The GSGI´s former Costa Blanca editor lives in a small country town 30-45 minutes drive from both the cities of Alicante and Murcia and a four or five hour´s drive from her colleague on the Costa del Sol. She writes:
I have met so many people around and about on the Costa Blanca who mosey on down here from UK without consulting a map and either expect to be able to do look up old pals on the Costa Brava in a morning, or - without a car - expect to be able to do everything they need to do by public transport. A quick look at www.thinkspain.com/inmoware/mapawhere.asp and you will see that it is not quite so simple!
As a rule, I always tell people we are located about 5 hours travelling time from anywhere they have maybe heard of - ie Madrid, Barcelona or Granada.
- From Costa Blanca to Costa del Sol by car takes 4-5 hours dependiing on departure and destination points.
- Valencia to Alicante 2 hours;
- Alicante to Murcia one hour - more in congested summer holiday traffic.
- In city centres you then have the hunt for the address you are looking for (SatNAvs or GPS's earn their keep!) and a car park.
- Trains run between Alicante and Murcia and it is great if your local commuter trains feed slowly into both, as in my case, but my nearest station is 20 mins drive.
- You can connect at Murcia to go to Granada / Seville and at Alicante to go to Madrid and Barcelona. Details are available in English at horarios.renfe.es/hir/ingles.html.
- For recce visits to private international schools located out of town, though, your own transport is an absolute must. You can have fun for hours hunting for the (unsignposted) right lane.
Unless you are staying downtown costa town (a term that applies to ANY town anywhere on the Costa Blanca) with easy access on foot to facilities, then a car is essential. Spaniards used to country living either have farm vehicles, a pushbike or a horse and cart. Out in the country, we do have buses which are efficient but, for example, if you wish to travel to Elche from, say, Dolores, you only have the not-so-convenient option of 9am or 3pm for your departure, and 2pm or 8pm for your return.
Trains in Spain put the UK´s efforts to shame. Whenever I go to Madrid, I hop onto a pre-booked fast train at Alicante and hop out 3 and a half hours later in the capital, after a good lunch and movie. The branch lines are generally on time and very cheap, but I have to drive 15 minutes to the nearest station to pick up the hourly service to Alicante for a leisurely crawl that takes about 45 minutes.
There is, however, no station any longer at Torrevieja, which disappoints many a visitor looking for it. You could take a coach - and many have English speaking couriers on board. One such courier had me in hysterics with the tale of two large middle-aged English ladies on a trip to Ikea and their carry on - with the loading of their new kitchen units and carpet rolls into the coach´s baggage hold........
If you are property hunting and investigating schools. do bear in mind that each of the "Costas" has its own characteristics, and even within what is known as the "Costa Blanca", there are variations.
Valencia is two and a half hours from Costa Blanca and had a nice boost with the 2007 America´s Cup. North Costa Blanca above Alicante is rather more rugged and spectacular in terms of scenery, and the expat populations are more established. Denia (two hours drive for me) attracts wealth; it has a beautiful marina with yachts full of beautiful people. Javea´s old town is quaint, but the newer areas such as Playa Arenal remind me of Perth in Western Australia, with wide avenues lined with English bakeries, newsagents etc.
Old Calpe is picturesque, but the downtown area for tourists and retired baby boomers is a concrete mass of shopping and nightlife. Benidorm´s skyline is twinned with the Big Apple. Old Benidorm is a delightful old fishing village dwarfed by the apartment blocks, cheap hotels and gift shops with kiss-me-quick hats.
Going South: Alicante and Murcia are still proper European cities with business and culture to match. Torrevieja (20 minutes from Vega Baja) is a bit of everything. A nice old resort now sporting US style shopping malls and fast food joints on the drive on the outskirts and numerous residential urbanisations surrounding it, some favoured more by Brits, some mainly German, others predominantly Scandinavian. Some very fancy properties, some most definitely not so fancy.
The Vega Baja countryside is dead flat and a traditionally horticultural area. Ten years ago, you could have picked up a wreck of an old farmhouse for a snip and renovated it. Sadly, no longer and now those with fewer Euros to spend have been pushed inland and up into the hills around Murcia. Unscrupulous developers and builders have sucked thousands of people (mainly Brits but some Spanish too) into buying brand new "dream home villas" on former farmland. There has been much negative publicity in the UK media in recent years about the saga of these "illegal" builds in the Dolores-Catral area as the rules have been bent so badly out of shape. If moving here, it is prudent to take independent legal advice.
Santa Pola on the coast is best avoided in August as it is the resort of choice for Spaniards and it is just mobbed, but it is the real deal of a Spanish costa town. It has an "urbanisation" (new residential development with identikit houses, modern purpose built commercial centres but no real character yet and no school) under its control called Gran Alacant (towards Alicante) which is pretty soulless. A school is being built, but children currently have to go by bus or car (20 mins) to state schools in Santa Pola or the nearest private school, BSA Alicante.
Finally, it should be pointed out that there are two languages spoken on the Costa Blanca: Castillian Spanish and Valenciano (which, like Catalan, is a mixture of Spanish and French). Dolores (known as Dolors in Valenciano) is a Spanish speaking town but Elche (Elx in Valanciano) 15 minutes away is a Valenciano town. Not surprizingly, this does floor the unprepared expat. So now you have been warned!