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. It’s 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 & old town
The multicoloured fishermens’ houses (casas pintadas) on the seafront are the iconic image of La Vila. Tradition has it that they were painted brightly so the fishermen could see their homes 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, There’s also parking on the other side of the river bridge in Poble Nou – free from September to June.
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 a guide to exploring the old town and its fascinating history, take a look at my post here
For the best views of the old town, climb the recently-restored church tower. It’s only open on Wednesdays though, 1100-1300.
When you go inside the church, look to your left and you’ll see a low door – head through that and up the stairs. A €2 donation is expected.
There are also some great views of the river valley from the site of the old castle on Carrer Vallet
2. The beach – one kilometre of sand!
Villajoyosa has a magnificent sandy beach – Playa Centro – 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 during the summer, 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, there are good facilities for disabled people at the marina end of the beach. There’s a wooden trackway across the sand, disabled toilets and changing rooms, plus shaded platforms on the sand and in the water. There are a few disabled parking spaces nearby, or paid parking at the Club Nautíc (yacht club) next door.
The beach has only been sandy for 30 years. Before that it was pebbles – until 1991, when some unsung genius realised tourists really love sandy beaches. So thousands of tons of the stuff were pumped on to Playa Centro, with the result we see today.
12 more beaches!
La Vila has plenty more beaches to explore – check out my guide to them all here. Or take a look at the video below.
Most of La Vila’s beaches are pebbles, coarse sand, or a mixture of both (apart from the main Playa Centro, of course!) There are two nudist coves – Raco de Conil close to Cala Finestrat, and Playa L’Esparrelló, close to the Hotel Montiboli.
Playa del Xarco, a few kilometres out of town to the south, is a playa canina there where you can officially take your dog (most beaches don’t allow them, for obvious reasons).
3. Check out the chocolate!
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; head for the factory on Avinguda Pianista Gonzalo Soriano for a free tour and sample the product (95,000 visitors do it every year).
Book a ticket online here. Check the tour times (in English and Spanish) on Valor’s website here. You can also just turn up on the day and take a ticket from the machine at the visitors’ gate, but bear in mind that there’s a limit of 50 people per visit. It’s first come, first served – and online reservations will take priority. 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. Pérez has just opened a chocolatería on the seafront in the old town if you fancy sampling the product.
Clavileño don’t do tours, so not worth a visit – nice chocolate though. Marcos Tonda was a famous Villajoyosa chocolate brand back in the day – they have a showroom on the outskirts of town where you can try and buy. But they don’t make their chocolate here in La Vila any more, so I guess they don’t really count as local!
Try heading next door to Marcos Tonda to try turrón at Carremi. Turrón is a sweet almond-and-honey speciality of the Costa Blanca, which every Spanish household buys for Christmas. Nothing to stop you eating it at any other time of the year though!
For more on La Vila’s long chocolate-making tradition, take a look at my post here.
4. Moros y Cristianos fiesta
Villajoyosa’s biggest party of the year is the Moros y Cristianos festival in the last week of 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 lasts a week, with processions of Moors and Christians through the town and general partying. Check out the video below for some cool shots of the processions. Details of the 2023 fiesta here.
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 ‘desembarco’ see my post here
And La Vila has another fiesta in honour of Santa Marta every May – la Fiesta de las Lagrimas de Santa Marta. Not on the same scale as Moros y Cristianos, but still really colourful! Held on the closest Saturday to May 8. For pictures and the story behind the fiesta, take a look at my post here.
There are plenty of celebrations in La Vila over Easter too, with processions every night during Semana Santa (Easter Week). Good Friday (Viernes Santo) is the big one. More in my post here. Programme of events for 2023 (in English) here.
5. The fish auction
Every weekday, you’ll see La Vila’s trawlers returning from the fishing grounds from around 4pm onwards. 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.
La Vila’s fish quay is now doing guided tours (pesca turismo). There are two options – on the shorter tour, you get to watch the boats come in and unload their catches, there’s a visit to the auction and a tasting afterwards in the bar next door (€20pp, 2 hours).
For the more adventurous (or less seasick!) there’s a trip out to the fishing grounds too – duration 3 hours, cost €55pp. I’ve not done either of these tours yet, but there’s a promo video here that gives you an idea of what’s on offer. There are tours in English too. To book, call 00 34 613 02 34 49.
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 where you’ll find most of the action.
They also offer parasailing trips – you’re strapped into a parachute harness and towed across the bay by a speedboat. You can also hire a self-drive boat for 4 or 8 hour trips. No licence is required, unless you opt for one of their more powerful boats.
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 hosts the Eurochallenge international sea kayak competition every May. Check out the video below to see the mass start from La Vila beach..
7. Buy great produce in La Vila’s 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 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 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 check with them first before you buy – there are some things they won’t cook!)
8. Soak up some history at 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 17th 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 take a hike!
Villajoyosa’s rugby team played this last season in the elite division of Spanish rugby, a huge achievement for a small-town team so far from the heartland of rugby in the north of Spain.
OK, so they got relegated! But the stadium is great, the crowd is friendly, the beer is cold and the weather for watching is a lot better than the UK! More rugby info in my post here.
This part of the Costa Blanca has some great cycling routes along the coast and up into the mountains; check out this specialist cycling site 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, Puerto de Bernia 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.
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.
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 & walking:
There are some great hiking routes around Villajoyosa, especially when the weather cools down a bit. Check out a specialist hiking website here. If you fancy something gentler, try my ‘top walks around Villajoyosa’ elsewhere on this site.
10. Take the tram for some great coast views
Take a scenic ride along the Costa Blanca from La Vila – either down towards Alicante or up the coast to Dénia. You can even do the whole route Alicante – Dénia in one go. Take a look at my post here.
The line hugs the coast and features great sea views that you just don’t see from the road. Sit on the right going north, on the left going south. Fares are cheap. €2.50 for the hour-long journey to Alicante, for example.
Up the coast
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/Calp for the imposing Peñon de Ifach, a massive Rock of Gibraltar lookalike that dominates the town. See my blog here for how to climb it.
For Altea and Calpe, you need to change trams in Benidorm. And new for 2023 – after years of endless engineering works, the tram now goes all the way to Denia .
To the south, there’s the castle, the beach and the 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 Carrabiners).
Take the tram from three stops in Villajoyosa – Costera Pastor, Creueta, or La Vila Joiosa. More info on routes and timetables here.
Take a look at the best bits between La Vila and Alicante in the video below:
Or take a look at highlights of the route from Altea northwards to the end of the line at Dénia here.
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 post on the best places in Villajoyosa here.
Want to know more about food & drink in Spain?
Check out these posts:
- More than just paella – my guide to the best rice dishes
- Ordering the best fish and seafood here in Spain
- My guide to a meat menu in Spain
- Spanish ham – the world’s best
- The king of Spanish cheeses – queso Manchego
- Wine in Alicante – my bodega guide
© Guy Pelham
Or take a look at highlights of the Altea to Dénia section here