun.

We landed at a sunny but windy Arrecife airport around about mid-morning and the Cosmos holiday transport then drove us the short distance to our accommodation in the resort of Puerto del Carmen.  I liked it immediately with its low level construction, natural building materials and the paintwork everywhere a uniform green, in complimentary harmony with the environment and the landscape.  At this point my only previous visit to Spain had been to Benidorm on the Costa Blanca and this place was in total contrast to the high rise world that I was to a certain extent anticipating.

The explanation for this building restraint is the achievement of the artist and architect Cesar Manrique who was born in Arrecife in 1919.  He was passionate about his island and successfully lobbied the local authorities to introduce building controls which prevented the excesses of neighbouring Gran Canaria and Tenerife which from the 1960s on were busy trying to emulate the costas of the mainland in an orgy of high rise concrete and steel construction.  Manrique had a major influence on the planning regulations in Lanzarote, when he recognised its tourist potential and lobbied successfully to encourage sympathetic development of tourism.

Lanzarote Postcard 1983

As a result of this sustainable development, ten years or so after my visit, Lanzarote was named a UNESCO biosphere site which is a status that is awarded in recognition that a place can demonstrate a balanced relationship between people and nature and of the 621 biosphere sites around the world, Lanzarote is the only entire island to win the prestigious classification.

The UNESCO website praises the island’s ecological charms, including a profusion of unique and endangered species and it praises the way that “…the idea of mass tourism was rejected and, under the influence of the celebrated local artist César Manrique, priority has been given to blend tourist infrastructure with the beautiful but inhospitable environment.”

I am going to fast-forward now for a short while because sadly there are always corrupt people who are prepared to take advantage of these opportunities and recently Lanzarote has been rocked by building scandals and corruption and since May 2009, police have arrested at least twenty-four politicians and businessmen, including the former president of the Lanzarote provincial government and the former mayor of Arrecife in connection with illegal building permits that have led UNESCO to threaten withdrawal of the status if the concept has been compromised.  The Canary Island Supreme Court has declared that twenty-four hotels have been illegally built in coastal resorts such as Playa Blanca, eight of which are modern luxury hotels that qualified for a total of €23.6m in EU grants, partly thanks to the biosphere status. The EU anti-corruption office has demanded the money be returned.

Anyway, back now to 1983 and after we had settled into our first floor apartment we wasted no time in getting familiar with the bars of Puerto del Carmen and we took a stroll along the rather untidy promenade behind the black sand beach and found somewhere for lunch and in the afternoon, encouraged by the fine weather we made our way to the sand and spent some time swimming in the Atlantic Ocean.  I expect Puerto del Carmen has changed rather a lot in thirty years but then it was small and friendly and we enjoyed ourselves there.

Fuerteventura Cofete 01

After a couple of days of visiting the beach and sitting around in bars we decided to do some sightseeing around the island so we walked into the commercial area of Puerto Del Carmen and found a car hire office with the sort of prices that suited our budget – cheap – and you only get what you pay for of course because being at the lower end of the scale we were allocated a clapped out old grey/blue Daihatsu Jeep which regardless of the fact that it was completely worn out seemed perfect for what we had in mind.

First things first though and after taking possession of the rattling bone shaker we had to quickly find a garage because the fuel indicator needle was hovering menacingly somewhere just below empty!  This seemed to irritate my brother Richard more than the rest of us and he immediately declared an intention to take it back in the same state.  We found a petrol station put a small amount of fuel in the tank and drove out of the town towards the arid stretch of black lava fields, glittering salt marshes and sweeping coastal mountains beyond.

Lanzarote island map postcard