Affordable Luxury in the Jewel of Spain’s Costa Blanca

17 Apr

Altea

Here is an excellent article about Altea written by my friend, Ted Williams (aka Paul Theodore Williams) for International Living magazine.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dear Fund Your Life Overseas Reader,

One of the challenges of moving overseas is selecting the right place for you. Cost of living, climate, convenience, and several other factors will play a big part in your decision.

But when you find the perfect place for you, it’s something you won’t be able to put a number on. You’ll just know it.

Texan native Paul, who tells his story below, is one of the folks who has found his perfect overseas home. Read on, and discover why he’s so taken with this little town on Spain’s Costa Blanca…

Shane Ormond

Shane Ormond
Managing Editor, Fund Your Life Overseas

P.S. If you like the romance and culture of Europe…then Spain is calling your name. It offers sophistication, charm, comfort…and at a price you’d expect to see in Latin America. In fact, it’s the best bargain in Europe today. Uncover the insider secrets to find your ideal Spanish destination in our comprehensive Spain Uncovered Bundle—available this week only at an almost 50% discount. Act before midnight tomorrow and you’ll receive a free report on Spain’s Secret Income Opportunity.

***

Affordable Luxury in the Jewel of Spain’s Costa Blanca
By Paul Theodore Williams

This morning, I awoke to the spotless Altea seaside, refreshed by an early spring shower. These March mornings are cool, and showers are frequent at this time of year, but the afternoons are sunny and warm enough to peel off the jacket.

I took my two dogs for our morning ritual, walking down to the craggy beach just a couple-of-minutes from my home. The crisp morning air is a refreshing and energizing start to the day. As the waves crashed rhythmically against the shore, I began to wake up and turn my thoughts to the day to come.

These mornings, walking the coast in Altea, the jewel of Spain’s Costa Blanca, may feel like part of a vacation commercial. But it’s my normal everyday life, compliments of working as a teacher in Spain.

I teach at a school about seven miles inland from Altea. Is that why I came here? Not really. Teaching, for me, is a means to an end—a way to live life on my own terms. I’m not making a fortune by American standards, but compared to the cost of living, I live comfortably, have a constant flow of disposable income, and get plenty of time off to do what I want.

Coming from Texas, I was used to a lower than average cost of living. However, Altea is even drastically more affordable than that. My first home here was an apartment on the seafront, which I rented for just for $485 per month, with my utilities totaling at about $100 monthly. Since then I’ve met my wife—she was the landlord of that apartment as it happens—and I’ve moved on from that apartment to something bigger.

Fuel is more expensive here but my car gets 45 mpg and we only use it for going to work and our weekend adventures, since the whole town is happily accessible by foot. One stroll through the jasmine-filled streets and you’ll never want to get back in a car again. Fruit and vegetables are at least half the cost of back home and finding organically grown produce is the norm, not the exception.

We both love to cook, but we also love to eat out. For an authentic, traditional Spanish meal, you’ll get a glass of wine, starter, first and second courses, and dessert or coffee for about $11 at lunch and $16 at dinner. A great bottle of wine, that I would expect to cost $20 to $25 back home, may set me back about $5. If I’m watching soccer with the boys I can get a pint of beer for $2.70.

One of the best Indian restaurants in the area, Crown of India, sits on high in the old town with a 270-degree panoramic view of the mountains and coast. They offer a wonderful dining experience for about $20 including wine or beer. But I must admit, my favorite restaurant is a Michelin-star restaurant, BonAmb, in Javea, about 30 minutes away. It’s more expensive than the other restaurants in the area but they bring the essence of the Costa Blanca from land and sea to table with a refined, sophisticated touch.

Here, I’m able to indulge my love of food. My wife and I enjoy frequent outings to enjoy the region’s world-class wineries and artisanal cheeses. My favorite winery close to home is Mendoza in neighboring Alfaz del Pi. The extended four-hour tasting includes a tour of the grounds, and a tasting of eight wines along with locally produced meats, cheeses, and olive oils.

I could live in other towns nearby and live on even less, but Altea is my heaven on earth. To my front, I have the Mediterranean Sea with its calming rhythm; to my sides and back, I have a backdrop of rugged mountains. Together, they form a microclimate that means less extreme highs and lows in summer and winter, while also giving the town a magical light that must be seen to be understood.

 

Terrorism and Travel

22 Mar

Gothic Sainte-Chapelle stained glass

A shooting involving a terrorist at Paris’ Orly Airport, while I was going through the security check there, was an anticlimactic end to my 60th birthday celebration in Venice and Paris with my middle son, Michael. Orly is France’s second largest airport. Just before I was scheduled to board my flight home to Alicante, Spain, I noticed the departure gate had changed to the downstairs departure area. As I tried to go to the new departure gate, the airport security officers told me there would be no more flights that day from Orly. Without explanation, they corralled us into the far half of the boarding area, not allowing anyone to leave. The televisions were switched off, and the departure screens frozen, which continued for several hours. We never received any notification from airport staff as to what was occurring, but I googled “Orly news” where I learned that a terrorist had tried to wrestle a gun from an airport police officer, and that he was shot. I did not learn the details until after returning home. Even though I had been told around 845 a.m. that there would be no further flights from Orly that day, around mid-day, without any speaker announcement, the boarding boards were turned back on, although without accurate, updated information on departure times. We finally boarded and departed around 330 p.m. As I write this on March 22, 2017, there has been a terrorist attack in London near the Parliament, and possibly inside.

 

There is no place in the world in which one is free from the possibility to violence, terrorism or even natural

Sacré Couer

disasters. In 1998, not long after the terrorist attack on the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, my oldest son and I went to Nairobi and then on safari the Tsavo Park area. Of course, at the time, we didn’t know that the attack was part of an organized terrorist organization. Not long after an American Airlines flight crashed in Queens, a borough in New York, in November 2001, only two months after New York’s September 2001 attacks, we flew to Europe. It was initially speculated the crash could have been a terrorist attack, but it was later determined to be caused by human error. During a tour of eight African countries, while in Bamako, Mali, the nation’s capital, we stayed at a hotel, where several years later, in spite of security, Islamist extremists took 170 people hostage, shooting 20.

 

Enjoying live classical and Brazilian music at Venice’s Caffè Florian, reported to be the oldest café in the world, dating back to 1720

That said, as a psychologist, particularly a forensic psychologist where we rely heavily on statistics, I make informed decisions based on statistics rather than irrational fears. By far, I have a significantly greater chance of being killed by violence, particularly in the U.S., or by disease, or accidents. I choose to live my life with joie de vivre, focusing on relationships, food, culture, adventure, and curiosity. And if I should meet my end in a travelling accident, for me, that is far better than being holed up in my home or a bunker, or living my life in fear. To that end, I will be providing future blog posts on my Venice and Paris trip, and am providing a sampling of those photos here.

SERENDIPITY AT SANTA CATERINA HOTEL

25 Feb
Santa Caterina Hotel Lobby

Santa Caterina Hotel Lobby (Courtesy: Hotel Santa Caterina)

Looking at the vista of sparkling blue water against the backdrop of the Amalfi Coast’s rugged terrain from the balcony of the luxurious Santa Caterina Hotel, we languished over the refreshing local limoncello lemon liqueur. One of the hotel staff approached us saying that the son of the owner of the hotel was getting married the next day and would be having their rehearsal dinner reception at the hotel that night and we were invited. The hospitable parents of the groom, Francesco, own two of Amalfi’s best hotels, including the renowned late 19th century liberty style villa, Santa Caterina. All of the wedding guests were staying at the Hotel; we must have serendipitously booked our hotel reservations before the wedding date was set because everyone else seemed to be part of the wedding party or wedding guests.

Having just arrived after spending a few days in gritty, crowded, tasty Naples, we relished the calm serene, comfort, and Italian elegance the Santa Caterina offered. We were excited about the opportunity to have an insider’s experience in an authentic Italian rehearsal dinner reception.

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Bar at Santa Caterina (Courtesy: Hotel Santa Caterina)

As expected, the many small appetizers were creative and sumptuous, some of the best food we have ever had. Drinks were plentiful, served by the friendly, impeccably professional staff. The bride, Sarah, an American, incorporated local lemons and limoncello into the reception décor. Appetizers were served in the lobby which had traditional, colorful Amalfi floor tiles. The buzz of many languages was a result of the multinational guests who hailed from ten countries.

After the formal dinner, and numerous toasts to the bride- and groom-to-be, we danced to a variety of types of live music and chatted with the convivial guests. We retired to our beautiful  room, thankful for being able to experience such a genuine Italian celebration.

Evening View of Santa Caterina Hotel

Evening View of Santa Caterina Hotel (Courtesy: Hotel Santa Caterina)

The next day the couple exchanged vows in the 9th century Roman Catholic Amalfi Cathedral, which of course, we did not attend. Instead we spent a lovely day wandering the ancient streets of Amalfi. While I generally abhor shopping, I was determined to buy some of the decorative, hand-crafted Amalfi ceramic pottery, specifically colorful plates and address tiles. Meanwhile, when the newly married bride and groom exited the church in the town’s main plaza, they were greeted with cheers from townspeople and tourists alike. That night after their wedding reception, we watched their colorful firework spectacle from our room.

16 of My Favorite Spanish Foods

13 Feb

I have decided to revisit some of my favorite meals and foods here in the Costa Blanca area of Spain:

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First course beachside at La Maja

grilled artichokes

grilled artichokes

Chopitos (fried baby squid)

Chopitos (fried baby squid)

Flan

Flan

Composed salad with goat cheese

Composed salad with goat cheese

Cocido con pelotas (traditional regional favorite)

Cocido con pelotas (traditional regional favorite)

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Sample of tapas served complimentarily with wine or beer

Paté plate

Paté plate

Seafood salad

Salad with cheese and ham

John Dory fish with salad and fries

John Dory fish with salad and fries

Sautéed fish with veggies in saffron sauce

Sautéed fish with veggies in saffron sauce

Seafood salad

Seafood salad

Jamon

Jamon

Grilled octopus

Grilled octopus

Pimientos de padron

Pimientos de padron

Paella with rabbit and calamari

Paella with rabbit and calamari

 

 

 

Visual Alicante

9 Jan
Ayuntamiento (town hall) with sliver of Santa Barbara castle

Ayuntamiento (town hall) with sliver of Santa Barbara castle

1893 ceramic business sign

1893 ceramic business sign

Ornate door with plays of shadow and light

Ornate door with plays of shadow and light

Statue on top floor of building

Statue on top floor of building

Charming house

Charming house

Old town buildings with original materials and signature blue pots

Old town buildings with original materials and signature blue decorations

Decorative historic door

Decorative historic door

Architecturally interesting building

Architecturally interesting building

Old door

Old door

Historic and Tasty Jijona: Costa Blanca Day Trip

18 Dec
Jijona (Xixona)

Jijona (Xixona)

Another great day trip in the Costa Blanca area of Spain is a day in Jijona, a short drive in the hills northwest of Alicante. Jijona, also known in Valenciano as Xixona, is famous for its Turrón, an almond-based nougat.

 

Turrón is particularly popular at Christmas time in Spain. Jijona has a yearly four-day Christmas festival, which obviously features turrón, along with other Christmas- and winter-oriented gifts, like hats, scarfs, toys and more.

Jijona Christmas festival

Jijona Christmas festival

 

Turrón is typically made from finely ground almonds, egg whites, honey and sugar. It comes in a variety of textures and forms. There is one with a soft paste-like consistency, which, to me, had a gritty, not pleasing texture. There are soft and hard turrón bars, with pieces of almonds. I saw chocolate-flavored turrón, turrón-flavored gins and liqueurs, and many other non-traditional additions. Samples are generously provided from the Christmas parade of wooden stands located in the central market. There are also other Christmas-related exhibits, and food/tapas booths with adjacent seating where people can rest their feet, and enjoy a snack and beverage.

 

Turrón samples readied for festival go-ers

Turrón samples readied for festival go-ers

The Moors brought almond farming and turrón to Spain during their occupation of the area. During the 16th century, King Felipe II praised turrón, which increased its popularity. Historically, there were a few main families who dominated the turrón market. These decaying family mansions feature beautiful architecture and are visible on one of the main streets in Jijona: Monerris Planelles family home, Rovira family home, and Aracil family home. Only turrón made in Jijona and Alicante can receive the official seal of authenticity, “Consejo Regulador de Jijona y Turrón de Alicante.” There are tours available at the turrón museum and factory. Several other areas have a similar type of nougat like turrón, including Catalonia (Spain), France and Sicily.

 

Snow well

Snow well

There are other interesting things to see in Jijona including historical churches and a convent, the remains of a castle (destroyed in the Spanish War of Succession), “and snow wells” (thick walled round buildings located in the cool Carrasqueta mountain range which came into use in the 18th century to store snow for making ice cream.) In August, there is a Moros y Cristianos festival, which are very popular in the province of Alicante. Parking is typically a fair distance from the touristic areas, but are well-marked and on an easy, gradual incline.

 

 

NOSTALGIC TRAIN RIDE…IN HELL

27 Nov
Thello train from Dijon to Venice

Overnight train from Dijon to Venice

As I am planning a trip to Venice and Paris soon with my middle son and am in the process of making transportation reservations, I am reminded of our disastrous overnight train ride from Lyon France to Venice.

I had always fantasized about a nostalgic overnight train trip. Thus, on my last trip to Europe before moving to Spain, I was determined to realize that overnight dream on the leg from Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France, to Venice, Italy. Admittedly, I had trouble figuring out exactly how to book the rail trip over the internet, so I eventually enlisted the more competent staff from the travel department of my credit card. Even so, it took them considerable effort to negotiate the details.

I was ecstatic when they were able to book a sleeper compartment for the two of us. The cost for the compartment was more than it would have been for both of us to fly from Lyon to Venice, but then that wouldn’t have been much of adventure. Little did we know what an adventure it would be.

We excitedly boarded the connecter train in Lyon which took us to Dijon where we were to transfer to our “sleeper” compartment. Alas, due to the late hour, none of the shops in the train station were open, so my plans to buy Dijon mustard from its town of origin was foiled. Perhaps that was an omen.

After boarding, we expectantly made our way with our suitcases through the jostling, narrow corridor toward our special place. When we opened the door we were shocked to see two people already sleeping in the compartment. They appeared just as surprised as we were, but since they didn’t speak English, we couldn’t be sure of what they said.
In spite of the language barrier, they kindly arose, helping us with our luggage into this micro area and then showing us how to convert the seating area on our side into two beds. The thin back of the seating area was raised to be horizontal above the bottom seat. The top “bed” appeared to hang perilously from the straps which allegedly supported it.

So much for my romantic notion of a luxurious, relaxing overnight rail trip. Now it was just about survival. I decided my best option was to head for the train’s bar to drink my way into a somnambulant state. After about an hour into imbibing in the train’s dining car, the train came to an abrupt stop. We sat motionless for an hour and a half. Meanwhile, the lights inside the train flickered and then went completely out.

After the train finally resumed moving and the lights came back on, we inquired around as to what had occurred. No official word, but other passengers related that here was some suspected illegal activity and that when the train stopped, those allegedly involved fled. At least those suspects weren’t my cellmates…I mean roommates.

Weary, we finally proceed to the room where we are greeted by the loud snores of our rather corpulent male roommate. I barely slept, but my son demonstrated one of the benefits of being a young adult male—being able to sleep anywhere.

As daylight broke, I stumbled to the communal bathroom to freshen up and change clothes. Obviously we slept in our regular clothes due to the unexpected roommate situation. Yet another surprise awaited me–a flooded, filthy bathroom. Guess I wouldn’t be changing my clothes or spending any unnecessary time in that area.

At least with the sunlight, we were able to enjoy the bucolic scenery of the Veneto, with its rows of grapevines, and villas dotting the countryside against the backdrop of the craggy Dolomite Mountains. As we approached Venice, I was thrilled to unexpectedly see one of the Palladian villas of UNESCO-fame. When I shared this information with parents travelling with young children, instead of thanking me, the mother corrected my pronunciation. Killjoy. For what it’s worth, much later, I learned my pronunciation was correct.