Villajoyosa (aka La Vila Joiosa) is a rare find on the Costa Blanca; a pretty seaside town that hasn’t been overwhelmed by tourism. La Vila might be just a few kilometres from Benidorm, but it couldn’t be more different; a proper working town where normal Spanish families live, but also a great place to spend a relaxing holiday. Here are the top things to do and see.
1. The painted houses (casas pintadas).
The multicoloured fishermens’ houses on the seafront are the iconic image of La Vila. Tradition has it that they were originally painted brightly so the fishermen could see their home port from out at sea.
Drive or stroll along the seafront to the old town; leave the car at the large underground car park on Av. Jose Maria Esquerdo Zaragoza, or there's a free car park at the end of the beach next to the breakwater. Walk along Carrer Arsenal to the river bridge and look up the valley to see the casas pintadas perched high up on the town walls.
For more on the old town and its fascinating history, take a look at my blog here
2. The beach
Villajoyosa has a magnificent sandy beach, over a kilometre long. It never gets overcrowded, even in high season, unlike the sardines-in-a-tin craziness in Benidorm further up the coast. It has lifeguards, it’s blue-flagged, clean and gently shelving, so ideal for kids.
The sea stays warm enough for swimming until around the end of October. A guy with a tractor and a beach cleaning machine goes round early most mornings during the summer and leaves it looking pristine. In high season, the council lays on facilities for disabled people (a trackway across the sand, disabled toilets and a shaded platform) at the marina end of the beach. Park nearby at the marina or Club Nautíc (yacht club).
The beach has only been sandy for the last 20 years or so; until then it was shingle. There are still some shingle beaches nearby; walk past the port to Playa Varadero, which is more chilled and less crowded. Take beach shoes to avoid the ungainly tourist hop on the pebbles! Villajoyosa has ten other shingle beaches, from the nudist cove Raco de Conill close to Benidorm, to Playa del Xarco a few kilometres out of town to the south.
La Vila is Spain’s capital of chocolate; sometimes you can even smell the stuff in the air! There are no fewer than three factories in the town, which has to be some kind of record. Valor is easily the biggest; go for a free tour and sample the product (thousands of visitors do it every year).
Pick up a free ticket at the visitors’ entrance on Pianista Gonzalo Soriano (50 people per visit; first come first served). Check the tour times here. Valor also has a chocolatería on the main street if you can’t make the trip to the factory itself. There are two other, smaller, factories in town; Chocolates Pérez (a short walk away on Partida Mediases) and Clavileño on Carrer Colón. Pérez also do free tours, and let you get a lot closer to the production process than the rather industrial-scale Valor.
4. Moros y Cristianos fiesta
Villajoyosa’s biggest party of the year is the Moros y Cristianos festival in July; it’s famous across Spain. La Vila’s fiesta is unique, featuring a full-on re-enactment of an attack by Berber pirates from North Africa in 1538.
The pirates got more than they bargained for on that occasion; the locals threw them back into the sea. Legend says the victory came thanks to the intervention of Santa Marta, who unleashed a flash flood and destroyed the pirate fleet; the grateful townsfolk made her their patron saint.
The fiesta lasts a week, with processions of Moors and Christians through the town and general partying. The high point on July 28 is “el desembarco;” a flotilla of replica pirate ships attacking the beach in the early morning. After a day-long battle, the Christians emerge victorious. More info here
5. The fish auction
Every weekday, you’ll see La Vila's trawlers returning from the fishing grounds around 4pm. Head round to the fish quay to see the boats unloading their catches, and then go round the back into the auction hall itself to see the fish being sold off.
The auction is a surprisingly hi-tech operation. Sit alongside the professional buyers and watch them bid for the fish. A fascinating watch. Then head next door for a cold beer, or to one of Villajoyosa’s many fish restaurants to sample the product in person. Have a look at my blogs on fish, paella and local restaurants here.
6. Get out on (or under) the water
Water sports are a big deal in Villajoyosa. Head for the marina at the end of the beach; the yacht club (Club Nautic) offers courses in sailing, windsurfing and sea kayaking during the summer. Info (in Spanish) here.
Try also scuba diving, snorkeling or free diving along the quay at Alisub, or jet ski hire at Alonis jetski (they organise tours out to the Isla de Benidorm).
7. Watch a rugby match
Villajoyosa has one of the top rugby teams in Spain. Seriously. Take in a Sunday match at the Campo del Pantano just outside town on the road to Orxeta. CR La Vila won promotion to the elite División de Honor last season, so the rugby is good. The beer is cold, the crowd is friendly and the weather a lot better than the UK! Check out the fixtures here.
8. The markets
Let's face it, shopping on holiday can be a bit of a chore. But a visit to a Spanish mercado is a lot more fun than slogging round your local supermarket. Villajoyosa has two markets well worth a visit; the weekly mercadillo and the daily Mercado Central.
The Thursday mercadillo on Avenida de Bernat Sarriá, close to the Creueta tram stop, is seriously big; around 100 stalls offering everything from t-shirts to tomatoes. The clothes and leather goods are cheaper than you'll find anywhere else, and there's always scope for haggling. Make sure you bring a bag and stock up on the fruit and vegetables; the range on offer (and the prices) are irresistible.
The Mercado Central isn't quite so lively, but you'll find fresh fish, meat, fruit and vegetables on offer Monday-Saturday in a cool, modern building on Carrer Canalejas. You'll also find dried fish (salazones), cheeses and embutidos (delicatessen). Stop off for a glass of Valencian cava at Ca Barto, or try the open-air bar out front; if you ask, they'll cook what you've just bought in the market.
9. La Vila Museum
Who wants to go to a museum when the sun is shining and the beach is calling? Well, Villajoyosa museum is really worth a look. There are some excellent exhibits here in the brand new building constructed behind the façade of the old school on Carrer Colón, as good as you’ll find in much bigger museums. Beautiful gold jewellery from Phoenician times, Egyptian flasks, Roman mosaics, all unearthed in excavations in the town and evidence of the rich history of La Vila over thousands of years.
There’s also the cargo of the Bou Ferrer, a Roman ship that sank off La Vila in the mid-1st century AD. Check out the guided tours (some are in English); they’re well worth it. More info in my blog here
La Vila museum also runs Barbera dels Aragonés, a handsome 16th century mansion set in a pleasant park a few minutes walk away on Carrer Barranquet. It was once the home of the Aragonés family who arrived in La Vila with the Christian reconquest in the 1300s. Take one of the tours to see the restored building and experience how the family lived. More here.
© Guy Pelham 2017
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