Costa conquered: the road trip that changed my view of Spain’s east coast

July 4th, 2010 in European travel by Terry Lee 2
Our 4x4 on the Sierra Cortina

Don’t Stop Believing blared from the stereo. It was fittingly the barnstorming original by Journey rather than the Glee cover, for this was a 4-Wheel-Drive road trip into Spain’s hinterland and the wind was blowing through what is left of my hair. When on a Jeep safari you need good road music to gee people up, happily our driver Richie, knew his job.

Having spent the morning kayaking, we’d a three-hour lunch at Barranco Playa restaurant, in Denia. Yes, all our meals were continentally long, relaxing over wine and sangria and every one so far had tickled our tastebuds. Barranco Playa didn’t disappoint serving up a tasty Valencian speciality, Arroz a Banda – a rice dish with squid and fish served in a giant pan.

Leaving the hubbub of one of the Costa Blanca’s tourist meccas behind our Jeep headed up onto the heights of  Sierra Cortina. From here amid the scrub-land that surrounded the rocky roadway we caught sweeping views from Benidorm to Denia with Terra Mitica theme park an ever-present landmark. We were a few miles from Benidorm, but a million miles from the common perceptions of this region. Forget the package holiday Costa Blanca. Forget the beaches packed with Union Jack shorts and British pubs serving fish and chips and all-day breakfasts. Here, just 20 minutes drive from Benidorm we were surrounded by imposing green carpeted hills contrasting beautifully with the blue sea beyond.

Stopping for pictures of the panorama before us I was struck by just how much tourism has evolved. Years ago when package holidays took off the two-week break on one of Spain’s Costas was de riguer and the likes of Judith Chalmers would be regularly topping up her tan in Benidorm. For us in the UK in the 60s, 70s and 80s Spain was as exotic as a hula in Hawaii. It was the place to go for a holiday.

But as with everything in life, times and tastes changed and people started taking a year out to trek around Australia or live with indigenous tribes in South America. As much as the Spanish coast was still viewed as a good place to visit for some, by the 1990s they’d lost some of their inimitable charm, due not in small part to over development.

But come to the Costa Blanca today with any preconceived ideas of straw donkeys and sombreros and you could be sorely disappointed. Though Benidorm can still serve up beachy treats for the masses, it has some quiet corners and towns like Denia and the surrounding countryside offer a true reflection of Spanish life.

This was particularly true of the landscape unfolding before us as we meandered through tiny towns and hamlets and wild countryside on our way to Algar.

Unexpectedly we passed under a canopy of bamboo trees requiring us to duck our heads to avoid a painful thwack, but it was interesting to encounter trees that I’d only previously found further from home. And it was all worth it for the treat we came to next,  the Algar Waterfalls. Here we found a little oasis of calm where you could cool off under the waterfall in the clear, though, icy water. I didn’t much fancy that myself so I climbed the wooden steps to the upper reaches of the river and was surprised to find refreshing pools lined by colourful flowers against a backdrop of impressive mountains.

It was a shame to have to leave but another wonderful Valencian meal was beckoning and I was happy to let my stomach rule.

I visited this area as part of blog trip hosted by Land of Valencia and the Spanish Tourist Office. The Jeep trip was delivered by Marco Polo Expediciones.

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