Stretching south of Valencia, the Costa Blanca (White Coast), boasts some of the best beaches on this coast, especially between Gandía and Benidorm. Much of it, though, suffers from the worst excesses of package tourism, with concrete building projects looming over the sand. It pays to book ahead in summer, particularly in August. Campers have it somewhat easier – there are hundreds of campsites – but driving can be a nightmare unless you stick to the toll roads. If you’re taking the inland route as far as Gandía, you’ll get the opportunity to see the historic town of Xátiva.
A string of attractive little towns and beaches stretches from Gandía to Altea, before you reach the developments of Benidorm and Alicante, but your own transport is essential to enjoy the best of them, and accommodation can be pricey. The least expensive option along this coast is to camp – there are scores of decent campsites, and a useful booklet listing them is available from local turismos.
DENIA, at the foot of Parque Natural Montgó, is a sizeable, sprawling town even without its summer visitors. Beneath the wooded capes beyond, bypassed by the main road, stretch probably the most beautiful beaches on this coastline – it’s easier if you have a car to get to most of them, though there are a couple of buses that make the trip from the port.
At the heart of this area, very near the easternmost Cabo de la Nao, is XÀBIA (Jávea), an attractive, prosperous town surrounded by hillside villas, with a fine beach and a very pleasant old town. In summer, both Denia and Xàbia are lively in the evenings, especially at weekends, as they’re popular with Valencianos. There are plenty of idyllic cove beaches close to Xàbia; one of the best is Cala Portitxol (also known as Playa la Barraca), a wonderful sand-and-pebble bay backed by high cliffs.
Heading southeast, you pass the dramatic rocky outcrop known as the Peñón de Ifach, its natural beauty offering a stark contrast to the concrete towers of the neighbouring package resort of Calpe (Calp). If you’d like to enjoy the coast for a night or two, ALTEA, just 11km to the south, is a more attractive proposition: a small resort set below a historic hilltop village, with views overlooking the whole stretch of coastline. Tourist development is centred on the seafront, where there’s a pebble beach and attractive promenade of low-rise apartment buildings interspersed with tottering old fishermen’s houses.
The old village, or poble antic, up the hill, is even more picturesque, with its steep lanes, white houses, blue-domed church and profuse blossoms. In summer, the entire quarter is packed with pavement diners and boutique browsers.
The ancient town of XÀTIVA (Játiva), 50km south of Valencia, was probably founded by the Phoenicians and certainly inhabited by the Romans. Today, it’s a scenic, tranquil place and makes a good day-trip. Medieval Xàtiva was the birthplace of Alfonso de Borja, who became Pope Calixtus III, and his nephew Rodrigo, father of the infamous Lucrezia and Cesare Borgia. When Rodrigo became Pope Alexander VI, the family moved to Italy.
Xàtiva has a fine collection of mansions scattered around town, but most are private and cannot be entered. Many of the churches, though, have been recently renovated, and the old town is a pleasant place to wander. Fiestas are held during Semana Santa and in the second half of August, when the Feria de Agosto is celebrated with bullfights and livestock fairs.
Keep an eye open for arnadí in the bakeries – a local speciality of Moorish origin, it’s a rich (and expensive) sweet made with pumpkin, cinnamon, almonds, eggs and pine nuts.
Fiestas de Moros y Cristianos are some of the most important fiestas in the region, and the three-day Fiesta de Moros y Cristianos in Alcoy, about 60km from Alicante, is perhaps the biggest of the lot. It’s held for three days around St George’s Day (Día de San Jordi); usually April 23 but this can vary slightly according to when Easter falls. Magnificent processions and mock battles for the castle culminate in the decisive intervention of St George himself – a legend that originated in the Battle of Alcoy (1276), when the town was attacked by a Muslim army. New costumes are made each year and prizes are awarded for the best, which then go into the local museum, the Museo Alcoyano de la Fiesta, at c/San Miguel 60–62 (Tues–Sat 10.30am–2pm & 4–7pm, Sun 11am–2pm; €3;
t965 540 812).
On the first day, the Christians make their entrance in the morning, the Moors in the afternoon; day two is dedicated to St George, with several religious processions; day three sees a gunpowder battle, leading to the saint’s appearance on the battlements. Access from Alicante is easy, with five buses a day. If you decide to stay in town, you can try Hostal Savoy, c/Casablanca 9 (t965 547 272, whostalsavoy.com; €100), or the Hotel Reconquista, Puente San Jorge 1 (t965 330 900, whotelreconquista.es; €66, during fiestas €150). The turismo, c/Sant Llorenç 2, next to the ayuntamiento (Mon–Fri 10am–2pm & 4–6pm, Sat & Sun 11am–2pm; t965 537 155, walcoy.org/turismo), can also offer suggestions for accommodation. After Alcoy’s fiesta, the Moros y Cristianos fiestas in Villena (beginning of Sept) and Elche (Aug) are two of the best.