The Costa Blanca’s regional capital offers gems from a Greek, Roman, Visigoth and Moorish past among the High Baroque and Modernist Chic. There’s even the odd Picasso.
The ancient city of Alicante has been prosperous for most of its amazing 100,000-year-old history. Not to be outdone by the larger port of Valencia to the north and the huge development of beach resorts such as nearby Zenia, which is now a popular resort for foreign investment, it has now blossomed as a cruise destination, with around 80 ships from a dozen lines calling each year.
Alicante is famous for clean, white-sand beaches, a cosmopolitan sea-front promenade and (almost) all year-round-sunshine, but it also has a lot to offer cruise-goers wanting to explore its history and culture in depth. A new cruise terminal and free shuttle buses from the ship to the port entrance make it simple to use the excellent hop-on-hop-off tourist bus circuit to access the best cultural attractions.
Explanada de Espana, Old Town and Modern Art Museum
This makes a perfect introductory half-day excursion, with a chance to sip a sangria or eat out in one of the area’s fine restaurants while absorbing the atmosphere of this surprisingly cosmopolitan port.
Turn left from the port entrance and take a stroll along one of Spain’s most elegant promenades, the Explanada de Espana, noted for its wave-patterned mosaic pavement and fine views of the port and marina. Built along the old seawall, it is lined with shady palm groves and open-air cafés.
Turn right up the Rambla de Mendez into the heart of the Old Town for the early Baroque (17th century) exuberance of the Cathedral of St Nicholas, and 18th century Town Hall (Ayuntamiento de Alicante).
Head for the landmark of Mount Benacantil, at the foot of which is the Museum of Modern Art (La Asegurada). Completed in 1685, it’s Alicante’s oldest civic building, yet houses works by Spain’s best known modern artists, including Picasso, Miro and Dali.
Paseo de Gomiz, Santa Barbara Castle and Archaeological Museum
These are grouped on the eastern side of the port and together make another, slightly more energetic half day excursion. Summer visitors who prefer to walk may prefer to do the Santa Barbara trip in the morning to avoid a hot midday climb.
Turn right from the port entrance along the Paseo de Gomiz for its views of Alicante’s best beach (Playa del Postiguet, EU Blue Flag for cleanliness) and a veritable ‘United Nations’ of market stalls, music and ‘street theatre’.
Turn left slightly uphill to the ornate main portal of Church of Santa Maria, and its other ‘wow’ factor, the richly gilded Baroque high altar.
Lifts to Santa Barbara Castle start opposite Postiguet Beach, but it’s possible to walk up from near the Santa Maria Church. The views across the town and along the Costa Blanca are magnificent, and the complex houses a sculpture collection including works by Salvador Dali.
For the Provincial Archaeological Museum (MARQ), take the path down from the Castle heading right. It’s full of fascinating objects dating back to Alicante’s Neolithic past, and the Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Visigoths and Moors who all left their mark.
Hints for having the best time in Alicante:
· Take the shuttle bus from the ship to the port entrance
· Buy an all-day ticket for the hop-on-hop off tourist bus
· Use the lifts for Santa Barbara Castle