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If Barcelona is too overrated, or you have already finished all the tours and activities in Madrid, and you still want to stay somewhere in Spain that is not too crowded  – try the charming city of Alicante.

There are a lot of cheap flights to Alicante and you might want to enjoy the long stretch of sandy beaches paired with cool azure waters in this humble Spanish city. You’ll definitely enjoy a stress-free vacation away from the hustle bustle of the big cities.

Although Alicante may not be as popular as the more famous Spanish cities, holidays spent here promise to be full of fun-filled activities. And to help you go about this new destination let me give you my top five fun and interesting things to do in the city.

5. Go down History Lane

Santa Barbara Castle sits gloriously on top of Benacantil Hill. This site has been a witness to the dark and medieval past of Alicante. Complete with a lookout tower, palace, moat, dungeons and cannons, the castle is a remembrance of the Moorish reign. The best time to visit the castle is during the afternoon so when you take the lift (yes, an elevator is available) to the top you’ll get a breathtaking sunset view of the city, as well as, the Mediterranean Sea.

Santa Barbara Castle by Andrew C Parnell

Santa Barbara Castle by Andrew C Parnell

4. Adventure for the Adventurers

A masterpiece of nature, the Cave of Canelobre holds the title of the deepest and the largest cave in Spain. If you want some real adventure you can drive 24km to the small town of Busot to personally see the incredible 70-meter high interior-shaped like a cathedral. You can also see the infamous candelabra formation inside from which the cave got its name.

3. Sail, Sail, Sail Away

The magical island of Tabarca, once a hidey-hole for pirates, is now a famous tourist destination of Alicante. Aside from the alluring beach and turquoise waters, the charm of the island lies mostly on their teeming and vibrant marine life. After enjoying the busy underwater life of sea creatures, you can then relax and dine on one of the island’s seafood restaurants to taste Spanish specialties.

Tabarca Island by Villa Altea

Tabarca Island by Villa Altea

2. Ready, Set, Fire!

Dreaming of being on a battlefield? Try the popular (and the biggest in Spain) paintball arena just outside the city center of Alicante. Most paintballing enthusiast book flights to Alicante just to play and fight limitless battles in the wide selection of paintball fields. The combat field is large enough so, rest assured, you’ll not get crowded when the game starts.

Paintball Arena by Paintball Arena Alicante

Paintball Arena by Paintball Arena Alicante

1. Feel the Breeze

To top the list is the quirky but amazingly fun way to enjoy the city and that is to ride on a two-wheeled self-balancing battery-powered electric vehicle known as the Segway. Alicante boasts a relaxing Mediterranean climate, so almost every day you get to experience sunshine and welcoming breeze; and what better way to experience all these while riding the Segway and convoying with your friends, stopping at one city attraction to another.

Of course, a short list of five is an understatement for this beautiful city really, so book your flights to Alicante and experience the charms and magic of this Spanish city firsthand. :)

Segway Tour in Alicante by Destino Guadalest

Segway Tour in Alicante by Destino Guadalest

Okay, let’s be fair. I haven’t been to every art museum in Europe.  Still it’s hard for me to imagine liking one better than the Prado.It meets my criteria for everything a museum should be:

Not Too Big

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – size matters.  But bigger isn’t always better.

I remember comparing notes with another traveler in Paris and telling him that I had enjoyed the D’Orsay much more than the Louvre.  “Oh, everyone does,” he replied.  Probably true.  It would be a gross understatement to say that the Louvre has an incredible collection, but the very size of that collection makes it hard to enjoy.  Contemplating one piece I was haunted by those I knew I would not have time to see.  What’s the best strategy? If you keep up the pace to maximize the number of works you see are you really doing any of them justice? How many months, years, lives would you need to truly see and appreciate it all?

I felt exhausted at the end of my day at the Prado (standing all day on those marble floors can be hard on the feet). However, I also felt satisfied that I’d seen what was there, with time to linger in front of my favorites.

Quality Collection – The Golden Age, Goya and Guernica

The heart of any museum is its collection and the Prado can stand with the best of them.  Famous pieces include:

Las Meninas, Diego Velázques, 1656

Velazquez’ “Las Meninas”. Photo by Richard Winchell.

Diego Velázques was the primary artist of Spain’s Golden Age.  Although, realism doesn’t usually do much for me, Velázques’ masterpiece is an undeniable feat. Velázques’ makes perspective look like child’s play.  Figures from the Court of King Felipe IV are placed at various distances: first a dog in the foreground, then the young Margarita and her entourage- the main subject of the painting, followed by the artist himself. Velázques’ is working at an easel which faces away from us, but we can see the reflection of his painting, a portrait of the King and Queen, in the mirror behind him. The Queen’s chamberlain stands in a doorway in the back of the room.

Velázques includes himself and us in the experience.  He is there behind the easel and his gaze is fixed forward to where you, the viewer stand.  It feels like time travel, this interaction between artist and viewer.  We are in the room with them.  As we are carried back in time, Velázques seems to have jumped forward, as if he has projected himself into the present and is saying, “See what I can do!”

The Third of May 1808, Francisco Goya, 1814

Goya’s “The Third of May.” Photo by Mark Barry

Goya’s commemoration of Spanish resistance to Napoleon’s armies is considered to be one of the first paintings of the modern era.  Goya broke from the way artists had traditionally depicted war in that he did not sugar-coat things.  The victims face a firing squad and nothing in the painting suggests that they are martyrs soon to be rewarded for their suffering (as Christian art showing war traditionally did).  The victims are anonymous and members of the firing squad faceless.  Goya offers no heroism and no glory.  The vision of war portrayed in the Third of May is unembellished, senseless, cruelty.

Guernica, Pablo Picasso, 1937

Picasso’s “Guernica”. Photo by Mark Barry

The Prado does not typically house modern art, but the controversial history of Picasso’s big anti-war statement resulted in it being displayed at the Prado for eleven years, which happily coincided with my visit.

It has now been moved to the Museo Reina Sofia, a short distance from the Prado.

Guernica was created in response to the 1937 bombing of the town of the same name by German and Italian war planes on behalf of the Spanish Nationalist forces. The large (3.5 by 7.8 meters), gray scale painting depicts the violence and chaos of war.  It succeeded in its goal of bringing the world’s attention to the horrors of the Spanish civil war and has become art’s anti-war icon.  Picasso stipulated that the painting could not return to Spain until the country had become a republic.  In 1981, the current monarchy was deemed to be close enough and the painting was ceded to Spain.  An armed guard stood on either side of it when I saw it in 1991.

Art is a personal experience and the pieces I remember most from my visit to the Prado are not necessarily the famous ones listed above.  A captivating series of Goya’s later  “black paintings” was displayed humbly by the door. They depicted humanity on the edge, or maybe over the edge, of madness.  There’s something to be said for dark art.  It holds up a mirror so that we cannot forget what we are, cannot ignore the dark side. Yet, it also relieves us of that burden.  Putting the craziness down on canvass makes it concrete, brings the danger closer, but also holding it still for just a moment.  It is like standing next to a ferocious, wild animal in a cage.  I love it.

Less of a “Thieves’ Museum”

Velázques,  Goya, Picasso…notice anything? A lot of the masterpieces in Spain’s national art museum were created by Spaniards! How appropriate!

Art is more meaningful in its correct geographic context.

And it fits my sense of justice.  I was eight years old the first time I went to Europe.  My mother had purchased a coloring book with pictures of Greek statues and ruins to keep me occupied as we tootled around in our Volkswagen.  A caption below each picture gave the title of piece and its current location.  An awful lot of them said, “British Museum, London.” This was an affront to my infantile sense of fair play.  If these treasures were Greek, what were they doing London? I began to refer to the British Museum as the “thieves’ museum.”  Truth be told, I’m still a little indignant about it.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m dying to visit the British Museum, and I understand that sometimes art and artifacts are better preserved by being removed from the turmoil of their homelands.  The Prado does have paintings from other European artists, but it highlights Spaniards.

So there you have it- the right size, with the right stuff from the right place.  What more could you want in a museum?

Thank you, James Michener! I’ve learned a lot from your books over the years and the thousand pages of Iberia I just finished was no exception, an enlightening tour of Spanish history and culture.  However, I can say without a doubt, that the most important part of the book (and for me, probably the most important in any Michener book) is the paragraph that begins at the bottom of page 340.  On that glorious page, the author generously included instructions for making gazpacho.  Really good gazpacho.

Gazpacho! by avlxyz

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got several cook books with gazpacho recipes.  It’s just that this one is both easier and yummier – the taste of Spain!

Occasionally, I reflect back on my travels and think of things I should have done differently.  I should have stayed longer in such and such a place. I should have eaten more pastries, got more massages, packed lighter, been more generous, bought less crap, gone to see Petra.  But if I had my travels to do over again, the biggest change I would make is that I would take more cooking classes.

Think about it.  Long after you’ve come home, put you’re backpack away, forgotten about your photos, settled into whatever’s next, you will still be eating.  Unless something goes drastically wrong, you’re going to be eating your whole life.  So what better souvenir from your travels than knowledge of how to make some of those delicious, exotic dishes?

Cooking Classes

There are two ways to go about learning to make local cuisine.  The first is through formalized cooking classes. I enjoyed my first overseas cooking class when I was attending language school in Mexico.  At first, I didn’t want to take the class because it required an “intermediate” level of Spanish and I didn’t think I was up to it.  However, suspecting that cooking would be more fun than grammar, I decided to take the plunge.  Yum!  It’s amazing what you can throw into mole!

A few tips for getting the most out of your overseas cooking class:

  • Cooking classes often begin with a trip to the market. Take the opportunity to ask questions about all those strange looking fruits and vegetables you’ve seen.  Your curiosity may be rewarded with samples!
  • You can usually choose which dishes you want to learn to prepare.  Wait until you’ve been in the country a little while before taking a cooking class so you know what your favorite dishes are.
  • Select dishes that are made from ingredients you’ll be able to find when you get home, or make notes about possible substitutions.
  • Ask ahead of time if they will be giving you a copy of the recipes.  If not, take notes.
  • Travel and sightseeing can be exhausting.  The act of cooking makes you feel “at home” in the best possible sense.  Time your cooking classes for when you need a break from sightseeing.
This is a recipe from a cooking class I took in China. (The bad English was too good to change…)

From my Chinese cooking class

Braised Eggplant with Garlic

A)   250g eggplant cut in 2 inches long strips, put in the salty water around 10 minutes then take out.

B)   One red pepper and one green pepper, shred as long as the eggplant strings.

C)    Four cloves garlic chop to small pieces, 2 pieces green spring onion cut in 1 inch long.

D)   1 teaspoons Chili bean paste.

Cooking Method

A)   Heat the wok with 4 tablespoons oil, medium heat to stir fry the eggplants, til the color getting a little brown and soft. Then move out to the plate.

B)   Low heat fry the garlic and chili bean sauce.

C)    Return the eggplant, then add the water, half cover the dish.

D)   Season the dish with 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp oyster sauce and 1 tsp soy sauce.

E)    When the eggplant soft and the dish’s water almost dry, then put some cornstarch water, mixed again, put the spring onion, white pepper, sesame oil, serve on plate.

Family Stays

Another great way to learn about preparing local food is living with a family.  This gives you an opportunity to observe cooking as a daily activity and to make a point of being present for the preparation of your favorite foods. You may want to hold onto a label or piece of packaging so you can search out ingredients when you get home.  This is what I’ve learned from the kitchen goddesses I’ve been lucky enough to stay with:

  • Simple can be good.  Some of the best dishes I’ve had were made with only a handful of ingredients.  Likewise they can be whipped together in very modest kitchens.  My hostess in China had one gas burner, a sink with no hot water, a couple of knives, spoons and chopsticks.  And with this, she did wonders.
  • When you recreate it at home, it will be good, though not quite as good as what you had overseas.  I can’t roll out perfect dumpling wrappers like Zou Jun and my couscous is not nearly as light and fluffy as that of the Moroccan woman I learned it from. But…
  • It is still delicious and your friends will be impressed.

So there you have it. Buen provecho! Bon appetit! Now you’re cooking! Let’s eat!

Are you planning Tenerife holidays? If so, make sure you head to the south coast to check out its nightlife and beaches – a killer combination if ever there was one. To find out some of the top places to go to in Los Cristianos when the sun goes down, read our guide.

Los Cristianos is probably one of the island’s lesser-known destinations. It’s likely you’re familiar with its neighbour, Playa de las Americas, which is around 3 km away and pretty renowned for its nightlife.

OK, so Los Cristianos doesn’t have quite the same level of unstoppable nightlife as Playa de las Americas – but it’s still an amazing place to spend the evening. In fact, its combination of traditional fishing village charm and the variety of affordable clubs, bars and restaurants on offer make it a great choice if you’re looking for sun and any kind of evening entertainment.

So, what kind night-time attractions can you expect to find here?

Restaurants, bars and clubs

No matter whether you’re looking for a little sophistication or your holiday plans are firmly based around clubbing, finding a good restaurant or two is always a getaway staple. After all, we all need to eat!

Los Cristianos is home to a good selection of restaurants, and you’ll find plenty along the town’s scenic promenade, which looks out over the beach. If it’s authenticity you’re after, get yourself to Bar Nuestro, which you’ll find on Calle San Roque. The best thing about this place is, without doubt, its genuine local atmosphere – but the food is also pretty amazing (and equally authentic).

Playa América

Playa América (Photo credit: Contando Estrelas)

If you fancy treating yourself to some local seafood, Rincon de Marinero has a good reputation for it, and you’ll be able to sample regional food like a seafood stew – which will appear as ‘zarzuela’ on the menu.

Perhaps a little oddly, Los Cristianos’s prime nightlife is situated somewhere that’s a shopping centre during the day. The Centro Comercial San Telmo doesn’t look particularly inspiring in the daylight hours, but head here at night (it’s tucked away behind Playa de las Vistas) and you’ll have your pick of numerous clubs – more often than not venues that are cheaper than some of the island’s biggest resorts, which is always welcome news.

Hotels

Now, it might not sound particularly exciting to have a night at your hotel, but don’t forget that the resorts here are really well equipped and plenty have some pretty decent entertainment. This kind of thing is always perfect for those lazy nights where you want to have a good time, but aren’t particularly keen on the idea of heading too far away from your accommodation.

The Arona Gran, which overlooks the harbour, is a particularly good place to stay. It’s close to the centre and has got heaps of great facilities for both nightlife and relaxing, including two bars, two restaurants and three swimming pools.

There are plenty of other hotels to choose from, of course, so it’s worth spending a little time finding the one that’s right for you.

A little further afield

Los Cristianos harbor

Image via Wikipedia

Of course, there’s no need to limit yourself to Los Cristianos alone. After all, Playa de las Americas is close by and, while there’s certainly plenty to keep you going in Los Cristianos, it’s always worth doing a little exploring while you’re on holiday.

Plus, it’s here you’ll find one of the island’s casinos. So, if you were hoping to don some fancy clothes and have a flutter or two when not out sunning yourself on the sand, head to Casino de las Americas, which is in the basement of the Hotel Gran Tenerife.