Travel: The delights of Alicante

The area around Alicante is said to have been inhabited for over 7000 years. In more recent times it’s become a major tourist destination with serious development in the 1950s and 1960s resulting in large buildings and complexes springing up throughout the city.

This means Alicante is the perfect example of a concrete jungle. High rises dominate the skyline (and not in a particularly attractive way) and on first sight it doesn’t seem like the prettiest of holiday destinations. It would be easy to dismiss the city as place not to visit in Spain. But you’d be wrong. Well, they do say you should never judge a book by its cover and as soon as you start looking a little deeper into the soul of Alicante you’ll be surprised to find many beauties.

While those buildings can’t be unbuilt, a lot of effort has been made to add beauty with the myriad flowers and trees. Jacarandas, bougainvilleas and hibiscus abound (gotta love those exotic names) and there are palm trees everywhere. Of course, as you’re in Spain, the sky is always blue – different colours of blue for different times of day – the sea is warm and clear, the food is wonderful and there’s a warm Spanish welcome. Because this is a truly Spanish city where simple food is perfectly prepared using the best of local ingredients, prices are great value and you’ll need a bit of Spanish to get by.

Alicante’s Playa San Juan

We stayed in the San Juan Beach area. And my first realisation that Alicante wasn’t what it initially seemed was the sight of the stunning beach. I mean really stunning. Huge, with white sand and mountains in the background. And that fabulous Spanish tradition alongside it – the promenade. Lined with restaurants and bars, the beautifully paved area in the shade of palm trees was busy all times of day with families and friends enjoying their daily amble.

Alicante: San Juan Beach

The white sandy beach with blue sea and sky

There are so many restaurants along this stretch of sandy sunniness that it’s hard to choose where to eat. As luck would have it we picked the perfect breakfast spot on our first morning. One of my favourite breakfast treats ever is pan con tomato, lightly toasted bread served with what is basically mashed up tomato and olive oil. It’s amazing how good it tastes. Today’s offering also came with a generous portion of jamon – so that’s even better. And here’s the best thing of all – this delicious breakfast, including a glass of fresh orange juice and a coffee set us back the sum of €1.80 each. No that is not a typo. €3.60 for two filling and deliciously Spanish breakfasts at 100 Montaditos right on the beach. Seriously, does life get better than that? Breakfast certainly doesn’t.

Alicante: desayuno

The best-value breakfast ever, yes ever

Alicante: San Juan promenade

They do know how to do a promenade in Spain

Lunch along the promenade also offered a range of traditional Spanish tapas dishes. Like this Russian salad (ensalada Russa) which crops up on menus everywhere I go in Spain. You can read more about this dish and try out my recipe for it by clicking here. I’ve sampled some different versions recently so think I will be redoing my own recipe soon.

Alicante: Russian salad

The ever-present Russian Salad

Playa San Juan is also the perfect place for sundowners. Especially if you’re a fan of giant gin and tonics like these.

Alicante: gin & tonics

Huge g&ts beachside while pondering our dinner destination

We meandered the streets absorbing the evening sun and the pleasant babble of Spanish voices, checking out menus while we decided where to go for dinner. One of my favourite ways of spending time! Our choice was Los Charros, a charming-looking establishment on a side street up from the beach. And what a good choice it turned out to be. We started off by sharing this delicious concoction of eggs, prawns and mushrooms with a touch of garlic.

Alicante: egg, prawn and mushroom starter

Scrambled eggs with earthy mushrooms and sweet prawns

For mains we decided on lamb and goat chops respectively – simply served grilled with some lovely wild garlic and more accompaniments than we expected, including a salad, crispy fired potatoes and padron peppers and a large dish of tempura-style vegetables. All served with a smile.

Alicante: goat chops

Tasty little chops with a fresh salad

Alicante: crispy potatoes

Love the sweetness of Spanish potatoes and these were beautifully crisp

We sat outside on the lovely terrace – something we always do when we can. I think it comes from living in the Northern hemisphere. Dining alfresco is always a treat. The tapas bar inside was bustling with locals and filled with laughter.

On our second night in Alicante we were highly tempted to go back to Los Charros. But as we were only there for two nights it seemed boring so instead we chose El Mayoral for dinner, which is on the San Juan promenade. The menu was extensive and we were having decision-making hiccups. Until we saw what the couple on the next table were tucking into, a delicious seafood soup. So we ordered the same – langoustines, prawns, mussels, the softest of calamari and fresh hake in a lovely saffron-flavoured broth.

Alicante: seafood soup

Seafood soup to share – the perfect start to dinner

A Spanish classic for mains – roast suckling pig served with perfect chips and slivers of crispy fried onions.

 

Alicante: suckling pig

Love the suckling pig in Spain, they know their pork!

We finished our wine after dinner alongside the beach watching the sky develop through stages of blue until it reached this stunning indigo colour with the last light of the day.

Alicante: indigo sky

Post-dinner drinks under an indigo sky

Touring on Alicante’s tram

As hard as it was to drag ourselves away from the comfort and joy of San Juan Beach we decided we had to do some exploring. So we got on the tram heading for the Old Town and the harbour. Such a lovely way to travel and to see more of the city and all for €1.45 for what was about a 35-minute journey. We passed a lot of concrete along the way and emerged into a buzzing metropolis. The main road down from the station, Ramble de Mendoza Lunez, leads down to the beach. If you’re looking for shopping opportunities take a slow walk down as there’s plenty on offer here.

Alicante: the tram

Travelling by tram is such a pleasure

Strolling around Alicante harbour

As you start getting close to the water there’s another palm-lined promenade to stroll along.

Alicante: promenade in town

More promenading opportunities in the shade of palm trees

There’s a sparkling harbour filled with stylish boats – and even a pirate ship.

Alicante: harbour

More shades of blue in Alicante harbour

Lunch in Alicante’s Old Town

After some waterside strolling we headed into the Old Town for lunch. With the feel of ancient Spain and beautiful old buildings to view, there were also plenty of restaurant choices to explore.

Alicante: Old Town

Alfresco restaurants abound in Alicante’s Old Town

Greetings of hola, buenos días lead us to a table at La Taberna San Pascual where we tucked into delightful albondigas (meatballs) and croquettes, accompanied by some delicious Spanish rose.

Alicante: lunch in Old Town

Lunch in shades of pinks and reds

Alicante: La Taberna San Pascual

The charmingly rustic La Taberna San Pascual

We finished off lunch with a charming mini-mug of the local liquor – all complimentary of course. How I love complimentary local liquor.

Alicante: local liquor

Chilled mini drinks to complete a perfect lunch

So that was Alicante, a place can see myself visiting again and again and one I’d definitely recommend for a Spanish fix. Just make sure you see past the concrete.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn San Juan which was a short walk from the promenade and the beach. Though basic, the hotel was comfortable and welcoming and has a lovely pool area for lazy afternoons.

 

 

Where to stay in Phuket: The Kata Beach Resort

Continuing my series about lovely hotels around the world that you really should stay in, today we’re at the Kata Beach Resort & Spa in Phuket, Thailand.

Phuket is a large and very diverse island. That means if you want to party up a storm, get active with watersports, explore temples and places of interest, indulge in gourmet food, shop, lie on the beach – or any combo of them, Thailand has plenty to offer.

We particularly like the Kata Beach area, having visited a few years ago. The beach is amazing, there are plenty of restaurants all serving great, well-priced food and the shopping’s also good. Plus it’s a bit quieter than some of the more party-focused areas of the island, there are no clubs and after a certain time of night a peace washes over the area. Love the peace.

We’d spotted the Kata Beach Resort on our ambles around the town last time and put it on our wish-list of hotels to stay in if we ever returned to the area. Sometimes wishes do come true.

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A trumpeting welcome to the Kata Beach Resort

So here’s what’s good about it.

The position

Set right on the absolutely stunning Kata Beach (more of that later), the hotel couldn’t be in a more convenient spot. You’re a minute’s walk (if that) from your room to the sand and only a few minutes walk away from a cluster of lovely beach restaurants. If you go in the other direction out the front of the hotel you’re right in the middle of the shops, markets and a generous selection of other restaurants.

Perfect if you love eating out, like us. A short walk, a short inspection of what’s on offer and you settle down to a delicious meal every time. At lunchtime we liked to amble down the beach and sit barefoot looking out at the sea (we soon stopped even taking our shoes with us), tucking into a range of Thai favourites. Top of the list was the spicy green papaya salad which tastes like health on a plate – in a good way.

green papya salad

One of my very favourite Thai dishes – zesty green papaya salad

The hotel is set back from the main road behind the amazing elephant fountain. So you’re only steps from the buzzy nightlife as well as being able to retreat into the cocoon of peace that surrounds the hotel. The food is really varied in Kata (more so than in many other parts of Thailand I’ve visited) and standards are high (more details coming soon in another post). Here’s a fabulous king prawn dish we had for dinner one night in a restaurant on the main road.

kingprawn

Giant, juicy king prawns with a lovely red curry sauce

The beach

Kata Beach is nothing short of spectacular and the hotel is right on it. A sweeping bay beckons in front of you with the beautifully blue and warm Andaman sea just waiting for you to plunge into. Here’s a picture I took from my sunbed using my panorama function.

beach

Take me to the beautiful beach

I love a good daily walk and the extent of the beach meant about 45 minutes of power walking – with some strolling and several stops to take in the sights, of course. This is near the far end where a little house that intrigued me nestled in the trees. I want to know who it belongs to.

beach2

Exercise is a pleasure on Kata Beach

The views

Of course, this is allied to both the position and the beach. Wow! To have views like this right in front of you wherever you look is totally uplifting. Here’s my daily vista through the leaning palms.

views

It’s hard to get up from your bed with a view like this

The rooms

We arrived around 8 at night at Kata Beach and the first thing I did was walk through the room to the balcony door and out to the sound and sight of the sea. The perfect inspiration to go to bed and wake up to. The rooms are spacious with extremely comfortable beds. Boy did we sleep well here.

Air conditioning is good and easily adjustable, there’s a safe to leave your valuables in (always vital for me) and there’s a kettle with tea and coffee replenished daily. Plus an extremely chilly fridge to ensure there’s always a cold one to quench your thirst on those sultry Thai days. All the comforts of home, basically. Plus the wifi signal is excellent, another necessity for an internet junkie like me, after all I do have to blog and post on social media, don’t I?

Top tip: make sure you specify you want a sea-facing room. It costs a little more but is more than worth every penny.

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We soon felt at home in our spacious room

Oh and here’s the early morning view from our balcony – before the serious suntanners hit the pool.

view from room

Happiness is a room with a view

The pool and its bar

As you can see our room looked over the pool to the sea. A real indulgence having two swimming areas right on your doorstep. The pool is lovely and warm and big enough to stretch out and have a bit of a swim. And it has the must-have swim-up pool bar. The joy of sitting in the water sipping a cocktail! The bar also does the most wonderful lattes, just what we needed to get our day off to the best start.

The perfect start to the day – at the poolside as the beach wakes up

The perfect start to the day – at the poolside as the beach wakes up

Here’s the view from the bar across the sunbeds to the azure sea. This was just after a rainstorm, which we sheltered from under the bar’s covered area. Very handy.

view from bar

Blue and more blue as far as you can see

The breakfast

How I love hotel breakfast. You’ve got plenty of time and you don’t have to do anything yourself, except decide what you want and eat it. Kata Beach Resort’s international buffet took some exploring every morning. Before doing that I helped myself to a huge plate of tropical fruit…I think I ate  more papaya than the average person does in a year!

There was also a good selection of pastries and a range of Western options including, sausages,  tomatoes, potatoes done any way as well as freshly cooked bacon and eggs made to your demand at the egg station. Being in Thailand I embarked on eating the Thai version every day – a helping of noodles or rice (or sometimes both!) sprinkled liberally with fish sauce and chilli. Amazing how I got into this, breakfast doesn’t seem the same anymore!

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Start the day with a plate of fresh tropical fruit

And a few other things

It’s fair to say you’re tripping over people wanting to give you a massage in Phuket, here you don’t even have to go looking for them. At the hotel there’s a little hut right on the beach where you can lie down, breathe in the sea air and listen to the soothing waves while all your cares are massaged away, though it’s hard to have any cares at this stage. An hour of intense massage that leaves you feeling totally revitalised costs 300 baht. That’s about £6. Really!

Then there’s all the beach sellers. You slowly watch the beach waking up as dozens of industrious vendors parade their wares up and down all day. They’re always pleasant, happy and take no for an answer without too much hassle. Needless to say the products are such good value (and there’s always room for bargaining) that I usually ended up buying something anyway. Summer wardrobe replenished!

If you’re more the kind of person who wants things made just for them, you’re also in the right place. There’s a tailor on-site and he’ll make sure your garments fit perfectly. Choose your fabric and he’ll measure you up and provide several fittings to make sure you get exactly what you want. It’s good value, too, my husband had three pairs of trousers made for 3,900 baht which is just under £80.

There is an impressive dinner buffet of changing themes, from Italian, international, seafood, steak and barbecue to classic Thai. Something for everyone. The wine list is extensive (the hotel even has its own wine shop) but like most places in Thailand, imported wines are pricey, especially when you consider what great value the food is. Oh well, treat yourself…

I’ve realised that this all sounds as much like a spotlight on Thailand generally as a review of the Kata Beach Resort. Well, that’s because that’s exactly what you get here. The best of everything that’s great about this wonderful holiday destination. Aah how I miss Kata Beach.

We’ve explored quite a bit of Thailand now and have used a range of tour operators as that’s the best way to get a really good deal. This year we travelled with a company called Eastravel. I can’t recommend them enough. They were friendly, helpful, efficient and went out of their way to secure the room we wanted and make sure all our needs were met. If you’re going to Thailand (or anywhere in the Far East actually) from the UK you really should check them out at www.eastravel.com

Do you have a favourite part of Thailand? Have you stayed somewhere special? I’d love to hear about it as I’m already thinking about my next visit there – so do get in touch.

Find out more about the hotel at www.katagroup.com