Discovering Calpe – A Gem in Alicante, Spain
Looking for a getaway from the bustling city of Barcelona? A short drive south will transport you to a destination that has it all.
After spending four long months cooped up in our Barcelona apartment, we were really in need of a family summer getaway!
Really anywhere would do, as long as it allowed us to swim, hike, discover and make memories. And we found a true gem in the Costa Blanca region of Alicante. The town known as Calpe.
Our summer getaway totally exceeded our expectations and two weeks didn’t seem long enough to discover all this place had to offer.
Just under five hours south from the big city, Calpe itself isn’t actually that small. With a total population of 30,000, almost half of its inhabitants today are foreigners, mainly Brits and Germans. We found this surprising but that meant more English speaking residents, which is never a bad thing.
Calpe is a great base from which to explore the surrounding area of Valencia or enjoy the many local beaches and mountains. It alone has three of the most beautiful sandy beaches on the coast – Playa de Levante O La Fossa, Calpe Beach, and our personal favorite Playa Puerto Blanco.
Once an ancient fishing village, the Costa Blanca town mixes Roman ruins and scenic nature parks with plenty of modern urban comforts.
If you do a quick Google search of Calpe, the signature photo that will repeatedly pop up is of Penyal D’Ifach or what I like to call “the big rock” ha! It stands at 332 meters high and is as iconic to Calpe as the Eiffel Tower is to Paris. And guys, it’s INCREDIBLE!
So very incredible that my husband, who loves all things that involve sport and sweat, decided to climb to the very top of this limestone monster early one morning, More on those antics later!
The ruins of Els Banyas de la Reina (Queen’s Baths), the El Saladar flooded salt flats, a bird sanctuary for migrating flocks and the 18th Century Tower of La Peca are some of the other main attractions here.
Where We Stayed
While downtown Calpe is busy and bustling with shops, restaurants and many apartment high-rises, our rental stay was anything but noisy and crowded.
To put it simply, it was a paradise!
At the far end of the city, opposite downtown, is the urbanization of Calpe. The residential area, known as Partida Maryvilla, is made up of steep winding streets with homes built into the cascading mountains.
Magnificent Spanish-style homes with white-washed walls and orange terracotta rooves welcomed us. Each property is more beautiful than the next, although I’m partial to say that Vera and Manni’s (our rental hosts) home is the prettiest of all!
Our Vacation Rental
On an acre-sized property sits two adjoining homes, one for the hosts and the other for visitors as well as a full sized swimming pool, enough terraces to host an impressive neighborhood party and a gorgeous garden full of orange, lemon, fig and lime trees. My three children spent the entire two weeks exploring the grounds and creating secret hideaways that only toddlers are experts at doing.
And that view. That breathtaking, pinch-yourself, praise God every morning type view! It was magical and even after 15 days, still gave us chills. The first waking moments of each day were spent watching the sunrise over Penyal D’Ifach. We enjoyed our coffee and homemade apricot jam (prepared by Manni himself!) on fresh toasted bread.
What a life, eh?
Our Incredible Hosts
Manni and Vera, natives from Germany, have made quite the life for themselves and their family in this oasis retreat of Calpe. True visionaries, they were the very first property to be constructed in the mountainous urbanization more than 50 years ago in 1970. They have watched other homes get built around them as their own family multiplied through the years.
We had the chance to meet their son, Armin, on our first few days who shared much of the property history with us. We enjoyed hearing stories about his parents and how his father is well known throughout the town.
Our family has stayed in more than a dozen vacation rentals since living abroad and none come close to the hospitality and care that our two hosts showed us. Learning to make homemade marmalade, enjoying paella lunch on the beach together, and sharing a coal smoked salmon together with several other German friends was all so special.
It felt as similar to home as possible.
The children really took a liking to Vera and Manni and felt sad to say goodbye on our last day. This is the kind of stuff expat memories are made of!
Where We Ate
Sure, we utilized the kitchen in our rental as much as possible (smart way to save money when traveling as a family). And we even dined with our hosts and cooked on the coal fire grill with them several times. But we also knew that a vacation to southern Spain wouldn’t be complete without some authentic local dishes.
Several places we found memorable:
Restaurante Casa Vital – Altea, Spain
Restaurant Casa Vital in the nearby town of Altea offered a delicious selection of wines and generous portions of pasta, fish and meat dishes. The service was fantastic and the waiters even recommended a great gelato place around the corner once our bellies had settled.
But clearly the location and view were the big draw for this place. Perched just above the Mediterranean with jaw-dropping views of the cliffs below, Casa Vital offers its customers terrace seating for a truly special dining experience.
Be prepared that the terrace is open to the public. So while you are enjoying your meal, you may be doing so with handfuls of onlookers, Instagramers and selfie sticks. It didn’t bother us but is worth pointing out!
Oli Baba – Olivia, Spain
Oli Baba is a beach side restaurant our hosts invited us to one Sunday afternoon. It was about a 40 minute drive from Calpe, but well worth it! Our table for nine was literally in the sand under a covered canopy – which meant our kids could take their sandals off and build sand castles while the adults chatted over cocktails.
This concept of beach bar/restaurant is soo common in Spain (usually referred to as chiringuitos) and I think it’s absolutely brilliant. Why has the U.S. not caught onto this amazing concept yet?!
Our meal at Oli Baba was the house specialty – palella. And when I tell you I have never seen a pan that large in my life, I speak the truth! It took two servers to carry it to our table. Naturally, we snapped loads of photos before digging in.
After the meal was over, we jumped in the sea for a swim and basked in the sun. When you think of the perfect vacation day, does it measure up to a day like this?
Blau Mar – Downtown Calpe
Blau Mar is one of those places that you can’t judge by it’s cover. Very understated with minimal decor, but what it lacks in ambiance makes up for in their amazing seafood paella. Wow! This is why we chose this restaurant thanks to some stellar recommendations on Trip Advisor.
We were blown away by the rich flavor and meatiness of prawn, calamari, and mussels. My three and six year olds literally scraped the pan clean. We highly recommend a stop here and be sure to request a table right near the windows. You’ll get a picture perfect view of the seashore line just ahead.
How We Spent Our Time
It’s amazing how long four months felt in Barcelona when we were stuck in our apartment for lockdown. But two weeks in Calpe seemed to go by in the flash of an eye. We were constantly busy and never ran out of ways to pass the time.
Favorite Beach – Playa Puerto Blanco
Much of our days were spent by the pool horsing around and getting tan. All of our three kids wanted was to be in the water. When we weren’t at the house pool, we found ourselves at the tiny private beach cove of Playa Puerto Blanco. These days were some of my absolute favorites of the whole trip.
Picture a small secluded cove with less than 20 other people (even on the most crowded days). The waves are gentle, the water temperature like a bath and you can see your toes even in the deepest sections. You are surrounded by rocky cliffs and your view is none other than…Penyal D’Ifach. Like I said, paradise.
When the children weren’t swimming in the sea or building sand towers, they were on their hands and knees searching for sand crabs and mini krill along the jetty. I’ve never seen my three so happy and adventurous!
One afternoon we did venture to the larger main beach of Calpe, which was lovely – but couldn’t compare to the private experience had the days prior.
Favorite Day Trip – Fuentes de Algar
On the last day of our two week hiatus, we wanted to do something special as a family. A real memorable type of day trip! Our hosts recommended a truly unique experience about 35 minutes from Calpe called Fuentes de Algar.
Located in the town of Callosa d’en Sarria, this natural reserve waterfall park is a haven for adventure seekers and water lovers. It was perfect for our clan!
The kids never swam in a real waterfall before so we had our hopes set high on diving in. Yes, the natural spring water from the surrounding mountain ranges was frigid – but also refreshing in the hot July sun! It didn’t seem to scare off any other visitors, so even our most timid child found himself waist deep in the cold.
Water so crystal clear you could see fish circling and even a slithering eel off in the distance. The park consists of seven actual swimming areas or “tolls”, which were considered to be sources of health centuries ago. Free parking, multiple restaurants, shops (at which we highly recommend purchasing water shoes for 10 euros each!) and picnic area can all be found in the surrounding area before entering the park.
Cost is minimal at 5 euros per adult and 2 euros for children ages 4-10. We recommend purchasing tickets online since capacities are strictly monitored due to COVID.
Favorite Nearby Town – Altea, Spain
Although we only spent a few hours in this small village 20 minutes south of Calpe, we immediate noticed its allure and charm. White washed buildings and cobblestone streets beckoned visitors from all corners of the region.
I’ve already mentioned where we ate dinner here, but want to elaborate on what took place afterwards when my sweet tooth was calling. A short walk from Restaurante Casa Vital, lies the picturesque square of Carrer de Major. It’s a bit hidden, so don’t miss this spot like we almost did!
We stopped for ice cream at Qvo Helado Artesano and just to the left of the main ice cream shop entrance is an archway leading you into the square. Twinkling lights and cafes with outdoor seating. welcomed us. Talk about elegant and romantic!
Shop after shop lined the connecting boulevards to the square. It was the perfect place to purchase local goodies like olive oil soaps, handmade jewelry, and straw sun hats.
Favorite Bucket List Item – Hiking Penyal D’Ifach
I cannot take credit for this one, guys. My husband was the one to venture off and climb “the big rock” one morning at 6AM. Since this sort of thing is right up his alley, I let him have his fun.
And man, am I glad I wasn’t with him! The most popular tourist attraction in Calpe is to hike the Panyal D’Ifach. But bear in mind, the climb is not for the weary after a certain point. It sounds downright scary! If you’re into that sort of action, here’s what to expect…
When entering the park at sea level, gravel beginners trails will take you about 20 minutes up the mountain. You’ll walk through some turnstiles, past a picnic area and public bathrooms. The views of the sparkling sea and fishing docks below are quite beautiful. This would probably be my stopping point.
But once hikers trek on and reach a long tunnel, it starts getting much more difficult. There’s even a sign that says not recommended for climbers under 18! That should tell you something.
Although Tony considered turning around several times, he kept moving and was determined to make it to the top. Since the views were said to be some of the most spectacular in all of Spain.
Turns out, the rumors were true. I’ll admit, I was envious to not have seen them with my own eyes. But after Tony described some of the dramatic drops, paths no wider than my forearm and sharp cliffs into the rocky waters, the photos were enough to give me the satisfaction I needed. In some areas, the only support to move a climber further up is a small chain bolted into the rock.
I know what you’re thinking. And yes, people have died trying to climb Penyal D’Ifach.
Still, making it to the top Tony said was one of the coolest accomplishments! And funny enough, there were loads of people up there. Groups taking photos, proper hikers all geared up for the trek. And even some teenagers who were clearly younger than 18 ha!
So I suppose it’s all in what you’re comfortable doing and how badly you want to catch a magnificent glimpse of that Calpe coastline. For me, I’m happy to live through the photos!
So this was a glimpse into what our two weeks in Calpe looked like. Believe me, I could share more and continue on – but rather than spoil ALL the gems this area has to offer, I’ll encourage you to put this spot on your bucket list and see them for yourself.
If you wish to book Vera and Manni’s rental home in the Urbanizacion of Partida Maryvilla, here is the listing and let them know Lauren and Tony referred you!
Calpe is truly special. We made family memories that the children will continue to reflect on for years. While it’s neighbor to the north, Valencia, or the gushingly popular Andalucia Region are widely accepted as some of the most beautiful in all of Southern Spain, I think Calpe could give them a run for their money.
We’re so thrilled to have experienced it and cannot thank our incredible hosts, Vera and Manni, enough for their kindness and hospitality. As they say in Germany, Ein Prosit! Till we meet again someday…
As this Summer 2020 is a rather strange one for travelers, I’d love to know what experiences you’ve had! Please throw me a comment below and share your stories with us all…