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Alicante - Costa Blanca - Spain

Alicante is a modern bustling town, the largest on the Costa Blanca, and second only to Valencia in the region. It was first settled by the Greeks, and later by the Romans who called is Lucentum, the City of Light. It was under Moorish occupation for 500 years, before being conquered by the Castilian monarch Alfonso X during the reconquista. The Castillo de Santa Barbara built on the bare rock of mount Benaacantil looks down on the city. The summit at 200 metres offers the perfect vantage point to admire Alicante. The castle lies on the site of a Carthaginian stronghold built by Hamilcar Barca now lies in ruins. The present structure dates from the sixteenth century. In its heyday the huge fortress complex contained motes, drawbridges, hospitals, batteries, barracks, dungeons, a bakery and a keep. It was occupied twice by British troops, in the War of Spanish Succession in 1706 and in the Peninsular War when fighting against Napoleon's armies. To the south of the castle lies the medieval quarter, a warren of narrow winding streets. Here one finds the Eusebio Sempere modern art museum, housed in a seventeenth century granary. Its collection includes works by Miro, Dali, Tapies and Picasso.

The Cathedral de San Nicolas de Bari is close by This seventeenth century building has a simple Renaissance facade with a Baroque gilded interior. The fifteenth century cloister is the remains of an earlier church. Turning toward the sea one stumbles on the eighteenth century town hall, a Baroque jewel. An ornate doorway in the middle of the Churrigueresque facade opens on to a vast hall, leading to the state rooms. Two square towers 35 meters high rise either side of the building. On the steps leading up to the town hall is marked the zero point, from which all heights above sea level in Spain are measured. A short distance to the north is the church of Santa Maria, the oldest in the city, which dates from the thirteenth century. It is a melange of styles taking in the Rococo doorway, which was remodeled in the eighteenth century, the Gothic fourteenth century nave and altar and the Baroque interior.

In the centre along the waterfront is the nineteenth century Esplanada de Espana, an palm tree lined esplanade stretching 600 meter and laid out in beautiful mosaic tiles. To the north of the city is San Joan, at 7 km the longest beach in Alicante, and the rocky coves of Albufereta. Close to the city is the blue flag beach of El Postiguet.
The nearby island of Tabarca, a short boat trip from the city is ideal for snorkeling or scuba diving. Tabarca has been declared a Natural Marine reserve and a permit is required. The pristine waters are teaming with marine life and the beaches a tranquil alternative to the mainland.

Alicante was the capital of the Republic during the Civil War. Close to Alicante lie the historic towns of Orihuela and Elx, while nature lovers can visit the wetland triangle of Santa Pola, La Mata and El Hondo. Alicante is renowned for the Hogueras de San Juan festival celebrated in June. It also celebrates a large religious festival held over Semana Santa (Holy Week), which sees a pilgrimage to the Santa Faz monastery.