Larger-than-life Benidorm may have put this area on the map, but a holiday to the Costa Blanca also packs in old-school towns, miles of beaches and some world-class theme parks
More than meets the eye
With its long strip of sand – stretching from Valencia to Murcia – the Costa Blanca certainly lives up to its ‘White Coast’ name. So it’s no wonder it’s one of Europe’s most popular holiday spots. The region is most famous for its lively resorts, mega theme parks and neon nightlife. But look at the bigger picture and you’ll find rugged mountains, pine forests and sleepy towns where time stands still.
Best of both worlds
If loud and lively floats your boat, head for Benidorm. Yes, buzzing bars, Brit-style pubs and theme parks rule supreme here, but you don’t have to go far to find its Blue Flag beaches. Plus, with its winding cobbled streets and whitewashed buildings, the old town is like an oasis of old-world charm in the middle of the modern resorts.
For something that turns the volume down a notch, try day-tripping to Denia. It's a 40-minute drive from Benidorm, andwith its Moorish castle and old quarter, it’s a taste of traditional Spain. On the flip-side, though, it’s home to cosmopolitan shops, pristine beaches and a smart marina.
Things to See and Do in Costa Blanca
The White Coast
The Costa Blanca has been pulling in holidaymakers for decades, and its beaches are by far the biggest attraction. In resorts like Benidorm, Denia and Javea, you’ll find sandy stretches that come complete with creature comforts like loungers, parasols and cafés. And if you prefer your beaches a bit more untouched, just head a little way out of the resort centres – there are loads of half-empty stretches to choose from along the coast.
The big beach
Top billing here goes to Benidorm’s Levante Beach. It’s a Blue Flag winner on the sunrise side of the resort. It’s easy to see why it’s so popular – kids love the shallow waters and play areas, teens can get stuck in to watersports like jet-skiing and water-skiing, and adults have a good quota of beachfront bars and cafés to choose from.
The secret beach
For a more low-key stretch, drive 15 minutes from Benidorm to the quaint town of Altea. Here, you’ll find a long ribbon of sand and shingle called Playa de Cap Negret. There aren’t any loungers, beach bars or cafés here, so the crowds tend to stay away – leaving you to nab a secluded spot.
Though you might find the oddArmanior Versace handbag in Benidorm's high-endshops, they’re not the norm here. Instead, you'll find boutiques scattered around theRincón de Loixtand Passeig de la Carreteraareas that specialise in things like posh linen and leather goods like jackets and shoes.Poke around the Levantearea and you'll find shops selling emerald, ruby and sapphire jewellery, too.
La Marina mall has shopping and dropping all wrapped up. There are dozens of high street names here, including H&M and Zara. Plus, there’s a cinema, restaurants, and ice-cream parlours for breaks. Getting here is a piece of cake – it’s a 5-minute drive from Benidorm on the N332. Closer to home, the pedestrianised Avenida Martinez Alejos in Benidorm’s old town is a good bet for boutiques and embroidery shops.
If you like your holiday souvenirs cheap as chips, you’ll need to rummage around Benidorm’s markets. There’s one near Levante Beach on a Wednesday – this is the place to pick up pottery and handbags. There’s another on a Sunday, on the outskirts of town near the N332. The stalls here are loaded with antiques and curios.
If your perfect evening has low-key written all over it, head to Benidorm’s old town. Place de la Constitución is a hot spot for restaurants, and leading off it is Santo Domingo, AKA Tapas Alley. For something a bit more lively, pick from Benidorm’s crop of cabaret joints. There are loads on Avenida de Mallorca, showing everything from comedy acts to tribute bands.
Nowhere does nights on the tiles like Benidorm. In The Square, in the centre of town, the music bars and pubs don’t pour their last pints until 4am. For booze with a view, head to Avenida de la Mare de Deu del Sofratge. The bars here look out over Levante Beach. And if you want to burn a hole in the dancefloor, take the 5-minute taxi drive out of the town centre to Avenida Communitat Valencia. You’ll fork out around 30 euros for entry to the nightclubs here, but they stay open until sunrise.
Spain's national dish comes from just up the road in Valencia, and the Costa Blanca is where the special paella rice is grown. There are loads of variations – practically every menu on the Costa Blanca will include one of them – but the classic version will always make good use of fresh seafood.
Seafood plays a starring role in Costa Blanca's cuisine, and this traditional dish hassardines as a main ingredient.They're combined with fried eggs and ñora– a kind of sweet chilli. The whole lot’sserved with black olives as a savoury snack.
Arroz con costra
This is like a paella with a crust. It's one of the few dishes that doesn't reply on fish and seafood, instead throwing in sausages, chorizo, and chickpeas along with the rice. Garlic and paprika provide the seasoning and the whole thing has an eggy crust to give it some bite.
A type of nougat made using honey and almonds makes up this Costa Blancan dessert. It's traditionally eaten around Christmas, but you can pick it up all year round. There are 2 main types, from different local towns. Jijona's is very sweet and soft, and Alicante's is hard and crunchy.
This wine isn't very well known even in the rest of Spain and you won't see it on every menu, but it's a real treat if you can find it. It's sweet and strong, and has more in common with sherry and other fortified wines.It goes down well with blue cheese and rich, chocolatey desserts.
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Benidorm is the biggest personality on the Costas, taking 4 million visitors comfortably in its stride. In the old town, you’ll find traces of traditional Spain but it’s the bold, brash sky-rise attitude that pulls in the crowds. And the place has some of the best beaches in the Med.
Amble north-west of Benidorm and you’ll soon bump into Albir. Families make a beeline for this laid-back beach town, for its half-kilometre of bright gold sand and pebbles. There’s also a generous dollop of daytrips on the doorstep – from Europe’s biggest theme park to the jagged Serra Gelada Natural Park.
Cala de Finestrat
Just over the bay from loud-and-lively Benidorm, Cala de Finestrat does things a little differently. This place scores brownie points for its crowd-free, sandy cove. Plus, it throws a pretty, mountainside village into the mix. You can head up here for Moorish buildings, historic churches and 360-degree views of the area.
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