Nov 182014

Cycling on the Costa BlancaCycling on the Costa Blanca

Recently we had a group of five friends visit us, who had come with the main intention of having a rock climbing holiday in the autumn sunshine. However, Conrad and Mark were also keen cyclists as well as climbers, so were delighted when they found out that we could arrange cycle hire for them during the course of their stay.

They went and collected their bicycles from the cycle hire centre which was about 30 minutes drive away and were pleased with the quality of the cycles and the high standard of their maintenance. It would have been possible to hire mountain bikes if that had been their preference, but cycles are what they are accustomed to in the UK and what they felt would be their best option here as well. This made it possible for Conrad and Mark to decide each day how they would spend their time – either climbing a crag in the vicinity or taking a bike trip around the area. Sometimes, thanks to the other members of their group, they were able to combine and complement both activities on the same excursion! They would put their climbing gear into their car which would be driven to the day’s climb by their friends, and they would cycle to the crag, have a climb, and then cycle home again before dark.

In any event, they really enjoyed cycling in the area’s valleys and of course we were able to suggest trips for them, depending on how much time they wanted to spend and the distance they wanted to cover. It really was a great way to take full advantage of some of the Costa Blanca’s outdoor activities all on the same trip! We provided packed lunches too, so they could be totally flexible about where they wanted to ride, without having to think about stopping off at a convenient point to find a café or bar where they could have lunch.

Coupled with the climbing, they had a great time with us and they realised there is still a lot of cycling to do before they get to know all the delights that can be found here on the Costa Blanca when you are enjoying a welcome bit of autumn sunshine. We look forward to seeing them here again to find out more of what the area still has to offer.

Nov 102014

Costa Blanca Rock ClimbingCouples Go Climbing!

The autumn is now with us and the weather is cooling down, but with that comes the winter climbing season. Our advertisement in the Rockfax guide “Costa Blanca Rock Climbing” – the rock climbers “bible” – is bringing us many visitors, but also former climbing guests are returning to us. We were really pleased to welcome back Jen and John who visited us in October for another climbing holiday. They had stayed with us back in February this year, and when they left they said they wanted to come back to discover more of the rock climbing opportunities on the Costa Blanca – and so they did! This time they stayed for 10 days to really explore the area and the local climbing crags, and they had a wonderful time. Bellus and Aventador are two particularly well-known crags that are within very easy reach and which they climbed this trip. John and Jen stayed in our self-catering apartment, which suited them perfectly as they could come and go exactly as they pleased and time their meals according to when they returned from a climbing expedition.

Most days they would leave mid-morning for a crag that they had identified the evening before, and return in the late afternoon. The weather was absolutely beautiful, with temperatures in the mid-20’s, so in fact they were able to combine the benefits of a climbing holiday with the chance to get some autumn sunshine in the garden, before having to return home to face the onset of very much colder weather! They even managed some swimming time in the swimming pool too, so they were more than pleased with their time with us.

In many ways, they found their second trip to this part of the northern Costa Blanca even better than their first – they were able to get into the holiday feeling that much quicker since they felt on familiar ground, and of course they were also revisiting some of the crags that they tackled the last time, so again they felt really at home. However, all too soon their ten days came to an end and it was time to return home, but as they left they stated their firm intention to come back again – maybe with some friends in the future – and continue their exploration not only of the climbing crags but also of some of the other attractions that are to be found along this part of the Costa Blanca. We look forward to seeing them in the future.

Another couple who stayed with us on a climbing holiday were Connie and John from the United States, whose time here overlapped slightly with Jen and John’s. However, it suited Connie and John better to stay with us on a B&B basis as they were in totally unfamiliar surroundings. This was their first trip to this part of Spain, and their command of the language was limited, so they felt that they would prefer to be B&B guests and also take advantage of our evening meal service each night, rather than be on a self-catering basis and cope with grocery shopping, etc.

They had done plenty of research before leaving home, so were aware of the great range of crags that awaited them here on the Costa Blanca and they lost no time in making the most of their visit. They drove straight here from Barcelona (their arrival point in the country), and had evening meal before retiring to bed and trying to cope with the issues of the time difference between Europe and the USA. Undeterred by this, however, they were ready for breakfast the next morning and eager for a day on our local rock, Gandia Crag – or Penya Roja as it is known locally.

Again, the weather was very kind to them and they had perfect climbing weather not only on their first day, but for each of the four days they spent with us. They were very pleasantly surprised at the number of climbing crags that are within 40 minutes driving range of us here on the outskirts of Gandia, and by the time it came for them to leave they were wishing they had arranged a longer stay! However, they also wanted to see what was on offer slightly further south from here, and had already booked accommodation with that in mind, so they bade us farewell. They had had a great stay with us though, and the fact that they were able to make use of our evening meal service each night made life so much simpler for them. They were able to come off their chosen crag of the day, return to us for a little relaxation in the garden in the late afternoon sun before dining with us in the evening – and they felt that it was very easy for them to arrange their climbing break with us in that way and take any anxiety away about finding restaurants in unfamiliar surroundings and negotiating menus in an unfamiliar language.

We were sorry to see them leave, but they were truly surprised by what our part of the Costa Blanca had to offer, so they could even return to us for a couple more days before finally flying back home – or of course they might visit us on another Spanish climbing holiday in the future. It would certainly be a pleasure to welcome them back again!

Oct 092014

Casa Rural 2014 Summer of Diversity

Casa Rural 2014 Summer of Diversity

2014 has been a long and busy season for us at Villa Florencia Casa Rural, with a wide variety of guests from countries all over Europe and beyond. We were happy to welcome so many new visitors, but delighted that a large number of guests returned to us who had been here before. Not only has our Bed and Breakfast accommodation been as popular as ever, but bookings for our self-catering apartment have been at a very high level, with guests checking in there almost continuously throughout the year.

The first bookings of 2014 were for visitors coming for the attractions and activities that are best enjoyed in this part of the Costa Blanca in the cooler months of the year – hillwalking, mountain biking, rock climbing, etc. In addition, “Las Fallas” is the first annual fiesta in the local calendar, and this year we had guests visit us especially for the celebrations. They had been to the area before and enjoyed the fiesta in previous years, but this was the first time they had stayed with us – and they clearly enjoyed the experience as they have already booked again for 2015! More returning guests then arrived in the form of a group of Canadian mountain bikers – again, coming back to enjoy the beautiful scenery and some bright, sunny weather.

After that, the year became ever busier with a mix of guests, including more property hunters this year too. An interesting development down at Playa de Gandia also had favourable repercussions for us – the Town Hall began to promote very actively the fact that there was now a recently designated area of the beach – and a very beautiful and unspoilt part – for use by pets and their owners. As a result, many Spanish dog owners were wanting to come to Gandia for their holidays, but not every hotel is necessarily welcoming to pets. However, we promote ourselves as being very pet friendly and as a result had many Spanish couples book rooms for themselves and their canine companions! One golden Labrador in particular was so relaxed and at home here that he was happy to float in the pool on a li-lo – and the resulting photo won first prize in a Spanish pet photographic competition!
Pet Friendly Accommodation
We were also happy to welcome a greater number of French holidaymakers this year than in the past – indeed our very first guests in January were from France, and the trend continued throughout the season. Other nationalities included guests from the USA, Finland, Sweden, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland and many other countries – but strangely this year no visitors from Italy. In previous years many Italians have come to our part of the Costa Blanca, but their absence was noticed and remarked upon this year by many in the area. July and August were naturally our busiest times, with people wanting to enjoy the traditional attractions of the Costa Blanca – beautiful weather and some of the best beaches in the whole country. The weather this year has been the traditional Spanish summer of high temperatures and lots of sunshine – and a very long-lasting one too. The lack of rain has been an issue for local farmers of course, with no sustained rainfall for about two years now. We have just recently had some autumn storms and downpours, but nothing to make up for such a prolonged period of drought.

Bookings are still coming in for what remains of the year – and again, as one would expect for the season, our visitors are mainly climbers and walkers. The apartment has already been booked by a family hoping to enjoy an away-from-it-all Christmas with some sunshine thrown in (hopefully), so 2014 will turn out to be a busy an interesting year. It has been especially gratifying to see so many guests coming back to out Casa Rural for a return visit, and of course we hope to see many more in 2015.

Jul 092014

pet friendly gandiaPet Friendly Holidays!

We received a phone call just over a week ago enquiring if we had availability for a couple from Madrid, along with their 7 month old Springer Spaniel called Trufi, who they had recently adopted from a rescue centre. We did have space for the weekend, and so were happy to take their booking and looked forward to their arrival on Saturday.

Their booking was for 3 nights – Saturday, Sunday & Monday – and part of their reason for coming to our part of the Costa Blanca is the fact that Gandia now has a section of beach which is designated for use by owners and their pets, called “Playa Can”. It is fairly unusual to find pet friendly facilities on the Costa Blanca – either in accommodation or an area of beach – so Agustin and his girlfriend were delighted to find that they could enjoy both with us.

They arrived in the late morning of Saturday and as soon as they had put their cases in their room, they headed straight off to the pet friendly beach. They stayed there for the rest of the day, only returning to us in the early evening, when it was time for a shower and change of clothes before heading out into the town for dinner along with Trufi. That was the pattern for their time with us – they would go to the beach for the main part of the day, return to us in the late afternoon for some time around the pool, and then set off out for dinner.

They were especially pleased that Trufi settled in so well with our dogs, and happily played with them, even retrieving toys that usually only our middle sized dog – Aurora – is interested in. As a pair, they would both seek out what had been thrown, one would find and retrieve it, and then they would both eagerly wait for the game to begin again! Seeing Aurora’s love of the water, Trufi even began to feel slightly more relaxed sitting on the pool steps with her owners (she had been very wary of water) but sadly it was soon time for them to return to Madrid. They had had a very happy visit with us and before leaving made enquiries about returning to us in August. We had availability, so a tentative booking is now in place for their return! It had been a genuine pleasure to have such a nice couple visit, and their young dog is a credit to their dog training skills. We look forward very much to seeing them with us again and welcoming them back to our pet friendly accommodation in Gandia, when maybe this time Trufi will become fully at ease in the water, as a Spaniel is meant to be!

Jul 022014

family friendly holidays in SpainFamily Friendly Holidays in Spain

We received an enquiry from Karin and her family last year, asking about the possibility of visiting us last October. However, due to family circumstances they were not able to make the trip so we were delighted when they contacted us again early this year with a view to visiting us in June. Karin, Rogier and their eighteen month old daughter Maite arrived from Holland in the late afternoon and were happy to take advantage of our evening meal service that night even though they were renting our self-catering apartment – there was no need to rush out to the shops straightaway!

They soon settled in to the apartment, and found it suited their needs perfectly. They were staying with us for twelve days so were glad of the extra space, as well as the cot and high chair for Maite, of course! They became firm friends with our dogs and cats and Maite especially loved playing with them around the pool.

Most days they would spend some time in the gardens and pool, although Maite was not an enthusiastic water baby to begin with! However, by the end of their stay she had become quite keen on splashing around in the water with her mum and dad and of course loved the fact that the dogs would come and see her antics. One day, they decided to make an excursion to Valencia city so drove to a nearby station and travelled up by train – a very easy option. They loved the city and were impressed by the historic centre, the Turia gardens and of course the futuristically designed City of Arts and Sciences. Other day trips included the monastery at nearby Simat and of course many trips to the beautiful and award winning beach at Playa de Gandia as well other equally lovely beaches in the vicinity.

They had a really enjoyable holiday with us, and the time for their return to Holland came all too soon. The weather had been perfect for their visit (even possibly a little too warm some days!) and they were sorry to have to return home when they had been having such a pleasant time in the sun. However, they said they would love to return to us in the future, so we hope that we shall see them again – it would be great to welcome them back once more, on another family friendly holiday in Spain!

Mar 242014

Gandia Las Fallas 2014Guests for “Fallas Fortnight”!

Quite a few months ago we received a booking from Sandy and David who wanted to stay in our self-catering apartment for nearly a fortnight, to coincide with the local fiesta of Gandia Las Fallas 2014. Las Fallas is the famous Valencian fiesta which sees enormous satirical effigies constructed in each town (or in each area of larger towns). These are then judged on their merits and finally burned to the ground on the night of March 19th – St Joseph’s Day, the patron saint of carpenters. In the run-up to March 19th there are daily parades with marching bands and local ladies and young girls bedecked in the most elaborate of traditional dress.

Sandy and David are very keen on the whole tradition of the Fallas fiestas and have been coming to the Valencian region to view the spectacle for a number of years. However, this was the first time they had decided to spend their time in Spain with us and we were delighted to welcome them and show them to the self-catering apartment that would be their home for the next two weeks. They were of course very familiar with the area already and so very soon felt at ease in their surroundings and knew exactly where to go on each day to view the different parades and celebrations in many different towns in the Valencia region.

Although they were staying in our self-catering apartment, this was a choice they made in order to have a space they could truly think of as their own, rather than from any great desire to cook their own meals have a self-catering holiday in the true sense of the word. They were therefore delighted to learn that they were very welcome to take advantage of our evening meal service – and they even joined our other Bed & Breakfast guests for breakfast on the terrace too!

Every day they went to a different town or village and really did their preparation when it came to knowing what parade was going to take place, where and when! In the past they had stayed near Xativa and on one day of each trip would take the train to Valencia city to see the magnificent effigies that are built there. This trip, however, they were so impressed with the offerings on display in Gandia that they decided to forgo their Valencia visit (and all the crowds of people there too!) and spend their time in the smaller towns nearby, with their main focus being Gandia. The “Mascleta” (or fireworks display) was a must for them of course, and this takes place each day at 2.00pm in front of Gandia’s railway station. In line with most fireworks in Spain, it is much more about the noise than a visible display in the sky – and a huge noise it is indeed! Sandy and David only went to the “Mascleta” a couple of times, but loved the whole general atmosphere in Gandia. They involved themselves in watching parades and bands, and especially enjoyed the day of the main parade in Gandia, which culminates in the presentation of flowers to the statue of Mary at the main church.

After very nearly a fortnight’s stay with us, it was finally the night of March 19th and all the beautiful constructions literally went up in smoke, and Sandy and David had only a couple more days left with us. They had genuinely enjoyed their visit to our self-catering apartment very much indeed – and made a great fuss of our pets too! We were very sorry to see them leave, but absolutely delighted that one of the last things they did before checking out was to make a reservation for the same time again next year! We thoroughly enjoyed meeting them and very much look forward to welcoming them back to Villa Florencia again in 2015!


Mar 242014

CIMG4712Spain or France for Property?

We have recently been aware that more guests have been visiting us for the purpose of looking for a Spanish property on the northern Costa Blanca. Spanish property prices are now at a very realistic level compared to many other places in Europe (northern Europe especially), and this has been reflected in a gradual increase in the number of property hunters – once an almost extinct breed!

Colin and Helen arrived to stay with us on one of our Property Hunters Packages, and booked with us for five nights recently. They are very taken with the idea of a home for their retirement and would love to find somewhere that offers a good and healthy lifestyle, reasonable living costs, and of course better weather. They have been turning the idea over in their minds for some time, and are torn between either France or Spain for this big life changing decision, so this trip was very much a preliminary reconnoitre – basically to see what this part of the country is like and whether it is somewhere they could add to their list.

They had not contacted any property agents, but rather wanted to get a feel for the area in general and so each day they went “out and about” to see what sort of towns and villages they might like, and what property was available in different locations. They had decided to come to the La Safor region on their property search on the correct assumption that this area is still not one with a particularly high ex-pat population – they wanted an area that is still predominately Spanish in its flavour and atmosphere. They liked the area very much, but of course finding the right combination of the type of property that would suit them in a town that also met their requirements can always be challenging.

However, they asked us for pointers as to which towns might be to their taste and every day went on trips to check out different areas. Towards the end of their stay they explored the coastal region in the Moraira area, and loved the town and its port. For them it felt like a place they could imagine themselves feeling comfortable in – and such an initial impression is very often the one that stays with you. However, this was very much an initial exploratory exercise, but one that they found very valuable. They now feel that it would be well worth their while to return to us and focus their energy on that specific part of the coast – maybe arranging a few viewings of suitable properties at the same time.

After leaving us, they were going to spend a couple of nights close to Alicante to gain a better impression of that general area and to be able to make a comparison between the northern and southern parts of the Costa Blanca. We thoroughly enjoyed having them stay with us and would be delighted to welcome them back again to continue their search. By the end of their visit, they had decided that Spain would suit them better than a home in France and now it was probably a question of narrowing their search to the Moraira and surrounding area. We very much look forward to seeing them again soon.

Mar 192014

CIMG4699Spring Activity Holidays in Spain
The cooler months of the year give a great opportunity to enjoy all that the Costa Blanca has to offer in the way of outdoor activities, many of which would be impossible in the height of the summer. Rock-climbing, mountain biking and bird watching are all hobbies and activities that visitors can take part in, and local tourist organisations are now beginning to promote the area as somewhere to come for more than just the traditional summer attractions of sun and sea.

Recently we were very pleased to welcome Jean-Marc and his wife Nathalie who are from Quebec in Canada. They were in Spain visiting their daughter who is studying in Barcelona, and as part of their trip they wanted to spend some time in the northern Costa Blanca birdwatching. They booked one of our all-inclusive 3 night Birdwatching Packages, which basically takes care of everything they need, with all evening meals included, packed lunches, and 2 days guided birdwatching.

They arrived on the Monday afternoon and settled in, enjoying a leisurely dinner that evening before meeting their guide the next morning. They set off to the Albufeira wetlands just to the south of Valencia city for the day, and were rewarded with sightings of many kinds of birds not seen in north America. The birds were particularly plentiful as this is the time of year that the rice fields are ploughed prior to sowing the forthcoming season’s rice crop – and some of the fields were being prepared on the morning of their visit. They returned after a most enjoyable day and were glad to be able to look forward to a relaxing evening meal and a good night’s sleep.

The next morning they headed in a different direction – inland this time – to the plains of Castilla de la Mancha and had another great day being shown even more species of birds, and in an area that they had been totally unaware of. They were able to tick off several species that they had wanted to see but never had, so returned delighted that it had been such a worthwhile excursion. Wednesday evening was again spent relaxing over a leisurely dinner before leaving on Thursday morning to drive back to Barcelona for a final couple of days with their daughter before flying back to Canada at the weekend.

It had been a perfect interlude for them during their Spanish trip and an excellent opportunity to pursue something they are very keen on – and in beautiful surroundings and perfect weather too! They loved this part of the country and are most certainly keen to return in the future. It was a real pleasure to have another set of guests from Canada and we most definitely look forward to the time when we might see them again.

No sooner had Jean-Marc and Nathalie left us, than two more Canadian guests arrived – this time Scott and Alain, who are two friends who share an enthusiasm for mountain biking. They had visited us at this time last year, along with another friend Mario who was not able to make it this time, and wanted to enjoy more mountain biking trails in this part of Spain.

CIMG4713They had booked to stay with us for 4 nights, and planned to have two days of guided mountain biking and a third day in the middle when they would just go buy themselves wherever the mood – and the bikes – took them! Since they were already familiar with the area and knew the town of Gandia from their previous visit, they checked in to their rooms in the late morning and drove down to the town for lunch and a stroll in the spring sunshine. They returned to us during the course of the afternoon and were able to make the most of the beautiful warm weather in the gardens for the rest of the day. They dined with us that first night before taking the opportunity to catch up on some sleep before their first day’s mountain biking on Friday morning. They met with their guide – Dave Warrington, who had accompanied them last year – and set off for the day in the La Safor mountains nearby. As ever, they were treated to spectacular views and near perfect weather, and of course a good work-out all at the same time. Having come from Montreal, where their plane had been delayed while a snow storm passed over, the lovely spring weather of the Costa Blanca was a real treat, with temperatures in the low 20’s – perfect for biking without being too hot.

On the Saturday, they had decided they would use some of their knowledge of the area from last year and go it alone, following a route they had particularly enjoyed previously. This included an especially scenic route along beside the Serpis river, following the line of a disused railway track that had originally gone from Alcoi to the port of Gandia. This brought them to the town of Villalonga, and from there it was a question of cycling along country roads and lanes through the orange groves to get back home to us in time for a shower before heading out to Gandia for the evening.

Sunday was another day spent with their mountain biking guide, who showed them a new route, again through beautiful scenery – and of course up some fairly demanding ascents! However, it was a great day and the weather played its part to perfection yet again, showing that the Costa Blanca really is a great spring destination for activity holidays of all kinds. They returned to us in the late afternoon, again in time to enjoy some late sunshine in the garden. Their only regret was that the pool is not yet warm enough for swimming – although they were nearly tempted! Their last evening was spent with us over a relaxed dinner before a well-deserved night’s sleep. The next morning they were heading off in the direction of Alicante province to spend a couple more days biking in an area they had not explored before – this time higher up in the mountains there. It was great to see them again and they thoroughly enjoyed their time with us – hopefully we shall see them back for a third visit next year, on another one of our Activity Holidays in Spain!

Feb 252014

Rock Climbing Bellus SpainSpring Season Rock Climbing Guests

During the cooler months of the year guests come to stay with us for very different reasons than those which bring our summer holidaymakers. Outdoor activities are playing an increasing role in the tourist appeal of the La Safor region and many visitors come to walk, hike in the mountains, take mountain biking trips or climb the many famous crags along the Costa Blanca. For many years of course, spring was also the time when house hunters from northern Europe would come to look for property but their numbers reduced drastically following the financial problems of the world in 2008.

However, things are now gradually changing and we are seeing an increase in the number of property hunters who are coming here again – they realise that Spain once again represents good value for money compared to their home countries. So coupled with the higher levels of activity tourism, this is now the time of year when we see a mixture of guests coming to stay with us, and from a variety of countries. We were pleased to welcome our first ever guests from Finland a couple of weeks ago, who fell into the househunting category. Matti and his wife were looking for a second home that would be easy to “lock up and go”, but principally were visiting us to see if the area might suit them. They wanted to check out the area first before maybe returning at a later date to visit more properties. They stayed with us for 3 nights and spent some time with a property agent getting to know the complexities of property buying in Spain, as well as visiting a couple of suitable houses. However, their main aim was to see whether this particular part of the Costa Blanca would suit them in general, before leaving us to do the same exercise slightly further south in the Alicante region. Their impression of the La Safor district was a very favourable one, especially since there is a generally much lower level of foreign inhabitants compared to many other parts of the country. One thing they were certain of was that they did not want to live in an ex-pat enclave, so on balance they thought our part of Spain might suit them very well indeed.

No sooner had our Finnish guests left us than we were welcoming Frederic and Monique from Belgium. They are friends from the same rock climbing club in Liege and go on climbing expeditions together. Frederic was also wanting to check out the area to see if it might be suitable to return with his wife and young daughter in the future – although they are not climbers, he was hoping there would be ample things of interest for them whilst he could explore as yet unconquered crags! They spent their first day with us on Gandia Crag and had a really great time there – with so many designated routes, there is something for climbers of all abilities. They returned to us in the early evening and dined with us before having a well-deserved good night’s sleep – they had left Belgium in the very early hours that morning! The next day they wanted to explore a different crag so drove about 30 minutes away to Bellus and Aventador – two climbing crags very close to one another. Again, they had another good day’s climbing in truly beautiful surroundings and returned to us very impressed with the area in general.

The following morning it was time for them to leave and go on to their next climbing destination – they were heading in the direction of Altea and inland from Benidorm where they were spending another two nights before returning to Belgium. However, they liked the La Safor region very much indeed and Monique also felt that it would be a good area for her sister to explore – she is a keen walker and hiker apparently. Frederic also felt that it would be a good idea to return to us in the future, bringing his family with him the next time. We might well see them all again in that case – climbers from Belgium and of course our househunters from Finland, if they also decide that this area has something to offer them as well.