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Calpe uncovered.....

                                                                                                                                               
Calpe is the artist's town but it is also a port and a country town at the same time. An oasis in the most popular tourist region of the Costa Blanca. Calpe is the town of connoisseurs, the town chosen by the whole of Europe as its summer retreat. A privileged enclave beside the calm blue waters of the Mediterranean, where outstanding natural beauty, gastronomy, culture, the sea and the mountains are part of the everyday life of its inhabitants all year round.  The Old Town is beginning to attract more and more visitors because it is becoming a very interesting part of the town.  There are Museums, picturesque little streets and squares and many bars and restaurants, most of them with a lively terrace, an ideal place to spend a pleasant summer evening. Calpe will surprise you with its daring contrasts, where modern buildings and wide avenues harmonize with an ancient fishing village, where locals are proud of their past, yet welcome tourists and visitors with warm hearted hospitality.

In the thirties writers such as Hemingway spent their summers in Calpe. Calpe's first hotel was established next to the Peñón Rock: the Ifach Parador. The Morro del Toix and the Peñón de Ifach mark the extremities of Calpe's bay. The Peñón de Ifach ("north" in Phoenician) is the symbol of Calpe and, by extension, of the Costa Blanca. It is the highest rock in the entire Mediterranean and divides Calpe's shoreline in two. The limestone mass is 332 metres high and penetrates 1 kilometre into the sea, forming a first-rate geological feature. Since 1987, a Natural Park has preserved its unique ecological treasures such as the Ifach carnation. Prehistoric, Iberian, Phoenician and Roman remains have been found immediately next to the Peñón and on the isthmus which links it to the coast. At the foot of the Peñón are the 'Baños de la Reina' (literally, The Queen's Baths) that, in reality, was the site of a Roman 'factory' for the drying and salting of fish.

There are 11 kilometres of sandy beaches and coves, like the one at La Manzanera where there are three buildings designed by Ricardo Bofill, and the Les Urques cove where scuba diving and fishing are possible. Calpe's attractions have made the village a tourist destination of note for both national and international visitors.To fully appreciate Calpe, the town and its surrounding area is best viewed from near the top of Oltá, the wide-topped mountain that stretches up behind the town. The view below you comprises a pleasant and surprisingly green landscape and 20 or so miles of distant coastline. Before you are undulating hills, some dotted with villas amongst trees, some completely wooded and others laid to vineyards. Olive groves and orange and lemon trees stretch towards the sea. The coastline to the north looks reassuringly pine fringed and unspoilt. There are homes hidden amongst the trees but they are hardly visible from here. However drive along the coast road to Moraira and you will see that these villas are very pleasantly situated with views of the sparkling Mediterranean and a series of small coves and beaches nearby.
 
Calpe itself takes up only a small space on the canvas: a huddled old town on the hill, surrounded by newer residential apartments and houses, and, stretching down towards the sea, a busy town centre full of shops, offices and restaurants. Most of the holiday apartments line the Arenal and Levante beaches, which spread out on either side of the massive and famous Peñon de Ifach, or Calpe Rock, which dwarfs them. Holiday villas and local detached homes tend to be on the hills or along the cliffs towards the edge of town. Surprisingly, right on the sea front are some stylish villas from the 40s and 50s, which are said to have been brought on by the "black peseta" (many people needed to get rid of Spanish cash stashed 'under the bed' before the euro made it obsolete). How much longer these villas will be there is hard to tell - Spain has few building preservation measures and the owners are sitting on sites worth millions.
                                                                                                             
In recent years, Calpe has ploughed much of its new money into beneficial projects for both its citizens and tourists. First, it built promenades, which provide miles of traffic-free, level walking linking the town with its beaches, harbour and the Peñon. More recently it has constructed a sumptuous Casa de Cultura (arts centre) where there are frequent concerts, and some smart civic buildings. It has also restored its old town. This might not have been given as high a profile as say, neighbouring Altea's, but it is a pleasant place to explore if you seek it out. There are no gift shops, but there is an excellent tapas bar and, next to the fishermen's union in the main old town square, an unpretentious restaurant that serves superb paella and arroz negro (literally, black rice - paella with squid ink).            

A number of old town buildings bear impressive trompe l'oeil and other murals - there is an arty air to the place. Like other towns in the area, Calpe used to be popular with artists and writers, and to some extent still is, having retained a thriving artists' colony and many literary connections. There are a handful of newly established museums at this end of town, all free and beautifully fitted out. The Museum of Costume houses fantastically intricate and colourful outfits worn for local festivals like the 'Moors and Christians' and there's a new Collectors' Museum (featuring Barbie dolls at the time of our visit). A Museum of Archaeology gives useful background to the town's Roman sites that are situated next to the promenade.

Another beneficiary of the town's recent boom is the harbour area, with its state of the art fish market (computerised, with viewing galleries) and sparkling marina and yacht club. There is a string of fish restaurants but the best fish is reckoned to be at Restaurant Baydal, set apart from the others. Water sports are popular in Calpe and the sailing school is the place to go if you want to brush up your skills or start from scratch. For experts however, Ibiza is a popular destination - it's a day's sailing away.

The Peñon is now a nature reserve and, despite its formidable appearance, a walk to the top is straightforward enough if you are averagely fit, taking an hour or a little more. A tunnel carved through one cliff face takes you to the gentler slopes on the other side, but you still need to scramble a bit in places - so be sure to have sensible footwear. The view from the top is stupendous. If you fancy an easier option, a walk around part of the base of the Peñon has been carved from rock with the help of EU money. There are terrific views across the bay and, on the rock itself, it's a moving sight in the spring to see the gulls standing guard by their nests, often only feet from the promenaders.

The level walk from the start of the promenade in town to the end of the Peñon nature walk takes around an hour at strolling pace. You can extend the excursion if you stop at Casita Belga, run by a Belgian family and the best sea front cafe/restaurant in town. It's halfway between town and harbour and can provide you with sustenance at a very good price. From where the promenade stops on Calpe's eastern (Levante) beach you can carry on walking along the cliff top past attractive, mature villas with splendid sea views, for some miles. And from the end of the town beach, opposite the Peñon, another cliff top walk takes you via small coves to three striking buildings designed by architect Ricardo Bofill and built between the sixties and eighties.

Most wacky of Bofill's creations are the green Xanadu building and the Red Wall building (in pinks from dusky rose to terracotta). The Amphitheatre Building, constructed in the mid eighties, comprises luxury homes on a site shaped like a classical amphitheatre. The pool, which extends down the cliff, occupies the space, which in Greek tradition is called the 'stage' and frames the scenery. Miraculously, from this end of the bay, you do not see the town but just cliffs, sea and the Rock. So it is quite magical, particularly when sunset turns the Peñon a glowing pink.

In a few minutes by car you can zig-zag about two-thirds of the way to the top of Mount Oltá and take a five mile circular walk amongst the pines, bird song and - in spring and early summer - an amazing profusion of wild flowers and flowering shrubs: it really does take you into a different world. We followed the route in the excellent Sunflower Books Landscapes of the Costa Blanca and parked by the new campsite. On the road up to Oltá is the station for the narrow-gauge railway, which is being restored. The trains, from Alicante to Denia and back, are every two hours. You can hop on the next available one to Denia and be there in about 40 minutes, the three coach train having trundled along unpopulated wooded valleys, through mountain gorges and past terraced farmland with fruit and vines. There are occasional glimpses of the Mediterranean in the distance, and the last stretch before Denia involves a long detour around the hulking mass of Montgo, the mountain that dominates Javea. After a pleasant lunch in Denia's old quarter, you can explore the town's huge sandy beach and have a look at the ferries that sail to and from the Balearic Islands. You can also take a pleasure boat back to Calpe, but for a higher price than the very reasonable 3.70 euros (£2.30) return train ticket.

What you will discover when you visit Calpe is that it is a vibrant community that has used its tourism-created wealth well. One of the attractions of the town itself is that it isn't just a holiday resort, dominated by bars, ice cream parlours and restaurants. It has a huge number of thriving businesses, ranging from department stores and furniture emporiums to the sort of hardware and ironmongery shops that in Britain seem to have been swept aside by the B&Q tide. It's a market town for the surrounding area (literally, as there is a huge Saturday market with superb fresh produce, as well as clothes, leather goods and bric-a-brac) and doesn't die in the winter, unlike so many seaside resorts. That makes it a particularly popular destination for long-stay winter visitors.

Most visitors, whatever season they come, seem to like it a lot. It has a whole range of accommodation available, most of it privately owned, ranging from inexpensive apartments to luxurious villas and thanks to the train (and reasonably priced taxis) it's easy to get to if you don't have a car - you can even get to the Terra Mítica theme park by train. Many visitors never move from its wonderful beaches, but those who do find there are plenty of walks and places of interest to keep them occupied.

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