The long stripe of the Costa Blanca (White Coast) is one of Europe’s most heavily visited areas. If you’re after a secluded midsummer strand, stay away – or head inland to enjoy traditional villages and towns. Then again, if you’re looking for a lively social scene, good beaches and a suntan… It isn’t all concrete and package deals.
Brash Benidorm is an infamous focus for mass tourism along its two wide sandy beaches and the high-rise development that backs them. Bingo, karaoke, fish 'n' chips, all-day fry-ups: it's here, and the profusion of expat bars where not a word of Spanish is spoken give it an atmosphere of its own. Benidorm's nice side is the old town, set on a hill between the two beaches.
Around Valencia City
Within easy reach of Valencia are several worthwhile attractions. The lagoon of La Albufera is the fertile spiritual home of rice dishes, and also offers beaches and birdwatching. Sagunto's castle gives the most majestic vistas hereabouts, while Requena is the region's main wine town. Buñol comes into its own for the riotous Tomatina festival.
Straddling northwestern Valencia and southeast Aragón, El Maestrazgo (Valenciano: El Maestrat) is a mountainous land, a world away from the coastal strip. Here spectacular ancient pueblos (villages) huddle on rocky outcrops and ridges. The Maestrazgo is great, wild, on-your-own trekking territory.
Bitingly cold in winter and refreshingly cool in summer, striking Morella is the Valencian Maestrazgo’s principal town. This outstanding example of a medieval fortress town, breathtaking at first glimpse, is perched on a hilltop, crowned by a castle and girdled by an intact rampart wall more than 2km long.
Precisely 23km southwest of Alicante, Elche (Valenciano: Elx) is, thanks to Moorish irrigation, an important fruit producer and also a Unesco World Heritage site twice over: for the Misteri d’Elx, its annual medieval play, and for its marvellous, extensive palm groves, Europe’s largest, originally planted by the Phoenicians.
Torrevieja, set on a wide coastal plain between two lagoons, one pink, one emerald, is a through-and-through resort town with a large, mainly British and Russian, expat population. The beaches are good and in summer the nightlife fairly busy, but the town itself lacks a little soul. Salt production remains an important element of its economy.
Peñíscola’s old town, all cobbled streets and whitewashed houses, huddles within stone walls that protect the rocky promontory jutting into the sea. It’s pretty as a postcard, and just as commercial, with ranks of souvenir and ceramics shops (one prominent item: a pot with – oh dear – a penis for a spout, a tourist-oriented pun on the town name).