Oct 242011
 

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Many people are seeking alternatives to the seaside resort holiday that is centred around lots of sunshine and doing as little as possible except maybe reading a book on the beach or around a swimming pool.  Pleasant as that prospect may be, spending two weeks with nothing else on the agenda can become a little monotonous.  More and more holidaymakers are looking to combine some of the lazy sunshine holiday concept with a certain amount of activity, and it is here that the area around Gandía and the whole area along the Costa Blanca can really come into its own. 

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The beautiful mountain scenery that lies almost immediately behind the coastal resorts along the Costa Blanca provide for a whole host of activities that are only now being fully recognised by local towns and businesses as equally valid and attractive reasons to come to this part of Spain.  An obvious recreation in the La Safor mountains near Gandía is that of hiking and walking, and there is a wide choice of routes that have been mapped out for the enthusiast, ranging from easy, gentle walks to more strenuous hikes and climbs.  Local authorities have started producing maps showing the recommended routes to follow, and these are also signposted along the way to make things even easier and more “user friendly” and less daunting for the first-time hill walker.  There is also a hiking information centre in the hills behind Gandía where many of the local routes are centred upon, set in an area designated of special interest and natural beauty.  As an extra point of interest, some of the routes also make use of disused railway lines in the area and the hiker will find themselves taking unspoilt and scenic routes between towns and villages, often even walking through former railway tunnels along the way. 

If walking and hiking does not appeal, an alternative is cycling and mountain biking.  This is a recreation that is hugely popular amongst local people, and it is not hard to see why.  Bikes can be hired locally, either as an independent daily or weekly rental, or in the company of a guide who can take the enthusiast along routes in the hills and mountains if a road trip is not what you have in mind.  Stunning mountain views are the reward for a steep climb through many of the villages and towns in the area, and then of course there is always the extra reward of the exhilarating downhill trip at the other side!  It is very easy to combine a route that takes in a mountain section, followed by a return along the coast and maybe a swim in the sea all in the same trip – the best of everything! 

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Nature lovers can also indulge themselves along the Costa Blanca by visiting the areas frequented by the many species of birds in the area – both local and (depending on the time of year) migratory.  There is a large designated nature reserve of wetlands to the south of Valencia City that will be of particular interest to the bird watcher, and this is home to a great number of species as well as a stopping point for birds that are passing through on their seasonal migrations.  In addition to this specific area, the entire stretch of coast provides excellent opportunities for spotting a wide range of birds, including many birds of prey in the mountains.  Guided bird watching tours can be arranged by local experts who can take the visitor to the best starting-off points, depending on the particular types of bird that are of particular interest.  This can in fact be an excellent way of combining the different activities that the area lends itself to so well – walking through beautiful scenery whilst at the same time spotting varieties of birds and wildlife the visitor is unlikely to encounter at home. 

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And all this, of course, is available along the Costa Blanca in a climate so very much milder and warmer than what the visitor would probably be used to at home.  Indeed, the long mild season that this part of Spain generally experiences makes it perfectly possible – and maybe even preferable – to take a break at a time when the mainstream holiday crowds have either not yet arrived or already returned home.  The visitor can then benefit from lower airfares (rather than having to pay the premium normally levied during school holidays), cheaper accommodation costs, and of course a less crowded environment than during the traditional peak season.  

Alternatively, if some members of a group want the more traditional high-season holiday activities of sun and sea, this can be combined with the interests of the walker and nature lover all in the same trip.  The Costa Blanca and the La Safor region in particular really does have a lot more to offer than first meets the eye.

Oct 122011
 

We were pleased to welcome Neil and Debs to Villa Florencia at the end of last week, with the added dimension that they are from Canada, taking five weeks to tour through Spain and Portugal, and doing the whole thing by public transport – mainly bus. We collected them from Gandía bus station and brought them to our home, and the emphasis of their trip was to stay away from large cities and towns, and to spend time walking and hiking in the hills and mountains that this country has to offer away from the better known tourist destinations.

Their aim was to stay in bed and breakfast accommodation along the way, planning their route a week or so in advance and staying at each place for three or four nights at a time, which would give them the opportunity to get a feel for each area and explore the natural environment. They are keen outdoor explorers and walkers in Canada, but were taking a six month sabbatical from work to enjoy life without pressure for a change and had decided to take advantage of some European late summer sunshine, as the weather in Canada is beginning to cool considerably by this time of year. They had flown in to Barcelona and spent a few days in Tarragona to recover from the inevitable jet lag, and then made their way down to Gandía in order to explore the La Safor mountains and the wonderful scenery of the northern Costa Blanca.

They stayed with us for four nights, and each day they would explore the surrounding mountains and valleys, either on foot direct from the house or we would give them a lift to a start point. They took a packed lunch with them each day, and made the best possible use of the marked out hiking and walking routes around the mountain of Mondúber. They visited the Parpalló-Borrell natural park area and information centre there to get guidance and ideas, and were impressed that Gandía was now trying to publicise the beauty of the surrounding area to the foreign traveller. Sometimes they would do a round route and return to the house, or sometimes they would contact us from a pre-arranged point and we would then collect them and drive them home. They loved the fact that they could hike in such beautiful surroundings and in superb weather, and that they could do so without having to hire a car to drive a considerable distance before setting off on their day’s walk.

At some point during the afternoon they would return to us and spend the last hour or so of sunshine in the garden, taking advantage of the warmth that they would miss so much upon their return to Canada. Each evening they dined with us, and found the whole concept of being able to have a holiday such as this based around Villa Florencia most appealing, without having to venture into larger centres and towns other that to travel on to their next port of call. And all too soon it was indeed time to leave – even though they had extended their visit to us by one night – so after consulting bus timetables they left heading in the direction of Alicante and their next rural accommodation that they had already reserved. It had been a very great pleasure to have Neil and Debs stay with us, and gratifying to find that they could spend time in the immediate surroundings of our home pursuing their outdoor walking and hiking pastimes and that they felt it compared with the fantastic scenery and surroundings of their home country.

Oct 062011
 

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Autumn and Winter Sunshine The weather is most definitely beginning to cool down in northern Europe now generally, but this year has seen a wonderful, long summer in Spain, and particularly along the Costa Blanca. September and October have so far been unusually warm and settled, and this weather seems here to stay for a while yet.

What better time can there possibly be to leave the grey and cold of impending winter behind and head to the Costa Blanca for what must surely be a bargain break in the sun? Hotels and self-catering accommodation throughout the region are offering great deals on holiday rates, and of course air fares are generally much lower now that the school term has resumed. All in all, a great opportunity for those who can take a holiday at this time of year – all the facilities are here and waiting for the autumn traveller – but with none of the crowds, lower prices and fabulous weather too!

The Costa Blanca has some of the best beaches in Spain – and indeed in the whole of the Mediterranean – but travellers are sometimes deterred from visiting by reports of crowded resorts and rowdy holidaymakers. These resorts and beaches are now at their best and can be enjoyed in relative peace and quiet, giving visitors the impression of what they must have been like in years gone by.

The Costa Blanca has so much more to offer than just holiday resorts and stunning beaches, however, and visitors are often impressed – and surprised – by what they find if they venture away from the better known destinations. Stunning mountain scenery and fascinating castles and attractions are to be found for those that venture slightly inland, with towns such as Xátiva and Guadalest being amongst the most well-known fortifications. Inland lakes and reservoirs are also amongst the surprises that await the intrepid traveller, with a huge choice of scenic drives to choose from.

If driving is not such a preferred option, the Costa Blanca also offers a huge opportunity for the walker and hiker. Designated routes are marked out and signposted in many parts of the region, as well as an indication of estimated journey times and distance. These are to be found not only in the hills and mountains of the Costa Blanca, but interestingly some of these routes encompass old railway tracks and tunnels, which gives an unusual dimension to a walking route and takes the visitor through parts of the region that would otherwise be completely forgotten by now.

If a city break is higher up the list of priorities than a beach or a scenic break, then of course Valencia City has so much to offer the visitor – and the scorching heat of summer has abated, so exploring the city is so much more pleasant in the more gentle warmth of Autumn. Public transport to the city is reliable and inexpensive, so if you are staying in one of the holiday areas along the coast (either north or south), a quick train ride will take you straight to the centre. Valencia has an historic part that is compact and easy to get around on foot and the usual tourist bus can be used to get a quick handle on which sights should be seen in greater detail. There are two routes to ride around, and passengers can hop on and off at any of the stops, and switch between routes at points where they intersect. In stark contrast to the historic centre is the stunning architecture of the City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias) – a complex that includes (amongst other facilities) a science museum, the largest aquarium in Europe and an Imax cinema, as well as being a visual delight in its own right. As well as all this, the recently refurbished beach and port areas that include the part of the city featured in the European Grand Prix route are also a recent addition to the “must see” list for the city visitor.

So – now would seem to be the perfect time to visit this beautiful region of Spain. The Costa Blanca and the Comunidad Valenciana have something for everyone, and with accommodation prices offering particularly good value at the moment, airfares past their summer peak pricing structures and a settled outlook of warm and sunny weather, what better time could there be to leave the grey of the north behind and get a last dose of sunshine and warmth, with a Costa Blanca Sunshine Holiday?

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