Alicante, the capital of the Costa Blanca, offers an embarrassment of riches to travelers. From sandy beaches and seafood restaurants to historic sites to an excellent modern art museum to colorful market stalls, this city will sate all your holiday-going desires. One must-see attraction here is the 2,400-year old Castillo de Santa Barbara.
History with a View
The Castillo de Santa Barbara is redolent with the rich and varied history of this region of Spain. It sits atop Monte Benacantil, which dominates the landscape of the city. The Greeks called this hill Akra Leuka (White Peak). During the time of the Moors in Spain, the Arab medieval geographer Al-Idrisi referred to this mountain as Banu-lQatil.
The Carthaginians first used the vantage point provided by this peak to build a fortress around 400 B.C. When the Romans, and later the Moors, held sway in the Valencia region, they each utilized and added to the fortification, building moats, drawbridges, dungeons and towers. The name of the castle derives from the fact that Castilian forces recaptured it from the Moors on 4 December 1248, the feast of St. Barbara. It was later taken by the kingdom of Aragon, and subsequently held by Charles I and Philip II of Spain. During the War of Spanish Succession in the early 1700s, the fortress was briefly held by the British.
You can view traces of the different civilizations which built and defended the fortress while roaming its many courtyards, tunnels and stairways. Part of the castle now houses the Museo de la Ciudad de Alicante, which offers exhibitions and information on the history of both the fort and the city. Be sure to allow enough time to fully explore this huge yet fascinating castle—many visitors report feeling disappointed that they are only allowed one afternoon for this site.
At 166 meters, the top of the castle offers breathtaking panoramic views of Alicante, the surrounding region and the Mediterranean. Depending on your energy level, you can access this view either after a long stair climb or by taking a lift. You may also choose to drive to the top: a paved road off Avenida Vásquez de Mella leads directly to a parking lot beside the castle. You will pay a small fee (2.40 Euros) if you take the lift; otherwise, a visit to this castle is free. The castle is open seven days a week, 10am to 8pm in summer and 9am to 7pm during winter. The castle boasts a snack shop and restaurant so you can stop to relax and enjoy the views from the top.
You will want to get around Alicante in a hire car in order to take advantage of the other diverse attractions on offer in Alicante. In addition to the castle, the city boasts a 16th century Gothic church, Santa Maria, which was built on top of a mosque after the Spanish reclaimed Alicante. Situated just across from the church is Casa de la Asegurada Museum a 17th century townhouse embellished with a modern glass and steel extension. The museum’s collection features works by Dali, Miro and Picasso. Shopping in Alicante yields bargains on everything from traditional Spanish wares such as lacework, fans and ceramics to carvings brought across from Africa. Golf enthusiasts can schedule a game on one of Alicante’s many courses situated along the coast to provide stunning views as a backdrop as you practice your swing.
With miles of sandy Mediterranean coastline, Alicante offers beaches for every preference from sunbathing and relaxing to sports and play.
* Playa Postiguet: At the base of Mount Benacantil where Santa Barbara Castle stands, Postiguet Beach offers a an arc of golden sand backed by a palm-shaded promenade featuring bars and restaurants.
* Playa San Juan: The fine white sands of this 7 km beach are ideal for water sports and other activities. The beach includes an 18-hole golf course as well as a playground for children.
* Cabo de las Huertas: For those who prefer a quiet, less crowded beach scene, an area of rugged coastline conceals three hidden sandy coves, including two nude beaches, Cala Palmera and Cala Cantelalares.
* Playa Albuferta: Northeast of the city, this secluded beach offers a perfect setting for water sports.