Oliva - The quieter face of tourism on the Costa Blanca
Oliva - Fantastically Scruffy
Now I should explain that in Spain many towns will have a tree covered avenue, a paseo, almost like an extra wide central reservation, with one way roads in opposite directions either side.
Generally this area is a promenade and populated during the day by gangs of old men and old women, huddled round the benches eagerly putting the world to right and no doubt gossiping about their neighbours
Then later in the day, the children take over the playground areas, the old folk disappear and the Mums take over the gossip.
In the early evening families come out for a stroll and perhaps take a glass of something and partake of the small dishes of tapas.
But once a week these paseos become the marketplace and I love a good market.
One of my favourite markets is in the town of Oliva, on the Mediterranean coast an hour south of Valencia. A fantastically scruffy place, you just know it is going to be ‘real Spain’.
On market day,normally a Friday morning and the town is a vibrant mass of Spanish mixed with the occasional foreigner. You can often tell the Spanish, they are the ones dressed like Nanook of the North if the thermometer is below twenty-five degrees.
The pavement cafés are invariably full and often the café owners will have placed further seating across the road on the central paseo area.
In the market itself, the south end of the market is reserved for fruit and vegetables. Real fruit and vegetables, misshapen, ripe but invariably fresh. The fruiterers will break open their oranges and the like to show you just how juicy they are. There are stalls selling churros a sweet batter confection that is dunked into hot chocolate, there are stalls selling dried meat and fish, stalls selling fresh eggs, stalls cluttered with spices and a little old man who sells bags of small snails.
Moving north along the Paseo, you come to the flower and pot plant stalls, their perfume making the air heady.
One thing you notice is there is no shouting, no ‘Two for a pound’ or the like, the noise comes from the Spanish love of a good chat.
Interspersed are haberdashers, cook shops and general hardware stalls.
The market then gives way to the clothes stalls of which there are two distinct types, the ‘normal ones’ with their clothes hung on a multitude of rails and the other type where the clothes are heaped onto trestle tables. Now there are bargains, sometimes you can pick up designer labelled goods selling for 2 or 3 euros. And the Spanish just love rummaging through these piles of clothes. It takes me back to the 1960s when I was a child and my Mum used to help organize Jumble Sales for a local charity.
Oliva also has an adjacent indoor market, with butchers, fishmongers and amazing delicatessens. There are also a couple of cafés, and you see groups of men eagerly devouring their ‘Almuerzo’ Breakfast. This is a late breakfast normally served between 10 and 11am and encompassing a large Iberico ham or similar bocadillo (a cross between a roll and a French stick), normally served with either a beer or bottles of red wine. These bocadillos are made with the freshest bread and really are a gourmet meal in themselves.
You can tell the non-Spanish, they will sit there with a white coffee.
At night time the Paseo becomes a vibrant mix of restaurants and bars. The good thing is it does not attract the problematic drunkards that are renowned in other parts of the Costa Blanca.
Now Oliva is not just the Paseo, the new town section, where the Paseo is, is relatively modern with nice looking apartments and shops.
But Oliva is a town of many parts. Move just outside Oliva past the luxury villas, towards the beach and you go through the ‘Campo’ area, a wetlands area interspersed with small waterways and roads. The area has high reeds and contains many small villas, unkempt small farmsteads and thousands of orange trees.
The beach here is always relatively tranquil, the odd sports station for dinghies, sailboards and kite surfing. The beach also has the occasional chiringuito (temporary beach bar), playing Latin sounds. There tends to be few people on this section of beach even in the height of summer. This is not an area of high rise hotels and packed beaches, it is quiet, a beautiful sandy beach, low rise buildings, campsites and good Spanish restaurants, where you can get a lunchtime three course menu del Dia including a drink for 8 or 9 euros
Go in the other direction, inland from the new town, away from the beach and once you cross over the eternally busy main through road, you then move into the old town. Lower in the old town are some fantastic grand buildings, the town hall and it’s like, however move further up into the old town, up the narrow streets with the thin white Valencian housing and you encounter a different world.
Pride of place is the square of San Roc, a grand square with restaurants around it with the San Roc church standing proudly over the square with it’s fantastic, huge metal door.
Perched on the hillside behind the church the of roads continue, some were designed only for donkeys, are generally steep and are totally impassable to cars.
Then further into this area you come across the area inhabited by Andalucian Gitanos. An ancient gypsy people who maintain their lifestyle and customs. Come into this area of a summer evening and you will see families sat in the street outside their houses enjoying the coolness of the evening invariably with someone nearby playing Flamenco guitar.
The houses in this area are relatively inexpensive and many have been bought and restored by a large number of non-Spanish.
Go further behind this area and you will move off of the Coastal plain, to where the mountains begin. Perched on the first slopes of these highlands there are a number of Urbanisations. Sprawling area of villas, most of which have a view towards the sea some 3 or 4 kilometres away.
The architecture of these houses is somewhat amazing perched as they are on the hillsides, you will find houses where you enter the house via a door adjacent to the road. You will then go down four flights of stairs where you will find a door on the other side of the house to the garden.
Given that these villa are mainly built for foreigners and for people to holiday in, these villas will tend to have extensive views, often of the sea and a pool. These areas are, however, tranquil and do not accommodate bars, shops etc.
A few other things about Oliva.
Oliva provides more sports facilities than any other comparable town I know of. Everything from conventional ball sports to every type of water sports (the sea fishing is particularly good), to cycling (a Spanish National obsession), to nearby hillwalking and rock climbing. There is also the Oliva Nova Complex, with its Championship Golf Course and its Equestrian complex, which hold International competitions that attracts world’s top horse riders.
Like many Spanish towns, the good people of Olive love a party and they hold some great fiestas, many going on through the night until it’s almost time to start the next day’s festivities. I must admit their stamina to party never ceases to astound me.
Oliva is readily accessible from either Valencia or Alicante airports, being about an hour along the AP7 motorway from either.
This area has apparently an incredibly large underground lake underneath it, so it remain green and lush even in the height of the Spanish summer.
Move further inland and you will see orange groves, olive groves, orchards of almonds and forested mountains dotted with small traditional villages. A walkers and photographer’s dream.