Duration: 45 mins each way. Easy walk along the paved sea front, uneven stone paths towards the end.
Start by the breakwater with the red lighthouse and head towards the old town. La Vila’s magnificent sandy beach curves ahead of you to the breakwater at the southern end. But it wasn’t always this way.
Until a little over 20 years ago, the beach was shingle. But then someone with an eye on the tourist trade realised that stones and pebbles weren’t great for holidaymakers. Many tons of imported sand later, La Vila had one of the nicest beaches on the Costa Blanca. The town of Campello, a few kilometres down the coast, clearly thought it was a smart idea and did the same thing a few years later.
La Vila had actually been attracting tourists years before that; about half way along the beach stood the “Baños de Neptuno” (Neptune’s Baths), a kind of seaside spa on a short, stumpy pier with bathing facilities and (of course) a restaurant. It opened in 1915 and lasted until 1970. There’s no sign of it now; just a plaque on the seafront walk.
A little further on stood a lighthouse; again, nothing remains of this either, as it was destroyed in a storm in 1949. But it is evidence of La Vila’s history as a port. For hundreds of years, ships used to moor out in the bay and their cargoes were ferried to the beach in small boats, until the modern port was built in the 1920s.
Just before you reach the old town, you’ll notice a series of escalators on your right heading up the steep hill through a park to the main street, a handy way of riding up to the town centre after a day on the beach. If you need any further incentive, there’s a Valor chocolatería right at the top. But there seems to be some kind of rule that at least one of the escalators should be broken at any one time, which sort of defeats the point.
A few metres further on are the imposing gates of the abandoned Villa Isabel, also known as Senyoreta de l’Hort. Once an elegant villa set in its own grounds, it became a disco run by the (then) deeply cool Pacha chain in the 80s; you can still see the rusting Pacha cherry symbol on the wall. But since the disco shut, the building has been gradually crumbling away while the town works out – very, very slowly — what to do with it.
Keep walking past the “casas pintadas”, the strikingly colourful houses that are the symbol of La Vila (see my blog here for more detail on the old town). According to tradition, they were painted brightly so the town’s fishermen could see their home port from out at sea.
Cross the little bridge over the river Amadorio; the royal shipyards of La Vila were here next to the river mouth for hundreds of years, until they moved to the other end of the beach in the early 20th century. Look to your right up the river valley to see the hanging houses perched on the old city walls. Stroll up the landscaped park by the river for a closer view.
Continue along the coast past the new developments now taking shape on the seafront in Poble Nou (literally “new village” in valenciano dialect). Poble Nou isn’t exactly new though: it’s been settled for hundreds if not thousands of years. When the construction work is finished, there’ll be a mix of housing, hotel and a seafront park.
A few hundred metres further on you reach the rather scruffy Playa de los Puntos de Moro; the coast path comes to an end here, so head inland up the paved road for around 100m, and then strike out to your left up the rough path that takes you to the cliff top for a beautiful view.
Follow the curve of the little bay round to the ruined Villa Giacomina. Built in 1910 by Dr Alfonso Esquerdo (the Esquerdo family were big benefactors to the town) and named after his Argentinian wife Giacomina, it’s a real jumble of influences. There are pointed Muslim arches and faintly-visible stars of David alongside Christian and masonic symbols. The villa was occupied by the Italian Army at the end of the Spanish Civil War, and never really recovered from the experience; it is now a rather sad, graffiti-daubed, fenced-off ruin.
Walk towards the tower on the Malladeta clifftop. This is not one of the 16th century watchtowers that punctuate the coastline hereabouts. Instead it was built in the 19th century as a private study by Dr Alfonso’s uncle. With a view like this, it’s a wonder he got much studying done.
Look along the coast southwards towards Alicante. Below you stretches the long shingle beach of Playa del Paradiso. In the distance, you can see the genuine 16th century watchtowers of El Xarco and beyond that, the Torre de Aigües, both built to give warning of pirate attack.
Here on the clifftop, next to the path, you can also see the excavations of the religious shrine that existed here before the Romans came. Ancient Iberian people gathered here at the spring and autumn equinoxes to watch the sun rise behind the Isla de Benidorm that you can see in the distance to your left, out in the bay.
That’s the end of the walk: stroll back to La Vila the way you came, or go the quicker (but less scenic) route along the main road through the town centre.
© Guy Pelham 2017