A short summary
My wife Nikki and I went on a trip to Albir right north of Benidorm in Spain in the period August 27th to September 5th 2004. We went together with our friends Olav and Allis and their two kids. During our stay we got a chance to drive around a little bit, visit the theme park Terra Mittica, the water park Aqualandia, drink some good Spanish red wine etc. I hope that this short trip report can be of some use to others that are going to the same destination. Get in touch if you have any questions or comments :-)
When I was young I remember that we had some family friends that were going on vacation to Spain. At that time it seemed so exotic at least compared to our road trips around Norway. Well, over the years southern Europe and Spain has become more accessible and a bit less exotic I guess. As Norwegians has gotten more money between their hands it has become quite common to have a second home in Spain and lots and lots of people go to what we know as “Syden” (meaning the south of Europe) on vacation every year. We did have plans about going to Spain in 2002 but somehow we ended up in Thailand :-). But the plans from 2002 got back on track when Olav’s parents bought a flat in Spain that we could use.
The trip begins
Both Braathens and Sterling have direct flights from Stavanger in Norway to Alicante in Spain. So we decided to fly to Spain with Sterling and return with Braathens to make our stay as long as possible. After work on Friday the 27th of August we went to Sola airport in Stavanger and got on the plane. The flight from Stavanger to Alicante only took about 3 hours and the round trip cost us about 2700 kroner per person (about 320 €). In those short 3 hours we went from a wet autumn afternoon in Norway to a warm late summer evening in Spain. It was not only the weather that changed during this short flight…we also found out that we had come to quite a different culture. The difference in cultures were evident already at the airport…people were smoking everywhere at the airport (even at the non-smoking signs) where in Norway you are more or less not allowed to smoke anywhere these days. The EU and Schengen have made it pretty easy to travel. We didn’t have to show our passport at all when travelling to Alicante.
We landed at about 7 pm and we were happy to find out that it was still about 28 degrees Celsius outside. We had already booked a car from Avis (we got an Opel Meriva 1.7 tdi) and I guess a lot of people rent cars at the airport because the rental car park was huge. Picking up the car was very efficient but unfortunately the car didn’t have room for all of us so Nikki and I took the bus from the airport to Benidorm at 9.30 pm. I think that bus cost about 6 € per person and it took us about 50 minutes. The plan was that Olav would go and drop of the family and then he would pick us up in Benidorm. Well, it was a silly plan as we have never been to Benidorm and as we didn’t have a proper map of the city. But we figured it out at the end and at midnight we were installed in the flat at Albir. We were satisfied with the car from Avis by the way. It cost us 3700 kroner (about 434 €) for the 9 days we were there including one extra driver and a child seat.
A few words about Albir
Albir is a little community located just north of Benidorm. As far as I understand it belongs to the town of Alfaz del Pi and it is located right next to Altea. When looking north we could see the characteristic rock formation at Calpe. The rock is known as Peńon de Ifach and I’ll get back to that later on. Albir seems to be a Norwegian community: it was possible to go down to the local bookstore and buy all the major Norwegian newspapers, at different restaurants menus were in Norwegian, property companies like the Norwegian Notar have offices there, you can buy Norwegian food at the local super market etc. Albir has a long beach nice beach but be aware of the fact that it is not a sandy beach. Instead the beach is made up by lots of small but very smooth rocks. The waves at the beach varied from day to day when we were there and some days they were quite huge and hard to handle for the kids. Watch out for the flag on the beach, which indicates if it is safe to go swimming or not. The water was not as warm as we expected but for a Norwegian it is quite pleasant…I would estimate that it was about 23 degrees Celsius. On the beach you can rent sun beds and parasols…I think we paid about 8.5 € for two sun beds and a parasol for a day. You can also rent little boats where you have to use you legs to get some movement…the boats are equipment with pedals just like on a bicycle :-). Some of the boats even have a slide attached to it so that the kids can slide right into the ocean. There is also a nice long beach promenade and a selection of restaurants and bars. We walked past a couple of internet cafes in Albir…we walked into a little souvenir shop and they had a few PC’s there and we surfed the net for 0.8€ for 20 minutes.
Walks around Albir
We also tried to get some exercise on other days. One of the treks we did went to the top of Sierra Gelada. This is the mountain the separates Albir from Benidorm. When you look at the mountain from the Albir side it looks like a traditional mountain but once you get to the top of this 438-meter peak you only get to an edge that drops into the ocean. At the top you have a great view towards Benidorm, L'Alfaz del Pi, the mountains inland etc. The walk starts in the same area where you can walk to the Albir lighthouse. There is some sort of path that goes to the top and it took us about 50 minutes to get up there.
The trip out to the lighthouse in Albir is about a 3 km walk. We walked out there one evening and it was nice and relaxing. We met quite a lot of people on the path out there…couples walking hand in hand, people walking their dogs etc. When you get close to the lighthouse you get to a fence. But there is a big hole in the fence a few meters away from the gate so it wasn’t a problem getting out to the lighthouse itself. But there is not that much to see at the lighthouse anyway...apart from the view :-) Here is a map of the Albir area by the way.
Eating out in Albir
We did try a couple of the restaurants in Albir even if we had the facility to make food in the apartment that we had. Nikki and I went to a place called Argentina Steakhouse located on the “main road” one evening. As you might understand from the name they serve mainly steaks in different forms and with different sauces and garnish. According to Norwegian standards it wasn’t expensive…I think that we paid 30€ for the both of us…that included steaks, ˝ litre of the house red wine, and a small salad and bread as a starter. And to round it of I had a nice banana split at the La Bonbonniere across the street :-)
We also went to Sarita Indian Restaurant (also located on the main street). Well, actually we didn't go there but we had take-away from this place a couple of times. We enjoy spicy Indian food and this place had pretty good meals. Right across the street we also found a place that served Italian gelato (also know as ice cream). And for you Scandinavians out there…you can even find a Scandinavian home cooking restaurant if you get too home sick :-)
We tried to find places where we could get some tapas for lunch and we had various luck. But try to find places where you can have these little dishes…favourites of mine are of course the spicy sausage Chorizo, the Spanish cheese Manchego, shrimp fried in garlic, patatas bravas, pincho, etc. We also tried out the Paella for lunch one day by the way. I didn’t get a chance to try this again but it looks like it comes in many different versions. I guess it can be compared to the Italian risotto…which is one of my favourites by the way :-)
We did most of our daily shopping at the local grocery stores at Albir. Most of the time we ended up at Caprabo which had a good selection of food and wine. I was quite amazed to see that you could get a bottle of wine for only 0.65 €. I’m sure it wasn’t the best wine but it was quite amazing to see the range of wines available. From an amateur point of view I would recommend the Pata Negra Gran Reserva 1994, Estola Gran Reserva 1994 and Monte Ducay….there were so many wines to choose from :-). We also did some shopping at the Carrefour outside Benidorm. It is located near the main road (N-332) so it is hard to miss because it was HUGE. In this place you can find anything from Norwegian brown goat cheese (which is excellent by the way :-)) to car tires. We also went to a place that I think was called La Marina Shopping centre right next to Carrefour. This is more of a traditional mall and had lots of different stores and restaurants…and a cinema.
Walk to the top of Peńon de Ifach
Olav and I decided to have a little walk one day and we drove over to Calpe to climb the Peńon de Ifach (also know as del Penyal d'Ifac). It was pretty easy to find the parking lot at the foot of the rock formation…we basically just followed the road signs when we turned of from the main road. The walking path goes in a zigzag pattern up the side of the rock and eventually you have to go through a tunnel so that you can reach the top from the “back” of the rock. The trip to the 332-meter summit is estimated to take a total of 2 ˝ hours but it only took us 35 minutes to get to the top. I would recommend that you wear good shoes for this trip because the rocks we walked on were quite slippery and there were loose gravel. But if you just stay on the path you should be fine. At the top we had a great view towards Benidorm, Albir, the beaches around Calpe…and they even say that on clear days you can see all the way to Ibiza. There were not many people when we were there but we had companies of lots of seagulls that were enjoying the wind at the top of the rock. If you want more information you can check out this webpage.
We didn’t get a chance to take a real and close look at Benidorm. When we came there the first night we were just tired and wanted to get to the flat. We did drive into the town during the day on once occasion. Benidorm has a “beach and party” image I guess and it is a well-known destination for Norwegians looking for fun. It is quite a contrast compared to Albir by the way...Benidorm looks like the Manhattan of Costa Blanca with all the tall concrete buildings. Benidorm has a long sandy beach where you can rent a sun bed and a parasol. Along the beach you’ll find plenty of bars and restaurants and lots and lots of shops selling all sorts of junk :-) It was pretty easy to get from Albir to Benidorm even without a car…bus number 10 seemed to run between the two places pretty often.
To get some entertainment we decided to go to the Paramount Park Terra Mitica. The park is located on the hills outside Benidorm so it only took us 15-20 minutes to drive there from Albir. When we were driving towards the park we noticed that we were pretty alone. After paying 5 € for the parking we walked over to the entrance of the park and once again we were puzzled to see that there were not that many people there. I guess this is not the main season because I have never experienced a park with such few people. We had gotten some coupons that gave us some discount so we had to pay about 26 € per person to get in. The park itself is split into different sections named Egypt, Greece, the islands, Rome and Iberia. The different areas have themes and the concept is pretty well carried out. We came there about 10 am and we rushed over to the steel roller coaster Tizona to try it before the crowds started getting there. Well, we didn’t have to worry because there were so few people that we actually had to wait in the seats in order for the rest of the seats to be filled. So we took it a few times and it was a pretty nice…but hey, we are a bit spoiled after being to bigger parks such as Cedar Point in Ohio, USA :-). We also walked over to the wooden roller coaster Magnus Colossus but I was not very impressed with that. It was slow, bumpy and noisy.
The park was a pretty nice mix of rides and shows. “The lost temple” was a nice simulator “ride” with a Indian Jones theme…the introduction was in Spanish with English subtitles but the main part was without subtitles. My Spanish is very limited but I think that I understood the concept :-). In "The Maze of the Minotaur" we got into little cars and armed with laser guns we aimed for everything that moved. It took us some time to understand the concept but it is a lot like the Men in Black attraction at Universal Studio’s. But there should have been some sort of score of the end of the ride. The Rescue of Ulysses took us on a raft through some of the mythical world of the old Greece. There were also different water rides such as Rapids of Argos and Fury of the Triton. The combination of shows and rides means that you have to plan the day a bit better as shows only run a few times a day. We went to a show called Imagine…unfortunately it was all in Spanish and the music was so loud that we left eventually. We also went to Captain Red beard show in Iberia. This is a stunt show and was pretty amusing even if we didn’t understand all the jokes that the main character was cracking. People were taken from the audience to participate in the show by the way…and you won’t be safe no matter where you are seated :-)
The park was fun for a day but the lack of people made it into a bit of a bizarre experience. It is useful to know your Spanish if you go there. There are lots of places to eat and drink in the park but it was not very cheap…we paid 15 € for a couple of tapas dishes and 2 Coke’s. The Terra Mitica homepage is not very informative. Maybe it is better to look at http://parketematiko.com.
Aqualandia is located right outside Benidorm and it only took us a few minutes in the car to get there. We had found some coupons and after the discount I think it cost us about 15 € per person to get into the park. Once we got in we also had to pay to rent a locker (3/5 € depending on the size of the locker) and we also had to pay for the sun beds in the park. We tried some of the rides of course…the zig-zag were fun and the same goes for black-hole and rapids. They also have some really nasty slides such as Big Bang and Kamikaze. The lines for the different rides grew as the day went by but it wasn’t too bad. The water temperature in the park was about 25 degrees when we were there and I think that they use seawater in the pools. Remember to use to proper sun cream in the park…we saw quite a few people that had forgotten to apply some sun screen and they were glowing. There are facilities for getting changed by the entrance but the showers only had cold water as far as I were able tell. Nikki claimed that the ladies section did have warm water as well :-). Aqualandia is located right next to something called Mundomar. This is a park that hosts different animals and birds and they have dolphin shows. We didn’t go there this time but you can buy tickets to combine the two parks.
Searching for “the real Spain”
We had to take advantage of the fact that we had a car so one day we drove off to find “the real Spain” :-) We started our drive through Altea and over to Calpe. Calpe is dominated by the rock formation Peńon de Ifach and has nice beaches. We only stopped here for a few minutes to look around before we went back to the car and drove inland. It didn’t take us very long to get out in the middle of “no where” and up in the mountains. From time to time we would come to small villages and they all seemed to be built using the same concept….a church built on the highest level in the landscape and the village spread around that. The roads took us up in the mountains and the roads were not all that great….a lot of turns made it just like driving on Norwegian roads :-). We stopped to have lunch in a tiny village and we just stopped at the local bar to have some tapas dishes. Luckily we ran into a couple of English ladies that could translate some of the menu for us so that we could get something to eat :-). After a few hours we came to the little town of Guadalest. This city contains a fortified monastery which I think was ruined by an earthquake but it was rebuilt. Anyway, it looks very picturesque with the old buildings and the mountains in the background. You have to pay a little to get inside the castle itself but you can walk around on parts on the property. There are little shops selling souvenirs and stupid stuff like museum of microscopic things :-).
Traffic in Spain
Driving in Spain was pretty easy…just keep an eye on all the people on little scooters and light motorcycles. I read that the age limit for driving a bike has been raised from 14 to 16 now but I’m not sure that everyone followed this rule. Most bikers did have a helmet but I’m not sure if it would make any difference in a crash…most of them only had half helmets and they most didn’t bother to strap them on. The speed limit on the main highway was about 120 km/h and the road was pretty good. Be aware that some of the larger main roads are toll roads but there is always a free (but not as fast) alternative. I think that we had to pay about 2.70 € when driving from the airport in Alicante to Benidorm.
In Norway the pedestrians are kings at crossings. We noticed that the Spanish don’t have the same respect when we tried to cross different streets. So make sure that you check if the coast is clear before you cross the street…this might sound like an obvious thing but in Norway the pedestrians are getting pretty spoiled…you can pretty much just cross the street (at the designated crossing) and be pretty sure that the cars will stop.
On Sunday the 5th of September the vacation came to an end. We drove of to the airport in Alicante and checked in and went back home. It is limited what you can see and do in one week at a new place. I feel that we at least got to taste a bit of what Spain has to offer even if we ended up in a Norwegian colony :-). I hope to go back to Spain again in the future and the next time I hope to go on a wine tour and visit a bodega since I have gotten a bit hooked on Spanish red wine :-). I also hope to visit some of the larger cities like Valencia, Madrid and Barcelona.
I hope that this trip report has been of some help to you. Get in touch with me if you have questions or comments.