Monthly Archives: May 2016

Our Spanish Dream Part 51 Torrevieja

Torrevieja

The town of Torrevieja is a short drive from our house. The small city dates back to 1802 and is named after the old watch tower (Torre = tower and Vieja = old). Large cities with high rise are not my kind of place but to my surprise I find I like many parts of this particular city.

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The buildings are, in the main, not that tall. In fact smaller than other large tourist towns I know well in the northern Costa Blanca such as Calpe, Denia, Javea and of course, Benidorm (which I don’t know well as one visit was enough!). The place is truly international with influences from as far apart as Italy and the Caribbean, with one of the most diverse populations in Spain. In 2014 the population is recorded as around 108,000, of which around half are Spanish and the rest a wide mix from across the globe. Native English speakers make up about 11%-12% of the total population, which is pretty much in line with the overall percentage in Spain in most coastal areas, but lower than some other coastal towns. To give you some idea of how the town has expanded the current population is around four times larger than in 1990 and twice that of 2000.

The town’s blue flag beaches, long promenade, fishing port, yacht club and harbour make up the sea front. Much of the tourist area of town has undergone an up-date with new pedestrianised areas, new theatre, new out of town concert venue, new tourist information office and much more. The narrow streets are packed with individual shops and bars run by the Spanish, not ex-pats, with residential apartments above, many to only five storeys. The town has somehow maintained its identity whilst catering for international visitors which swell its number to 500,000 in high season.

Perhaps one of our favourite pass-times when we go to Torrevieja is to visit Valors and enjoy their chocolate y churros, on the opposite side of the road to the square by the church of the Inmaculata Conception. The original church, like much of the town, was destroyed by a major earthquake in 1829 and the current church was built in 1844 using the stones from the original watch tower (Torre) in the foundations. If you have children then the fun fair and Park of Nations are a must. Or if you prefer more cultural surroundings then have a coffee in the Casino (which is not a casino but a restaurant and art gallery and social centre). If you are there for the right week in August then you can experience the Habaneras Festival which has been run annually in the city for over 40 years. This is a music festival and competition where the music is a fusion of Cuban and Spanish.

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Torrevieja grew from the salt industry, still a major employer, producing half a million tons of salt a year. There are two lakes, Laguna Salada de la Mata and Laguna Salada de Torrevieja, but they are more commonly known as the blue lake and the pink lake. The Parque National surrounds the blue (La Mata) lake while the pink lake is a hive of industry on one side. The lakes, together with the Mar Menor to the south and the Santa Pola salt lakes to the north, create a unique micro climate, one the World Health Organisation lists as one of the healthiest in the world; particularly good for those who suffer with joint or respiratory problems. Combined with the warm average winter temperatures (higher than the Costa del Sol and several degrees warmer than north Costa Blanca) of over 10 degrees (usually upper teens in the daytime), 320 days of sunshine and frost being virtually unheard of, you cannot better the climate in Europe.

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Our Spanish Dream Cranes of Hope Part 50

Cranes of Hope

We’ve all heard of the Costa Del Sol, The Costa Blanca and the Costa Verde but how many have heard of the Orihuela Costa?  Well it’s not a Costa in the way we Brits picture them, it’s just 16km of coast in the very south of the Costa Blanca, Alicante region.  Forty years ago it was farmland and coastal scrub land, now it’s a large town divided into several separate areas; Campoamor, Cabo Roig, La Zenia, Playa Flamenca, Los Altos, Villamartin, Las Ramblas and part (not all) of Punta Prima.  Although often wrongly classified as part of Torrevieja, the area actually comes under the control of the townhall in the city of Orihuela, some 30km away, hence the name.  Popular with ex-pats from across northern Europe it has diverse population.

City of Orihuela

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An all year round destination for holiday makers, thanks to the milder winters, blue flag beaches and the famous golf courses of Villamartin, Campoamor, Las Ramblas and the newest addition, Las Colinas.  A lack of hotels means most holiday makers rent private apartments and villas, maybe one of the reasons A Place in the Sun magazine named it in their recent Top Ten of places to buy a holiday rental property, although even they mistakenly stated places such as La Zenia and Cabo Roig as being part of Torrevieja!

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And now Orihuela Costa boasts the largest shopping mall on the Costas!  Opening last October with 150 shops and bars, sporting some of the best known names on the high streets of Europe, plus a bowling alley, casino, ‘town square’ complete with dancing fountains, free parking and sea views, La Zenia Boulevard is a shopper’s paradise.  And it’s always busy.  Spain may be deep in recession but people still go shopping!

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Forever reading in the British press about the unsold new properties littering the coastal resorts and how nothing is being built, this area is genuinely ‘bucking the trend’.  At any one time there are half a dozen cranes to be seen on the skyline building new low-rise apartments and houses, which are selling.  There is nowhere near the flurry of activity that could be seen a decade ago, but there is building work, a rare sight in Spain these days.

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Our Spanish Dream Bull Running Part 49

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 Bull Running

 

I hesitated about adding this one, it is a controversial subject, although not as inflammatory as bull fighting.  Whilst Pampolma is by far the most famous, and possibly also the largest and most dangerous to both man and beast of the bull running festivals, there are thousands of towns and villages across Spain that have their own annual events.  I attended one in Benitachell some years ago from sheer curiosity.

Part of the town is shut off to cars and strong cages set down both sides of the street.  The cages are for people, not the bulls!  Some are two storey with seating areas on the roof of the cage.  These seats are usually reserved by a local business or groups.  In some villages the ‘cages’ are built fresh each year from local tree felling instead.  We witnessed a case in an inland village a few years ago where tree trucks were set upright into the pavement each year instead of cages – that year one was placed outside the bank, the doors of which opened outwards so the tree trunk prevented the door from opening.  Instead of moving the trunk the bank manager opted to keep the bank shut for the whole week so the bull running fiesta could proceed unhindered!

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The foolhardy or brave, depending on your perspective, gather at one end of the town whilst the young bulls are in a large pen.  Once the men start running the bulls are ushered out of the pen to chase the men.  The idea is, of course, to get to the end of the course before a bull gets you!  Along the way people cheer the runners on from the safety of the cages.  The gaps between the bars of each cage are wide enough for a person to slip between for safety when a bull gets too close for comfort, but not for a bull.  Except one very enterprising youngster during the Benitachell run which somehow managed to get his head and horns through by turning his head sideways, then straightened his head and tried to pull his now stuck head back out – the bull shock the cage so hard the people on the top couldn’t get off quick enough as the cage below rapidly emptied!  Encountering an angry bull that close up is not an experience I wish to repeat in a hurry!

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Generally these small village events end with no injuries to either man or bull and are generally not opposed even by the anti-bullfighting lobby.  However 2015 was quite different as several fatalities were reported during the larger events (including Pamploma), bringing the matter very much into the news.  It may be a nightly event for a whole week in the town.  Whether ex-pats actively oppose these events as animal cruelty or accept it as a cultural activity is a very personal choice and one on which I do not wish to comment here.  Having experienced an event of this nature I personally would NOT choose to go again.

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