When Lindsay invited us to stay in her apartment close to the sea in Spain Ian and I jumped at the opportunity. Enduring our first European winter in four years was more grueling than we had expected and the chance of some blue sky appealed.
We didn’t much like Spain though. We’d been to Barcelona and loved the Gaudí but found the tapas rather unexciting. Catching a pickpocket with his hand inside my bag at a bus stop rather put me off too. Then, the Costa Brava. We’d loved our villa, the pool, the sun, seafood and Dalí but not the lack of authentic eateries. Or at least we never found them.
Down on the Costa del Sol we’d loved the sol, Malaga, Rhonda and the Alhambra, but again still failed to have a memorable meal anywhere. In winter, the Costa del Sol had seemed closed up and unloved.
But, hey, we are never ones to say no to a freebie and a catch-up with a good friend and so we booked to fly to Alicante on the Costa Blanca last weekend.
It started badly. Without our luggage. But then the drive in our supercheap hire car (from Firefly folks) was so easy on a brilliant motorway right that took only an hour to the village of La Xara, literally two minutes from the slip road. Then Lindsay ordered us a delicious takeaway paella that came, not in a polystyrene box but in the real serving pan for us to wash and return the next day.
Lindsay should really be a tour guide. Although we had said we wanted to chill she had arranged a packed itinerary of things to do that were right up our street. From excellent griddled squid bocadillo, coffee and fresh orange juice at Denia’s Magallanes Street covered market for breakfast, to the most amazing four course meal overlooking the harbour at Republic. Come four o’clock on our first day and we had visited a castle, seen marvellous views and streets lined with orange trees, and eaten and eaten and eaten. If we had to go home then we would have felt we’d had our money’s worth, but no we had two more days ahead of more sun, more endless blue sky and orange trees. And more squid a la plancha and anchovies than we could have dreamed of. Losing our luggage became a boon with quality Spanish clothing on offer and the sales on too.
At Jesus Pobre Sunday farmer’s market we ate street food that came from Egypt, Syria and Morocco, saw organic rocket the size of romaine lettuces and bought a kilo of the local raisins and another of olives to take home. Music played and locals wandered the stalls, glass of wine in hand, perusing, grazing on local delicacies and generally chilling Spanish-style.
And so we changed our minds about Spain. Visiting with a local like Lindsay was what made it I expect. Without her we would never have discovered Jardin Albarda, a hidden gem of a mediterranean garden, with pools fountains, lemon and orange groves, perfectly pruned topiary, bismark palms, tasteful pergolas, rose-covered walkways and even a ‘reading corner’. Lindsay delights in introducing others, who like her, have been visiting the place for more than 30 years, but had never heard of this paradisical garden either.
There are mountains, striped terracotta, grey and cream and shaped like sleeping Indians or elephants. There are almond trees, their pale blossom soft against the blackened bark, and oranges, bright as Smarties, dotting the dark green leafy lollipop-shaped trees and littering the ground like burnished autumn leaves. We hardly saw a cloud in the sky. Bars and cafés were open and locals wandered the promenade at Xabia with their families, friends and children, seemed to enjoy their wine, their beer and even shots as early as breakfast and just keep on going. For January, temperatures were in the early twenties and so we turned our faces to the sun and relaxed at last.
Spain, you excelled yourself. You inspired us to never judge a place by our first, second or even third trip. You inspired us to book lunch, like Lindsay did, at three o’clock or even four and then linger, drinking wine til dusk.
You also inspired me to use the plancha that we bought with our cooker four years ago and have not touched before. And to buy more squid.
Spain, I apologise.