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Authentic Benissa

This small town a car hire drive between Benidorm and Dénia is one of those gorgeous Costa Blanca destinations that manages to offer something to all-comers. For sun-seekers there are lovely beaches minutes away, if you're interested in the local culture then the town has a preserved historic centre, and if you want to be active then you have mountains practically on your doorstep.

On the coast

Benissa features four kilometres of coastline, a great deal of which is rocky and protected by low cliffs. The beaches in Benissa are not the huge sweeps of sand that draw big crowds; but quieter and more picturesque settings, intimate coves backed by little more than pine trees and a few isolated houses. None are more than a few minutes away by car rental from the town.

Take Cala Els Pinets, a 20-metre arc of sand and rock with calm sea and arresting views down to the huge rocky spur, Peñon d'Ifach. Cala Fustera, with its inviting curve of white sand, is a little larger, at just over 100 metres-long. It is a bit more popular and there are a few more facilities, such as a playground for children, showers, loos and a waterfront restaurant.  On the quieter side is Cala Baladrar, which sits beneath pine topped cliffs and has a mixture of sand and rock accompanied by a quaint little beach bar in summer.

In the town

The centre of Benissa is as close to an authentic Valencian town as you could hope to find. The streets still follow a medieval plan, with rows of tall, whitewashed houses separated by narrow, maze-like alleys. Several buildings in the town date as far back as the 1500s, such as the Market, noted for its three stone arches and used as an exhibition centre today. The Town Hall (Ayuntamiento) is a former municipal hospital building from the 18th century, while a branch of the University of Alicante is also set in Benissa and housed in beautiful 18th-century mansions and palaces.

Like many authentic small towns in the region, Benissa has its own culture and gastronomy. If you're here in the off-season then you may catch the festival of San Antonio, which lasts for three weekends in January, during which there's a medieval market. In April the town honours Purísima Xiqueta, its patron saint, with processions and free concerts, while on the weekend closest to June 29 is the classic Moors and Christians celebration.

Benissa finds itself on the edge of the mountains and by the sea, so there's an interesting cuisine that is both hearty and makes use of seafood. A great example is pulpo i misa, which is a rich octopus stew, tuna casserole or onions fried in blood. Local beverages include Muscat wine or Misela, a distinctive grape liqueur.

In the hills

The Sierra de Bernia is just a brief Drivalia Car Rental drive beyond the western edge of Benissa, and is a protected landscape of mountains that rise over 1000 metres, springs, a hermitage and even renaissance ruins. The park is criss-crossed by hiking and bike trails, and of course the views are sumptuous.

Fort Bernia was a fort erected on the south side of the range by Philip II in the 1500s, around the time that Benissa as we see it today took shape. The fort was constructed to fend off attacks from the sea by Berber pirates. Although the structure is in ruins today you can see plenty of details, including turrets, the inner and outer walls, as well as a couple of interesting old archways. Perhaps most impressive are the views from the ruins, which extend all the way down to the port of Alicante to the south, or out to Ibiza on a clear day.  

Seasoned walkers could continue to follow the trail along the Bernia ridge to get to Bernia's main summit. Here there's the strange sight of a perfectly navigable tunnel 20 metres in length hewn from the rock.

You can get to Benissa within an hour of the Drivalia car rental depot at Alicante Airport (ALC).