The International Writers Magazine: Spain: The Costas
A Work in Progress
(all images © Sam North)
thought we might be safe from the English effect in Spain by going
to the mostly industrial city of Valencia for a short break. But
circumstances (notably the Furniture Design Show in the city)
meant that there were no hotels to be had at all and we ended
up in Calpe some distance down the coast from the old Spanish
There is a fast
toll-road down the coast and it is about an hours drive but if
you are a nervous driver, beware there are a lot of fast driven trucks
that care not for your peace of mind. We rented a tiny Kia Picanto from
Hertz which does about 60 mpg and though small is entirely adequate
as long as you don't have luggage.
It is very easy to be a snob about what has happened to Spains
Mediterranean coast in the last thirty years. Almost everyone knows
that the British invaded Benidorm and Alicante in their hundreds of
thousands and the Spanish catered to their tastes. Those tastes running
mostly to chicken and chips, hamburgers and chips and well chips. I
thought, in my ignorance about this coast, that it would be confined
to a small area and essentially there would be a couple of large seaside
resorts swollen with kiss me quick hats and that would be it.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Just as I was horrified when
flying down to Miami (where the last 80 miles of the flight we flew
across continuous hotels) the Costas of Spain are way more extensive
and the over-development astonishingly hideous.
But first let me state, the sun did shine, the sea was clear, the sand
was clean and I can totally understand that given a choice between Skegness
or Blackpool, Id rather go to Spain, where sunshine is guaranteed
and the kids will have a great time at half the price of UK resorts.
I sympathise and understand this. What I dont quite grasp is what
the Spanish have done to themselves.
The entire coast from Valancia to Alicante and beyond no doubt, is thick
with thousands of apartment blocks catering for vacationers. No attempt
at style, or planning, is in evidence. New hotels spring up in front
of others taking their views and youd be a complete fool to buy
a sea-view apartment there for in six months the view will be gone.
If there is no room to build, theyll just shovel some more mountain
into the sea and build on that. (In a 1000kms of driving I saw no sewage
works and did wonder where it all goes).
River beds have dried up all over Spain and they now build on them.
This means should the rains ever return (as a consequence of global
warming) there will be some ugly flooding in future.
are some positives: In Valencia they have diverted the main
river and built a fantastic range of parks and civic buildings that
snakes through the whole city. Quite an exciting concept actually.
There is a stunning
insect like theme to the structures, the pod above seems likes a movie
set but it is truly huge and the conference centre alongside here is just
one of the most unique buildings in the world.
new futuristic conference centre next door (see image) is astonishing.
Valencia might be very old and crumbling, choked with cars, but
they are building a new city right alongside it in the most modern
21st Century sci-fi style. It is worth going just to see the buildings.
They have also installed the second largest Oceanarium in the world. You
may not approve of caging fish like this, or training Dolphins to dance,
you might even feel like crying when you see how depressed the poor penguins
look, but at least it is ambitious. It is ocean history/science dressed
up as spectacle, but keeping Life of Pi in mind, I guess, just
perhaps, the seals, exotic fish and bedraggled Flamingo's like being fed
and not having to search for food...but then again...I felt uncomfortable
despite Spain's best intentions and the obvious enjoyment of the huge
crowds (It ain't cheap either at €23 each).
Dolphins perform at least twice a day.
the Belle Epoque in the old ciy and Alphaville in the new, a real
place of contrasts but always identified with the new of a millennia.
Valencia has survived since Roman times, I guess it will always
reinvent itself as history demands it. You can see it had a glory
day around 1900 and there is much that impresses tucked around
It is well served
by fashion chains too and this is the place for bargains in Zara or
Mango and I guess El Cortes Inglis the department store. They are extending
the underground Metro and so many streets are under construction, as
indeed is much of the old city as well as the new.
Sometimes I got the impression that 90 percent of the jobs in Spain
are in construction in some way as they totally renew their country.
Could be quite a hangover when it comes to a halt.
On the Coast:
between two spectactular rocks and hence it's fame. You can see why
people want a villa on the hills above it.
you have been to Cape Town (Camps Bay) is has many similariities
and the colour of the light is familiar too.
The negatives are that a pretty and friendly seaside town like Calpe
is being systematically raped by developers selling apartments to
the English and Germans. (Yes there are a lot of Germans there and
many restuarants have menus in English, Spanish and German as a
matter of course).
An example of how
crazy it is was in the local paper whilst we were there. A developer
building an eleven story apartment decided to build it 16 stories high.
He paid the right people but was found out and I guess those who werent
paid off are now demanding he demolish those five floors or pay them
out. Multiply this by hundreds of apartment blocks all being thrown
up with no respect to the environment or each other or future traffic
problems or just what the beaches can bear and you have a recipe for
ecological disaster. History is just obliterated. Few new designs are
good, an exception being the new Hotel Bahia on Calpe Beach, but even
here, a new apartment block is being built right alongside stealing
its view. Nevertheless if you want to stay right by the beach
this is most upmarket choice.
Nearby Altea is an old hilltop town that is in the process of selling
out to tourism, but if you are thinking of buying there check the beach
out first, its all rubble! I am not kidding. If you use the local
train (Alicante to Denia) you might not be able to see out as graffiti
covers all the windows. Shame really as it goes throughsome pretty hair
raising tunnels and trundles around some steep waterfront bends. I have
a strong feeling that I am in this region 40 years too late and those
coming now really don't care about history. The natives as well as the
tourists like the new. Sometimes walking in the few old streets still
left in Calpe you get a glimpse inside of the old dark dwellings and
you can understand that though designed to be cool in summer, they must
be cold and depressing in winter.
We used the excellent new toll roads to go from Valencia to Alicante
and to be honest the whole way down the entire region is a building
site. We glimpsed Benidorm from the road and saw skyscrapers that would
seem tall in Manhattan. No sense to it other than greed. To go there
could only be a nightmare. Alicante is virtually brand new, spreading,
oozing over the orange and lemon groves that used to surround it. Traffic
is in a constant jam everyway you look and if you can avoid, do so.
You could argue that this is all about bringing prosperity to the Spanish
who thrive from mass tourism. Indeed the French owner of our hotel was
keen to point out all the new villas being built in the orange groves
all around us above Calpe. His own hotel was surrounded by the very
last working farm. We knew all about this farm. It had a very loud cockrel
that crowed at 4am, 5am and 6am every day and the farmer also had five
dogs tied up in a small cage that barked all night long. We watched
him picked his figs every day and stare hard at the last fruit trees
in the town. By tomorrow it will all be gone, if not tomorrow, the next
day and the villas the Spanish are building themselves are very smart,
with lots of security
Calpe residents have all sold out to the
devil. You cannot develop these resorts to this extent and not exhaust
the environment. There really isnt enough water to support this
many people. You only have to drive across the mountains to Guadalest
and beyond to the burgeoning city of Alcoy to see that this is a desert
in the making.(Despite the pines being the most vivid green I have ever
seen) In fact when you get to the pretty mountain town of Guadelest
youll find about 20 tour buses disgorging the English on tour
from Benidorm. Its a shame but then we were there too
The images below are what people come to see in Spain- see it now before
it becomes an apartment block.
Spain is in a building
frenzy, villas and apartments for foreigners to buy or rent, intensive
farming (much of the land is under plastic) each town choked with traffic
and if you arent on the A-7 toll road, the normal roads jam up
in every town as you snake through the narrow crowded streets. By-passes
seem almost not existent.
There are some places that are better to visit than others. Cullera
is one to avoid totally. It had the atmosphere of a place where youd
go to die. Gandia is more cheerful (but watch out for wedding parties,
those fireworks are very loud and dangerous) and Javea is the least
spoiled of all the coastal towns (so far) but even here the restaurants
seem to be owned by the English, the food is excretable. A tip - avoid
any restaurant with an English menu.
In Calpe we swam in the warm sea and did our best to get a decent coffee
(Café Nero could make a fortune there). We found one good restaurant
in the town by the church called El Dos Canons and on our last night
we got a decent meal in the harbour in the restaurant attached to yacht
club. (You might want to avoid the fish restaurants the other side of
the wall where it completely defines the concept of mass tourism. You
chose your dish from a stale plate on display and yes your fish and
chips will arrive looking much like the display unit. It is VERY crowded
but perhaps people like that).
Valencia was confusing, but I confess thats down to my map reading.
The old town lacks the charm of Jerez or Seville and as stated earlier,
much of it is undergoing renovation. The new is at least ambitious,
world class architecture. The buses are useful and if you have a car,
park it out of the city and use the bus, it is much less stressful.
if you want a restful vacation and would like to engage with real
Spain, youd be better off in Andalucia by a long way. The
Costas will sink under its own weight and one day it
will all unravel. If Spain doesnt get some sense of planning
and do some environmental impact studies soon, it may well be too
late to save whats left. (Which isnt much and is a big
Pic: Altea graffiti © Sam North 2005
© Sam North
Kit and I stayed at Hotel Rocinante: Entrada Calpe
Sur, 03710 Calpe
(which has the cutest dog Ralph) and it has a good view of the whole
coast from each balcony. The host is French, speaks good English and
is very friendly. They allow dogs and motorcycles. Free car parking
and serve good simple food.
March to October only: Tel: +34 965831200
Sam North is the author
of the new Sherlock Holmes adventure 'The
Curse of the Nibelung' available by order from Amazon
UK and Amazon
More Travel Destinations here in Hacktreks
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