Villajoyosa is a rare find on the Costa Blanca; a pretty seaside town that hasn’t been overwhelmed by tourism. Known locally as La Vila Joiosa (or La Vila for short), it 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. Try these top ten 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 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 exploring the old town and its fascinating history, take a look at my post here
2. The beach
Villajoyosa has a magnificent sandy beach, over a kilometre long. It never gets too crowded, 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, though we’ve been for a dip as late as December 1. 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 pebble 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 nine other beaches, mostly pebbles, from the nudist cove Raco de Conil close to Cala Finestrat, to Playa del Xarco a few kilometres out of town to the south. For a five beach walk, take a look at my blog here.
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 (95,000 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 smaller factories in town; Chocolates Pérez (a short walk away on Partida Mediases) and Clavileño on Carrer Colón. Pérez also do free and friendly tours, and let you get a lot closer to the production process than the rather industrial-scale Valor. I wouldn’t bother with Clavileño, as they don’t do tours at all. Nice chocolate though.
4. Moros y Cristianos fiesta
Villajoyosa’s biggest party of the year is the Moros y Cristianos festival in late 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 in return.
The fiesta usually lasts a week, with processions of Moors and Christians through the town and general partying, though the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to the celebrations in 2020. The fiesta has sadly been cancelled for 2021 too. In a normal year, the high point is “el desembarco;” a flotilla of replica pirate ships attacking the beach in the early morning. The Christians (unsurprisingly) emerge victorious. For more, plus video of the spectacular processions through the town, see my post 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. For hints and tips on how to find your way around a Spanish menu, take a look at my posts on how to buy the best seafood and fish dishes here and 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. Sea kayaking is a big sport in La Vila: the town hosted the European Ocean Racing championships in 2018 – video here.
Try also scuba diving, snorkeling or free diving at Alisub. Experienced divers can dive on the wreck of the Roman cargo vessel Bou Ferrer which sank off La Vila in the first century AD. If you fancy staying on the surface, hire a jetski at Todajet
7. 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). Try the open-air bar out front; if you ask, they’ll cook what you’ve just bought in the market (but make sure you ask before you buy!)
8. 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 fascinating story of the Bou Ferrer, a Roman ship that sank off La Vila in the mid-1st century AD. The wreck is one of the most important in the entire Mediterranean and the ship’s cargo is undergoing preservation in La Vila museum. Check out the guided tours (some are in English); they’re excellent. 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.
9. Try some sport! Rugby, cycling, golf, tennis – or just take a hike!
Villajoyosa has one of the best rugby teams in Spain. Covid-19 meant that plenty of the matches in the 2020/1 season were played behind closed doors, or with limited capacity seating – by the start of the new season in September, hopefully things will be back to normal.
La Vila won promotion to the elite division of Spanish rugby in May 2021, a huge achievement for a small-town team so far from the heartland of rugby in the north of Spain.
The beer is cold, the stadium is great, the crowd is friendly and the weather for watching is a lot better than the UK! Check out the fixtures on the club website here. More rugby info on my post here.
Cycling: this part of the Costa Blanca has some great cycling routes along the coast and up into the mountains; see info from specialist cycling sites here and here. Spain’s top bike race, the Vuelta a España came down the main street of Villajoyosa in August 2017 and plenty of professional teams train around here.
Climbs to Coll de Rates and Puerto de Tudons are highly rated among serious cyclists: both are within easy reach of La Vila. There’s also good mountain biking terrain near La Vila: more info here. To hire a bike in town, try here .
Tennis: Villajoyosa has a good tennis club on the outskirts of town on Carretera del Port. Non-members can hire courts, ideal if you’re only here for a short time.
Golf: there are three courses within easy reach of La Vila. Melia Villaitana, 10km away, just inland from Benidorm, is a major golf resort with 36 holes. Puig Campana Golf is a 9 hole course about 6km from Villajoyosa, near Finestrat, in the shadow of the Puig Campana mountain. Las Rejas is a nine hole pitch and putt on the outskirts of Benidorm, about a 15 minute drive from La Vila.
Hiking: there are some great hiking routes around Villajoyosa, especially when the weather cools down a bit. Check out specialist hiking websites here and here. If you fancy something gentler, search for my ‘top walks around Villajoyosa’ elsewhere on this site.
10. Take the tram along the coast
Take a scenic ride along the Costa Blanca from La Vila – either down towards Alicante or up the coast towards Calpe. The line hugs the coast and features great sea views that you just don’t see from the road. Fares are cheap…€5 for the hour-long journey to Alicante, for example.
Highlights north of Villajoyosa include the tourist megalopolis of Benidorm, and, as a complete contrast, the pretty hilltop old town of Altea (the tram station is handily placed at the foot of the hill).
Try also Calpe for the imposing Peñon de Ifach, a massive Rock of Gibraltar lookalike that dominates the town. For Altea and Calpe you need to change trams in Benidorm. The line actually goes all the way to Denia, but engineering works mean that Teulada is the end of the line at the moment.
To the south, there’s the castle, beach and shopping of Alicante (for more, see my blog here) and the enormous six kilometre long sandy beach of Playa San Juan (change at El Campello and get off at Carribiners).
Take the tram from three stops in Villajoyosa – Costera Pastor, Creueta, or La Vila Joiosa. More info on routes and timetables here.
Bonus point! La Vila is a great place to eat, especially rice and fish dishes. I reckon you can eat well here every day for a fortnight, and never dine in the same place twice. For recommendations, check out my blogpost on the best places to eat in Villajoyosa here.
© Guy Pelham 2020