Castillo de Santa Bárbara

For most northern Europeans, the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of Spain is its high-rise coastal resorts like Benidorm. Very few people think of its cities, steeped in history and stunning architecture. Alicante boasted two castles, both near the centre of town. One castle was nothing more than graffiti-covered ruins full of empty cans of lager and cigarette butts, but the other was a larger fortress that was very much intact and stood on a piercing hill that kept watch over the city.

The paved spiral ascent from the foot of Castillo de Santa Bárbara took about 30 minutes. In the searing heat of the Spanish summer, this is not for the faint-hearted but the 360° view with fantastic views over the city, the sea, the harbour and the hills proved rewarding, so much so that towards the end of my time in Alicante, I climbed up to the castle again to see the view of the city at night.

The intimidating Benidorm skyline

Back at sea level, I was taking time to explore beyond the city as well. Benidorm was about an hour away by tram and I was keen to discover whether this town deserves the stereotype held by northern Europeans of being an ugly collection of grey block towers or whether there was some hidden beauty to it. Fortunately, the latter proved to be true. The skyline of Benidorm, particularly at the beachfront, is indeed striking, but it has one of the most beautiful beaches and harbour areas on the Costa Blanca.

Just a short walk away was a beautiful part of the town that looked more Greek than Spanish. It was a high projection into the sea that overlooked the two beaches on each side and was dominated by white and blue tiles. There were no residences or shops; rather it seemed a place for relaxation, although it was an isolated place that no one else had seemingly discovered.

The more traditional village of Altea

Further along the tramline was a small village called Altea, and this was the real Spain I’d been searching for – narrow, steep cobbled streets with white buildings overlooking the calm turquoise waters. I was quite content to spend the rest of the afternoon here.

Back in Alicante, the city itself had plenty else to explore – the vast indoor market, the impressively high fountains, the overpriced boutiques and of course the city’s two beaches. The city’s main beach, Playa de Postiguet, was practically right in front of the school and just a couple of minutes from the city centre, so I naturally spent a lot of the six weeks there. The other beach, Playa de San Juan, was about 20 minutes away by tram. It was a longer strip of coastline in a quieter location, with more room to spread out and more intense waves. With much more closed on a Sunday in Spain than back home, this is where I’d spend peaceful Sunday afternoons, usually with the friends I had made, but after many of them had left I went back on my own and spent hours enjoying the tranquillity, often forgetting the real reason I was in Spain, but what can I say? The more relaxation and fun I had out there, the more motivated I was for classes…

Part 2

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