Feb 132013

Playa de Gandia 2013

Mention the town of Playa de Gandia to most people – and certainly to anyone outside Spain – and the likelihood is that they will not have heard of it at all. Mention it to the Spanish, however, and you will get a totally different reaction – Playa de Gandia is one of the favourite domestic holiday destinations for the Spanish themselves, but a well-kept secret from the outside world! And it is not only in summer that Playa de Gandia is a great place to come with its obvious attractions of one of the best beaches in the whole of the country, a wonderful climate and a great location for excursions to Valencia city and the rest of the Costa Blanca. It is a great year-round destination as well, with so much to see and do in the immediate area and a wealth of opportunities for outdoor activity holidays, sightseeing and sports. Gandia is a town of 80,000 inhabitants, situated 65km south of Valencia, and is the capital of the La Safor region – and area of approximately 150,000 people. Lying just off the main coastal A7 motorway and with a direct rail link to Valencia – and even connected direct to the high-speed rail link to Madrid in the summer – Playa de Gandia is easy to get to and within good travelling time to airports at both Alicante and Valencia.
Gandia in fact consists of two distinct and separate entities – the main inland town and the beach area (Playa de Gandia) – and the two lie about 3kms apart. Gandia is a fully self-sufficient town in its own right with its own year-round economy and resident population, whereas Playa de Gandia is much more the typical coastal resort, but without the huge influx of foreign visitors from northern Europe. The playa has plenty of visitors from the rest of Spain, although foreign visitor numbers are on the increase. Much of the property down at the playa consists of holiday homes and apartments which are owned by people living in the centre of the country – and particularly Madrid – so the place really comes to life during the summer season and holiday weekends.
The main town has much to offer the visitor, with an historic centre whose most famous attraction is the Borgia Palace. This is the building that was the summer palace of the famous (or maybe infamous!) Borgia family who came from the inland town of Xativa and gave the world the only two popes of Spanish origin. The same family later produced the much more benevolent Francis (or Francisco) Borgia who heralded in Gandia’s golden age of learning and was proclaimed a saint in 1670. A visit to the Borgia Palace is well worth while and gives a good insight into the history of the town, as does a stroll around the nearby Town Hall square with its beautiful church. Adjacent to the historic centre is the Passeo, the tree-lined avenue that runs the length of the central part of the town and which ends at the River Serpis, with a pedestrian bridge leading to an open public area that accommodates the large Saturday morning market. On the other side of the Passeo from the historic area lies the Plaza de Prado, a large open square lined with restaurants, bars and cafés.
In all parts of the town there is a great variety of shops from small, family-run businesses to large multi-national names, with the main focus of town centre shopping being in the pedestrianised Carrer Major located in the historic area, as well as several shopping centres on the edge of town providing everything the resident or visitor could possibly need. As well as shops, Gandia has an abundance of restaurants and bars and is proud of its gastronomic heritage – especially of its own version of Paella, known as Fideua, which uses a small pasta instead of rice. As part of its promotion of gastronomy, Gandia has also introduced the “Ruta de Tapas” – a circuit of bars and restaurants in two different areas of the town (one on Thursdays and the other on Fridays) whereby each establishment offers a drink and a tapa for €2, enabling locals and visitors alike to sample traditional Gandia gastronomy at a truly economical price.
For those that want their nightlife a little more lively, then Playa de Gandia is the obvious option. There is a huge choice of bars, restaurants and dance clubs, many of them centred around Plaza Castells, where crowds congregate in the warm summer evenings to meet up before going on to one of the many famous clubs close by. But Playa de Gandia has so much more to offer than the nightlife – the most obvious attraction being the 7kms of stunningly beautiful and well-kept beaches which are regularly awarded the much coveted blue flag award for their consistently high standard. From the north end, where there is an area of totally unspoilt beach with sand dunes at the back, through to the main part of the beach stretching past cafés, restaurants and bars with a famous promenade, there is surely something to please everyone. Children are well catered for of course, with play areas and amusements especially for them, and the gently shelving beach means that the swimming is safe for youngsters too. A system of coloured flags is in place to tell bathers whether it is safe to swim at any given time, and of course lifeguards are also on duty along the main part of the beach. At the south end, you will find the sheltered marina, where the yacht club attracts boats of all shapes and sizes and then further along still is the working port – home to a very active local fishing industry.
If the visitor should tire of what Playa de Gandia has to offer – or indeed if a different type of holiday is what is on the agenda – then the local area has so much to offer the more active and adventurous holidaymaker. The area might have some of the most beautiful beaches in the whole country, but only a few kilometres inland is to be found some spectacular scenery in the La Safor mountain range, and of course all the activities that are associated with it. Walking and hiking are hugely popular reasons for visiting the area at times other than the main summer season (when it would be too hot), and there is a large number of well-marked and publicised routes to follow for all levels of fitness and experience. Mountain biking is also a wonderful way to get to know the region, and again a whole host of tracks and trails await the enthusiast who will be rewarded with seeing the countryside from a completely different perspective and discovering little mountain villages where time really does seem to have stood still. The other major outdoor recreation in the area is rock climbing – Gandia makes a great centre for the rock climbing enthusiast, with not only many crags in the immediate area for both the novice and experienced climber alike, but also a great number of crags within easy reach all along the Costa Blanca.
There are so many other places to visit and things to do within easy reach of Playa de Gandia that it really is quite amazing that the town has remained comparatively undiscovered by the foreign tourist for so long. All the resorts of the northern Costa Blanca are within a relatively short drive – Benidorm with all its theme parks and attractions a mere 40 minutes for example – and of course to the north lies the wonderful city of Valencia itself, with all its attractions in the historic centre and the stunning, world famous architecture of the City of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias). Gandia is well connected to the city by a half-hourly train service or for those that wish to take the car it is an easy drive up the coastal motorway. Other excursions that can be done in the car include the “Ruta dels Monestirs” (also marked as a hiking route for the more dedicated!) which is an itinerary linking up 5 ancient monasteries and convents over a route totalling 90kms and is generally acknowledged to be of great historic and religious significance.
It almost goes without saying when talking about any Spanish town that fiestas will play a large part in the life of its people, and Gandia is certainly no exception here either. The most famous fiesta is that of “Fallas” in March, when huge effigies (often several stories high) are built, only to be burned down on the night of the 19th as a celebration of St Joseph’s day and in anticipation of the coming of the new season now that winter is past. In common with all towns, Easter is also a great time for celebration and street processions, but the other main fiesta for Gandia takes place at the end of September when the town takes time to remember St Francis Borgia (mentioned earlier), and takes on a mediaeval atmosphere with markets, open air food stalls, street theatre and a whole range of cultural events and productions.
Whatever the visitor wants in order to make his stay a memorable one, it is hard to think that Gandia would not be able to provide almost whatever was demanded – either in the immediate area of the town and its beach resort, or only slightly further afield but still within easy reach by car, bike or on foot. It is little wonder that the Spanish have made Playa de Gandia one of their favourite places to come in the whole country, so surely it cannot be too long before the rest of the world also discovers this secret of the Costa Blanca. Maybe 2013 is the time for you to come and see for yourself what the Spanish have known about for so long!

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