By Cat Gaa
As we rounded the N-332, a narrow highway that snakes along the southeastern coast of Spain, I got my first glimpse of the Peñón Ifach. As striking as the Rock of Gibraltar, the rock face has become the de facto symbol of the humble fishing village cum holiday destination.
Calpe is a town that lives by and for the ocean. Located on two tranquil bays, fishing and tourism are truly the economic motors here. In fact, eight of every ten jobs in Calpe depend on tourism.
Unlike nearby resorts, Calpe still retains its small fishing village vibe. Its residents, known locally as ‘calpinos,’ aren’t jaded by the Northern Europeans who descend during summer months. Calpe is all the best of a Mediterranean holiday – beaches, views and food – with an authentic feel.
What to See and Do
The symbol of the village, and, indeed, its most notable feature, is the Peñón Ifach itself. Now a national protected natural and wildlife park, hikers can find solace while bird watching on the enormous rock face that splits Calpe in two.
The historic village retains quite a bit of charm, and you can also visit the ruins of Baños de la Reina and Roman baths near the Peñón.
Water sports abound in Calpe. Along the calmer Playa de Fossa, paddle boarders and kayakers circle the bay, and the two small marinas are full of boats. Visitors can also rent catamarans, jet skis and paddleboats during the high season. And, of course, the beaches of La Fossa and Arenal-Bol are a big draw.
A must-see is the Lonja de Pescado, located at the fishing port that rests in the Peñón’s shadow. Every afternoon when all of the fishing boats have returned, the daily catch is auctioned off to local restaurateurs. Watch as they use remote controls to bid on everything from sole to octopus. The auction happens Monday – Friday around 6pm, but you can visit from 4pm until 7:30pm.
What to Eat
After you’ve seen chefs and locals haggle over shellfish, sampling the local fare around the waterfront is a treat. As expected, paella and fish are staples in the ‘calpino’ diet, and there’s no better place to try them than the humble restaurants near the port. Most have simple menus and open-air dining. Ethnic food, From Indian to Italian, can be found closer to the city center.
If you’re looking for a classier atmosphere, try and get a reservation at Restaurant Puerto Blanco. This family-owned restaurant is one of the tops in the area and a true gastronomic experience. Be forewarned that it’s pricey.
For a drink after dinner, locals flock to the Le Champ cocktail bar in Hotel Sol Y Mar or to the Iguana Disco and dance until daybreak with ocean views.
Where to Sleep
High-quality hotels abound in Calpe, as well as holiday rental homes and apartments. Calpe’s youth hostel is a great deal and located steps from both the beach and the local tourism office.
Gran Hotel Sol y Mar, sitting across the Arenal-Bol bay from the Peñón, is a gorgeous property with ocean views and comfortable rooms, plus a pool, spa and several places to grab a drink or dine.
Another option closer to the Fossa Beach is AR Diamante Beach, whose modernity and spaces for meetings and events is unbeatable. The enormous lobby, great terrace bar and proximity to the sea are nice perks (it’s also a great deal!).
But let’s face it: with so many things to see and do, the hotel is the last place you’d want to be in Calpe!
Disclaimer: I was a gracious guest of the Tourism Board of Calpe on their annual blogtrip, #Calpemocion, and had my lodging and activities paid for. But don’t worry, I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own.