Last time we had a trip to the never-sleeping holiday town of Benidorm, which is one of the most pupular destinations in Spain, and we also had a short episode at river Júcar. Then, we took a ship from Santa Pola and crossed the sea to get to the the legendary island of Tabarca, where we had a bath in the sea and started to look around. Now it is time to dig a little bit more into the unique culture and history of this mythical place before moving to the Spanish mainland again, where there will be more discoveries ahead to see.
Back to the beutiful island of Tabarca, there are other activities besides swimming and beaching: for example, you can enter the museum of the island to have a quick historical overview on Tabarca, which was called Planesia (‘plain’) by the ancient Greek settlers, and named officially Nueva Tabarca (New Tabarca) after the North-African Arabic city of Tabarka (nowadays located in Tunisia).
The short introducton video of the museum shows the visitors not only the miracles of the sea with all of its creatures, but also presents the exciting history of the island, that was once upon a time the colony of the Republic of Genoa - just as Valencia or the original Tabarka, which were all strongly ifluenced by the Genoans in terms of trade and finances.
Due to the colonization, many Italians, particularly Ligurians (Genoans) came to the uninhabited Tabarca and started fishing, which was a significant profession even around the middle of the 20th century. For instance, there were different types of fisher nets for the different types of fish that represented both Italian and Catalan traditions.
The mystery and romanticism of the Tabarca is also supported by the fact that it had been an island of pirates for a very long time: the most famous story is from the 18th century, when some Tunisian (Berber) pirates captured the dwellers of Tabarca and kept them as slaves, which was the end of the Genoan rule and the beginning of the modern Spanish rule, because after 27 years it was the Sapnish monarch that paid the ransom to the pirates in order to free the inhabitants from slavery.
However, when the Spaniards took over the island, some people were relocated or left voluntarily due to the horrible memories they had to suffer from: some moved (or were moved) to Alicante, but some others fled and returned to their origins: they went to Liguria or Sardinia. And this is the interesting point that finally explained a long-running fun fact for me.
Namely, that there is a small Sardinian town called Alghero (in Spanish: Alguer) where there is a significant Catalan minority still keeping their heritage so much, that one can observe the red and gold stripes in the flag and in the coat-of-arms of the place. As it turned out, many people in the town are the descendants of those leaving Tabarca and its surrounding areas when the Spanish rule began.
Last, but not least, it is time to continue our trip to Alicante (in Catalan: Alacant), the most important city in the South of the Valencian region, which is indeed a very special place both in terms of nature and architecture. It was an incredible adventure itself to take the tram from Benidorm, that was actually only called as tram, but in fact, it was rather a tram-train or a regular railway for me, crossing some of the most beautiful seasides I had ever seen in the country.
Of course, I could also observe dozens of slopes, hills, rocks, fields and faraway peaks, and everything just became more exotic for me due to the extremely hot and dry climate and the fact that it was one of the Southernmost spots I had ever visited in the world until that point (I checked the coordinates to make sure, and although it was a close race, Palermo is still the winner as the Southernmost city of my life).
Alicante was not such a huge and vivid city for me as Valencia, and although there were many tourists because of the early summer, I do not think to be honest that it is the most interesting city for a foreigner to live in.
However, I also have to admit that the city lies on such a widesrpread territory and has so many shops and services, that it is not a boring place either; just it is so different from all the other Spanish cities I know, that no matter that is is an administrative centre, wherever I was going, I always felt the vibes of a small, sleepy town - only with long roads and wide avenues indicating that I am in a place far more important than just a random city.
From the other point of view, it totally amazed me as a tourist for a one-day trip, which was partly connected to the multicultural characteristics of the city. Sometimes, for example, I could notice the imperial Spanish architecture: particularly on buildings like the Palacio Provincial (Provincial Palace), the Mercado Central (Central Market), the Basilica de Santa Maria or the local Plaza de Toros (Bullfight Arena) that I could see from the distance on the top of the mountains.
Apart from this imperial monumentalism, I could also see some quarters strongly influenced by the Arabic/Moorish period, and also some colorful, authentic Mediterranean houses with narrow streets, that one can typically see in Italy or Greece.
The most inconic buildings were two fortresses without any doubts: one of them, Castillo de San Fernando can be easily reached from the city centre and it is surrounded by a huge, fascinating green park with thousands of flowers, leaves and bushes.
The most unforgettable sight of Alicante though is another castle called Castillo de Santa Bárbara, which surely throws the traveller back to the times of medieval heroes and the wars of the Reconquista - even if someone does not really have such fantasies.
This wonderful castle is literally built on a giant piece of rock and it even has the same color and partly the same material, thus one can have the feeling that the fortress and the mountain are united and have always been linked to one another.
The top of the rock is indeed an excellent spot to look around and guard the region of Alicante, which was as useful during the struggling centuries in order to protect the city, as beautiful it is nowadays for the tourists who can visit the castle yard totally for free.
Have a walk on the stairs and slopes of the castle hill along the stone walls, get impressed by the endless blue shine of the sea, admire the lagoons and harbors of the coast, or take a look at the ocean of rooftops and tiles of the city, while watching many otherworldly mountains in the horizon…you will not regret it for sure!
Of course, Alicante is not just about history and traditions, but there are plenty of bars and restaurants in the shadows of the ancient and majestic towers, where you can find the very best of the Spanish, Italian and Catalan cuisise from paella to pizza and from gazpacho to calzone.
One of the areas which is always full of life is certainly the port, which is obviously not so huge like the port of Valencia, but it is very visible that the sea is surely a determining factor in the everydays of the locals.
Besides, you can find here another interesting sight of the city - what is more, you can even walk it. It is Paseo de la Explanada (or La Explanada de de España), meaning a sidewalk with curved, black, drapey and pale-yellow stripes, which give a very iconic appearance to the corso altogether with the palm trees and street lamps all along the way.
And where else could we finish the journey, if not at Playa de Postiguet, the most famous beach of Alicante? On a beach, which is not so long and infinite as the shores of Valencia, but is always full of people, music and cheerfulness, while the water is also stiller and more pleasent than in most of the other parts of Costa Blanca.
Additionally, you can also enjoy an incredible view over the rocks and bays of the area and get back to the city in a couple of minutes in spite of all the peace and fun you may find at the beach.
If you are lucky enough and go to Alicante (or Valencia) on Midsummer’s Night (Víspera de San Juan), you can also experience the Hogueras de San Juan (Saint John’s Bonfires) and many other traditions connected to fire and being celebrated through different customs all around Europe.
Well, the funny thing is that I just missed the festival of both of these cities, because I was staying in Benidorm, and gathered for a night picnic with the locals. It was certainly not so spectecular maybe as in other places, but seeing hundreds of people on the beach after sunset will always be a unique phenomenon for someone who comes from my country.
I had the same experience with the worldwide famous ‘tomato war’ festival, La Tomatina, which turned out to be in Buñol (Bunyol): a town close to Valencia actually, but unfortunately I could not manage to go there. However, we always have to remember that even if we try it very hard, sometimes it is just physically impossible to see everything, thus we have to set our goals and priorities.
Very often the case is like this that it is not even worth to experience all of our opportunities immediately, but it is better to do everything 'step by step' or despacito, as it is said in Spain. We have to accept that it might happen that we are unlucky and have to skip something interesting - but in return, there will always be some lucky surprises. Even when we do not expect them.