It didn’t take a great coincidence of ‘push’ factors to prompt me to engineer an early escape from England, as much as people would moan that i only got back from the Trip Of A Lifetime(TM) a few weeks ago… However, the confluence of a mammoth 6-day weekend due to a fortuitous shift change and very decently priced Ryanair flights was too good to pass up. A few mouse clicks and it was done. Naturally, cheap flights are only one part of the puzzle, since I am a travel masochist and can never do ‘easy’ they ended up being open jaw between Alicante and Malaga, creating all sorts of other conundrums. But more of that later…
I landed bang on time and headed straight for the Europcar desk. On every search engine you’ll see stupidly cheap deals from Goldcar, however I will say nothing more than to read the online reviews. Europcar it was. There’s very little price difference between 4 and 7 days hire, so if you have the chance to stay longer, use it. 5 days cost me £58, plus an extremely hefty one-way supplement of 72 Euros. Lesson learnt, don’t do one way car hires. In hindsight simply tooling back up the Autoroute for 4hrs would have saved a lot of cash.
I headed out of the parking lot chanting to myself “drive on the right, drive on the right, drive on the right”. This was SO much harder than jumping into the rental in Florida. It’s definitely easier after not having driven for a year, rather than having to adjust to everything being on the wrong side.
Also, another top tip but Google Maps really, really doesn’t like closely-spaced Spanish city streets. So, I managed a good few laps of Hotel Cervantes whilst waiting for the GPS to sort itself out. And, in fact, the driving challenges didn’t stop there… Just a drive down into the hotel’s car park on the 45 degree angled slope. With about six inches to spare either side. And the hotel porter firing helpful driving tips at me.
There are plenty of budget choices in the centre of Alicante, Cervantes seemed like a decent enough one. Not plush but comfortable, bang in the centre and cheap enough at €35 for the night. Fellow guests were a wee bit feisty though- As I entered the room I inadvertently let the door slam and a wild-eyed Spanish man in pants flew out of the adjoining room. A hasty ‘disculpe’ and he muttered ‘bueno’ before flying back into his room. Whoops. It was pretty late though, in pant man’s defence.
Suitably rattled, I headed straight back out onto Alicante’s streets to find a quick bite and a beer. Nachos and 2 canas for €5? That’ll do, pig.
The next day a late start put paid to any thoughts of extensive exploration so I decided to just see the highlights. If you’ve ever been to Alicante you’ll know the obvious starting point… The bloody huge chunk of sandstone in the centre! The Castillo really is worth seeing, although at the time of writing this I’ve seen so many castles and they are all blending into one. But in any case, before then you will have to navigate through Alicante’s wide boulevards and atmospheric alleys.
The castle’s a nice spot. Touristy but not horrendously so, with loads of exhibitions showing artefacts from its varied history since construction in the 10th Century. Just don’t get stuck behind delinquent Spanish school groups!
I didn’t actually have long in Alicante. This was by design rather than accident- Since I had a car I was keen to get out into the countryside and explore. I’m not a city break person, on the whole. Just time then to wander down from the castle and see the quayside. Home to some serious yachts and also the excellent Volvo Ocean Race museum, a definite ‘must visit’ here.
I didn’t have quite as much time as I wanted, since the car was parked in the hotel on a tight time limit, but actually it’s well worth a couple of hours spent poking around the interactive exhibits and fascinating long history of the race. You can also see the working control room which is going to spring into life when the race leaves Alicante this October.
Back to the hotel and into the car, it was time to brave the Spanish motorways. Google Maps again upset itself with the tiny city blocks, treating me to pictorial orbits of several before I finally managed to hit the A-7 southbound. Pretty light on plans, I just knew that roughly I wanted to get past Murcia and into the hills…
After a while I picked a random service station to stop for lunch. By this time it was baking hot, I can’t describe the joy of warming my bones again after a few months of English winter. Constant reminders down here, not just the heat but also the Arabic road signs, of such a rich Moorish heritage and the extreme proximity of Morocco. Over a paella and caña I hit up Booking.com since I thought 3pm was a reasonable juncture at which to secure the night’s lodgings. Sure enough, Eur35 bagged me a room at the well-rated Hotel Caravaca in the small town of Caravaca de la Cruz, up in the Murcian foothills. Looked as good an overnight waypoint as any.
I arrived in Caravaca a couple of hours later, after a tactical stopoff at the thoroughly Spanish institution which is Lidl. It’s all the same, down to the offers and product lines. Bizarre, but still a good cheap place to stock up on travel essentials like a big bottle of water and some gummy dinosaurs.
Parking was, once more, a fun logistical challenge. Spanish towns seem to be really packed together in their centres with little room for such niceties as open-air parking. This one was right in the bowels of the hotel and has a car lift to get down there. Scary as hell but it didn’t trap me so all’s well. Again, pro-level manoeuvring required for the minuscule spaces and strategically placed pillars.
‘Modern’ Caravaca is centred around the main street where you’ll find the hotel and shops, bars, pharmacies, however a minute away is the infinitely more scenic old quarter. Time for a wander in the early evening sun.
Caravaca is an important town in terms of history and religion and, in common with the rest of the region, contains a rich Moorish heritage. Plenty of wandering potential for a day or so, around the streets and churches. Nothing spectacular overall, just a nicely kept little town.
After a tactical nap and hotel room beer (Is this a ‘thing’ for anyone else? Buying a supermarket beer en route and necking it in the room just feels slightly subversive, like beating the system…) I decided to head out for a bite to eat. There’s surprisingly little choice in the old town, just a few local-ish bars and tapas places, it’s certainly no tourist Mecca- At least not in late March.
Whilst my Spanish is now very reasonable, menus in different places are always a bit confusing, every country and region has their own different dishes, species and names for things which don’t really match my LatAm terms of reference. So I had to get a couple of the choices explained (in Spanish, I’m no savage) and then just plumped for the most interesting one. As it was I ended up with a somewhat odd, but not unpleasant, olive salad and some amazing beef carpaccio on a bit of bread. Sadly no photos as I’ve decided it’s a bad habit which makes you look like a muppet. Well, sat out on full display in the Plaza anyway.
I decided to push the advantage and order a selection of croquette-type things, although from the waitress’s quizzical eyebrow I’m fairly sure it’s not the done thing to ask for one of each. Still, a couple of cañas to the bad and I wasn’t bothered.
Live band on the Plaza, bed and done…
Sadly it wasn’t a brilliant night’s sleep after all, whilst the Hotel Central is pretty plush in a 90’s marble bathroom kind of way, nonetheless it does have that slightly airless quality common to ‘posh’ hotels the world over. At €35 a night I certainly was not complaining. Added to the lack of air, I was slightly stressed about my morning departure since the night porter had told me of Saturday’s impending fiesta ,and the fact that the main street would be closed from 9 for the whole day.
This didn’t fill me with joy. Caravaca was a nice town but not a large town, and there definitely wasn’t another day’s entertainment in it for me. So, I was up mega early and good to go.
The morning receptionist confirmed my fears. Every Spaniard loves a fiesta, however she said that this one happened every Saturday and was ‘annoying and noisy’. She also professed her dislike for the hordes of Brits who apparently descend on Caravaca in peak season. Right then, breakfast and gone…
Clutching my breakfast chit i made my way down to the nominated cafe. Proper local. No menus. Er, could i have a…breakfast? Yes, what would you like? Er, what can I have?
So, tostada and coffee again, good one.
Into the car, up the scary car lift and out of town. No plans, just a chain of dots on the map that seemed to constitute a good route.
Next stop… into Andalucia.