When we think of the Spanish costas, we picture sandy beaches, perfect blue seas and lazy days lounging by a pool, cocktail in hand. While all of these sounds fab, it's not all boozy Brits on beaches. There is so much more to Spain and I'm hoping this post will inspire you to discover it!
Shop at the local markets
The Costa Blanca is a popular holiday destination for us Brits, and has a big expat community too. I love that about the area - you'll find people from Germany, Sweden and the UK wherever you go - but one of the best ways to meet the locals and sample the Spanish way of life, is to head to your nearest market!
I've spoken about this before but the sheer variety and size of fresh produce on offer is unrivalled. I love stocking up on juicy strawberries, huge peppers and delicious oranges - perfect for sangria! You'll usually find rotisserie chicken, all the chorizo and cured meats, huge chunks of cheese, the most amazing selection of pastries and cake and of course - olives! So many flavours and varieties of olives, sun dried tomatoes and pickled onions. My favourite thing to do is grab a toothpick and work my way along the samples - wasabi olives definitely stood out!
Many stall holders will hand out tasters and freebies, and it's all cheap as chips. Fresher and cheaper than any supermarket. It's not all food either - you'll find books, scarves, clothes, jewellery and all sorts of souvenirs. Also, it's the perfect place to practise your Spanish and talk to the locals! We love the Wednesday morning market in San Miguel de Salinas, and Playa Flamenca on a Saturday. This is a pretty extensive list of Costa Blanca markets but ask at your hotel or a local café for the days and times of your nearest one!
Visit Rio Safari, Elche
Less than an hour from Benidorm and only 30 mins from Torrevieja, you'll find Rio Safari, Elche. It's more of a zoo than a safari in my opinion, but the enclosures are all open air and you can spend the day learning about all sorts of animals, jump on the safari train and even take a dip in the pool in the summer months.
You'll find everything from kangaroos to tigers to goats! My personal favourite was the playful chimpanzees. There's an entire reptile zone, a bird area, farm animal petting zoo and sea lion shows (which we chose to miss) but the most interactive experience for us was visiting the giraffes. They were more than happy to come say hello and suss out if we had any food for them!
I'm not going to lie, the entry fee is pretty expensive in my opinion but you could spend a whole day here, especially with kids. As well as the pool you'll find cafes, picnic areas with kid's play parks, trampolines and a go kart track so there really is something for everyone.
While the safari is more of a typical tourist attraction, tapas takes us back to traditional Spain. It's one of the best ways to sample local cuisine, but not all tapas is created equally! At one particular chain we ended up with five plates of bland, beige food. You could argue it's down to bad ordering, but we found that some places just don't offer the variety and flavours you'd expect from traditional Spanish tapas. Perhaps they're catering more towards typical tourist tastebuds?
Anyway, this wasn't the case at The Hen's Teeth in Villamartin Plaza - the best tapas experience we've had on the Costa Blanca yet. Our waiter, Tony, was fab and made such an impression that Gordon actually sad "I'm going to miss Tony" as we left! Holiday bromance right there.
Here we tried a beef and red wine stew, meatballs in a tomato sauce, patatas bravas, garlic and chilli king prawns, a more English styled black pudding dish with egg and peppers, and my personal favourite - the chicken with chorizo and olives! Not to mention the fresh bread with lashings of aioli and then there's the cocktail list.
I enjoyed a Pornstar Martini, with cava rather than prosecco, and he sipped on a glass of vino tinto. In hindsight, the red wine would have accompanied the food much better than my choice!
If you've ordered right you shouldn't have space for dessert after tapas, but you know me by now, my inner fat girl can't resist! A mojito cheesecake, full of zesty lime and mint flavours, was a bit too gelatine-ish for me as opposed to the light, creamy texture I'd expected. Gordon enjoyed his tiramisu!
My top tips? Ask for recommendations and order a variety of flavours, colours and textures. Explore the meat, fish and veg dishes, and most importantly share! You could even do a tapas tour - a kind of bar crawl where you sample one or two dishes from a few different restaurants!
Take a Day Trip
On our first trip to the east of Spain, we visited Cartagena and the ancient Roman theatre. More recently, we took a drive into Alicante city and hiked up to Santa Barbara Castle. I can't recommend it enough. Hire a car, jump on a bus or take a boat tour - just get out there and see more of the country. Explore different cities and learn about their history and culture.
Valencia is next on my list, but eventually I'd like to go further afield and visit beautiful Ronda!
See the Pink Salt Lakes
Head south of Alicante and you'll discover the pink salt lakes. Torrevieja is the home of two breath taking lakes - one pink, and one green. The deep pink hues come from the algae that thrive in the salt water environment. Aside from being a beautiful nature spot, and a great photo opportunity, the salt water is famously good for your skin and many people will bathe in the lake! You can also visit the town's Sea and Salt Museum to learn more about the lagoons.
I'd love to hear your suggestions of things to do on the Costa Blanca - is there anything I've missed?