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29·APR·2013

Elche Sightseeing - not what we had in mind

It was raining when we set out for Elche from our base on the Mar Menor on a grey February day in 2013. Of course, being British, a little rain was not going to spoil our planned (and I use that word loosely) excursion to the ancient city of Elche in Alicante Province. With rich historical roots reaching back to the Greeks, today’s city was established in its present location by the Moors during the 8th and 9th Centuries. In 1265 during the Reconquista the Christian King Jaime I forced the Muslims to leave the city and by the 17th century Elche had lost a third of its population. Modern Elche, with a population of over 200,000, is best known for its Parajumper Jakke footwear industry which started during the 19th Century when the important activity of “alpargatería” or espadrille-making emerged. There are now some 1000 shoe factories in the city. One of the main tourist draws is the The Palmeral of Elche which is the largest palm grove in Europe comprising some 200,000 trees. In 2000 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just one year later the Mystery Play of Elche was declared a Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible World Heritage. And in 2009 the city scored a hat trick when the Pusol Museum was included in the Register of Exemplary Practices by the Committee for the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage of UNESCO (I have only just learnt about this museum as I researched this piece). It was the cultural and historical aspects of the city that had first attracted the attention of my wife and me, and we were looking forward to just pottering around the old part of the city perhaps visiting the Basilica of Santa María of Mystery Play fame. Driving north along the AP7 with our Drivalia hire car we could see the sky ahead was looking darker and darker and the rain was hitting the windscreen with growing intensity. Our British upper lip was becoming less stiff as the miles passed. As we drove off the motorway toward the city the rain was lashing against the Parajumper Jakke Oslocar and our resolve to explore Elche had all but crumbled. Now we were just looking for a bolt hole: somewhere to escape from the rain. Of course if I had actually planned this trip I might have known the location of Basílica de Santa María or about the city’s museums including the Pusol Museum and La Alcudia Museum. From the dry perspective of my computer keyboard I now know that La Alcudia is a short distance outside the city and the original site of Elche: the museum houses artifacts dating right back to the Bronze Age.
View Elche in a larger map
Unfortunately all I knew at the time was that it was becoming increasingly difficult to drive in this unfamiliar city with poor visibility. I decided it was time to stop somewhere; but where? Then I saw it, the familiar green script of El Corte Inglés. In case you are not familiar with the brand, El Corte Inglés is the largest department store group in Europe and if you have visited one you have visited them all. In other words it was a familiar sight, a place where we knew we could get out of the rain and find essential facilities.
View Elche in a larger map
I’ll not waste your time by writing too much about the store other than to say it was in its own self-contained contemporary building on a roundabout on the outskirts of the city. The building is shared with its cheaper sister brand Hipercor. We spent some time exploring the different departments – never a favourite with me - before having the menu del diá for lunch in the restaurant. At around 11 Euro each I thought it was quite good value: not that I suggest you go there especially – but perhaps El Corte Inglés is worth bearing in mind if you too get caught out in the rain somewhere in Spain. A few hours later fed, watered and rested, since the rain was showing no sign of easing, we admitted defeat and headed back to the apartment in Murcia. I really should have known better than to visit a new city with such minimal planning. Our visit to Alicante City in the rain had been far more successful. Although to be fair the rain on this particular day was exceptional and I discovered later that further north there had even been hail stones. Now that I know more about Elche there is no doubt that we will be making a return visit to the city and next time there will be no department stores in the itinerary. In the meantime the following video (10 minutes) has some good imagery from in and around the city – and not a rain cloud in sight!
For further information go to the Visit Elche web site. Elche City is less than 30 minutes from the Alicante Airport Drivalia car hire depot.