Southern Spain at the beginning of December offers mild weather, no crowds and out of season prices – perfect for a touring holiday.
My route commenced in Alicante, passed through the palm rich town of Elche, on to the cave dwellings of Guadix, before reaching the Moorish splendour of Granada. My return was via the Bay of Almeria and then along the coast back up to Alicante.
Highlights and some disappointments
The five highlights of my touring holiday were, in the order that I visited them:
1. The town of Elche where there are estimated to be a quarter of a million palm trees, with evidence that the plantations date back 3000 years to Phoenician times. The best place to see some of these palm trees, plus a mixture of other Mediterranean and sub-tropical species, ornamental pools and sculptures, is in the El Huerto del Cura gardens. These small, but tranquil and beautifully managed gardens, have an entrance fee of €3 for retired persons.
2. Guadix, which dates back to Roman times and has two fine churches, but the main reason to stop in this town is to visit the troglodyte quarter with 2,000 inhabited caves. I was surprised to find that many now have modern, stylish frontages!
3. Sweeping views of the Sierra Nevada (“snowy range”) as I drove along, with the snow-capped peaks beneath the intense blue sky. The highest point in mainland Spain is within this range.
4. The central part of Granada with its narrow streets, restaurants and bars and the old Moorish quarter, the Albaicin, sloping down to the river.
5. Of course the Alhambra had to be a highlight with its palaces, citadel, church and gardens. The Moorish Nasrid Palaces with intricately decorated walls and ceilings reflected in the still pools are reason enough to visit the Alhambra. The walk up from our hotel (see below) took about 15 minutes, with great views of Granada and the Sierra Nevada along the way. Although it is advised that you book in advance, on a sunny Monday in December, we found no queues and were admitted immediately. Entrance fee: €13 for an adult but only €9 for those over 65.
The disappointments were in the coastline. I was following a book entitled Back Roads Spain (published by DK, 2010; available discounted from the Book People), unfortunately the suggested route from the Bay of Almeria up to Carboneras degenerated into a dirt track road with a gate across it. The scenery was okay, but I was too busy watching for potholes to see much of it.
The other disappointing coastline was from Alicante to Benidorm. I was hoping that out of season and without the crowds the charms of this coast would shine out. Not really. The deserted beaches and upgraded promenades were pleasant enough in themselves, but couldn’t disguise the massive blocks of apartments and hotels. I’ve been told that the coastline north of Benidorm has much more to offer.
Transport and accommodation
For the flight to Alicante by easyJet we had seats allocated when checking in online, as mentioned in an earlier post, a big improvement on previous arrangements. The out of season mid-week return fare was about £80 – see my Fly on a Tuesday! – Travel tip.
The car hire via Auto Europe was only £45 for a week for a compact car with two drivers and no excess. However the hire company Goldcar, in line with most other companies in Spain, supplied the car with a full tank to be returned empty and charged about £15 too much for the fuel. Still, I couldn’t complain at £60 for the week, and at least on a touring holiday I could (and did) leave the tank empty. You can pay more to hire with Hertz (again via Auto Europe) in order to get a car with a full tank returned with a full tank.
I stayed outside Alicante at the Elche Holiday Inn – with Senior discount of course, see Hotel Deals. On the website it states that the hotel is on an industrial estate, which was a little worrying. However it turned out to be a modern low-rise commercial estate, in fact more of shopping outlet specialising in shoes and boots. Recommended if you are not concerned about having a beach view.
In Granada I stayed at the very central Best Western Dauro II hotel on a Senior Iberia rate. This rate is not bookable through their UK website – see Hotel Deals for how to make the booking.
It’s not easy to get to the hotel by car as it involves driving down a restricted access street, but the hotel then looks after your car for your stay leaving you free to explore by foot – a great relief!
Overall a very enjoyable touring holiday with the attractive countryside and interesting towns and cities making up for the disappointing coastline.