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Discovering Villajoyosa on the Costa Blanca

August 23, 2015
Winding street in the old quarter of Villajoyosa
Sandy beach at Villajoyosa

Sandy beach at Villajoyosa

The charming beach town of Villajoyosa offers the visitor a glimpse of provincial life in Alicante.

Sometimes on an ocean cruise, you’re lucky enough to visit an off-the-beaten-path place to which you yearn to return. It’s a real place—with real people and few tourists—and you are so smitten with the small taste you’ve had that you wish you could stay longer and dig deeper.

Such was the case when we visited Villajoyosa, a small beach town on the Mediterranean in the Spanish province of Alicante that boasts 300 days of sunshine each year. We imagined staying there for a week or for a summer, and even fantasized buying a flat.

Promenade beside the beach

Promenade beside the beach

The Happy Place

We arrived here as part of a shore excursion on our 10-day Regent Seven Seas Mediterranean cruise. At the port of Alicante (the port city in the region of the same name), we chose a complimentary tour that entailed a half-day visit to two small towns along the Costa Blanca (White Coast): Villajoyosa and Altea (a nearby “white city” that is a posh artist colony).

Our tour guide, Ivan Llorca, explained that although Altea was one of the most beautiful cities in Spain, to him, visiting Villajoyosa was almost like going home. He would be taking us to see the town where his grandmother lived.

It was here, too, that he had gotten his first job as a “Valor Boy” almost two decades ago, traveling around the country on a green antique truck, handing out free chocolates (as a marketing gimmick from Valor, the largest chocolatier in Spain, which is based in Villajoyosa). He joked that he couldn’t ever be sure whether the young women were swooning over him or the chocolate.

Ivan, our tour guide

Ivan, our tour guide

Translated into English, Villajoyosa literally means “The Happy Place” but locals simply call it La Villa. The town has two distinctly different but complementary parts, a modern city at the top with all the services one might need—and a charming, well-preserved walled old town below that ends at a golden sandy beach bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Bougainvillea hangs from the walls and potted plants line many of the alleys.

One of the well-preserved city walls

A portion of the well-preserved city wall

An alley with potted plants

An alley with potted plants

View of the upper town

View of the more modern upper town

On the summer day we visited, the old quarter was fairly desolate. In fact, many of the brightly colored buildings had se vende (for sale) signs attached to the windows. Ivan explained that some of the buildings were so old and in such disrepair that the townspeople couldn’t afford to fix them up. Those with means had moved to more modern apartments. Thus, many nearly gutted shells of the buildings remained in the old town, which owners were trying to sell.

One of many houses for sale

One of many houses for sale

Winding street in the old quarter of Villajoyosa

Winding street in the old quarter of Villajoyosa

Some of the colorful houses

Some of the colorful houses

Typical wrought iron balconies

Typical wrought iron balconies

The apartments that were still inhabited had their doors wide open because people living there felt that safe, Ivan told us. Although only a handful of Villajoyosa hotels are listed on Trip Advisor, as we walked down the narrow streets leading to the water, the beach and small cafes and seafood restaurants were filled with families, some of whom had rented nearby flats for the summer. Yet even at the height of the season, the town didn’t feel crowded.

In contrast, only three miles away from Villajoyosa, the popular resort city of Benidorm is filled with so many high-rise hotels (including the tallest hotel in Europe) and casinos that its skyline looks like a miniature Abu Dhabi. In summer, the tourist population in Benidorm swells to half a million visitors.

Fish and chocolates

Ivan explained that Villajoyosa had a long history as a fishing village dating back to the 1600s. Some parts of the original city walls still remain with houses built on top of them. When men would go out to sea, sometimes for months or years at a time, they would be eager to spot their homes from their returning ships, often with their mothers and wives waiting for them on the balcony. The bright colors on the facades made it easy for the fisherman to distinguish one house from another.

One of the ancient walls with houses built on top

One of the preserved ancient walls with houses built on top

One of the defensive towers

One of the defensive towers

In Villajoyosa, the fishing industry was integrally tied to the town’s prominence and economic success in the chocolate industry. Local fishermen used to sail to South America and Africa trading salt for cacao. Donkeys were used to carry the cocoa beans from the ships. At one point, when there were more than 100 chocolate production plants, the area was called “The Chocolate Road.” 

The Valor chocolate company still remains in the town, along with its Museum of Chocolate and factory store. (Unfortunately, it wasn’t open in August.) In early July, the town hosts a raucous 8-day Moors and Christians Festival paying homage to its rich history of victory over pirates and invasions with dancing, music and fireworks.

Valor chocolates (screenshot)

Valor chocolates (screenshot)

If you are traveling to Valencia, Villajoyosa makes for a great day trip, only 1½ hours away by car—with beautiful views of almond, fig and orange groves along the way—as well as the promise of a glimpse of provincial life in Alicante.

Map of Villajoyosa


IF YOU GO 


Previously on More Time To Travel

See: White Villages in Andalusia

Disclosure: We were hosted guests on Regent Seven Seas Mariner but all opinions expressed in this post are our own. Most shore excursions, like this one, were offered at no extra charge to passengers on the ship.

  • Reply
    Jo
    August 24, 2015 at 5:04 am

    I’ve only been briefly to Valencia and would love to go to the Happy Place, Villajoyosa ! It all looks so pretty and ancient.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 25, 2015 at 2:48 am

      We also rushed through Valencia on one trip and I would love to return to explore the entire area!

  • Reply
    noel
    August 24, 2015 at 8:59 am

    What an odd combination, fish and chocolates. I love all the colorful apartments, feels a little like Burano in Italy.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 25, 2015 at 2:51 am

      Yes, quite amazing how the combination of the two led to the town’s economic success!

  • Reply
    Susan Moore
    August 24, 2015 at 9:46 am

    Villajoyosa looks charming and worth a visit. I went to Costa Brava in May and would love to go back and follow the Mediterranean down to Costa Blanca. It does seem a happy place!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 25, 2015 at 2:55 am

      With so many charming cities along the coast, it seems like the perfect route for a road trip, doesn’t it?

  • Reply
    Carol Colborn
    August 24, 2015 at 10:02 am

    Wow how colorful homes and what fascinating alleys! We were in Costa del Sol in April so I can almost feel your excitement in this other beach town of Spain. Seafood PLUS chocolates…what a great combination to feast on.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 25, 2015 at 2:56 am

      The closed factory gives me a perfect excuse to return:-)

  • Reply
    Jackie Smith
    August 24, 2015 at 11:25 am

    Any place named Happy Place sounds good to me! I can see from your photos why this one won your hearts!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 25, 2015 at 2:59 am

      An interesting bit of its history is that pirates invaded the Happy Place because they though Villajoyosa meant that it was filled with jewels~

  • Reply
    Kay Dougherty
    August 24, 2015 at 11:39 am

    I love Spain but have never been to the Alicante region. Now I really want to go and to see Villajoyosa! What a shame that people can’t afford to maintain those beautiful old homes.Don’t amusing tour guides make places really come alive? We just had some exceptional ones in Portugal and I got such a kick out of them.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 25, 2015 at 3:00 am

      Yes, guides can bring history and culture alive! We were so lucky to have a guide who had such deep ties to the town.

  • Reply
    Donna Janke
    August 24, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    Villjoyosa looks like a delightful find. I love the colourful houses. And the name – Happy Place.

  • Reply
    Sheryl
    August 25, 2015 at 1:05 pm

    I love this place- and the sunshine and the name and everything about it! I’m ready to leave 🙂

  • Reply
    Doreen Pendgracs
    August 25, 2015 at 10:26 pm

    Looks like a great trip, Irene. I’ve never met a part of Spain that I didn’t like. I haven’t been to Villajoyosa, but I have eaten the Valor Chocolate. Would love to go there some day soon.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 26, 2015 at 1:31 am

      Well, I’ve still to eat the Valor chocolate so I have a reason to return, too!

  • Reply
    Paula McInerney
    August 26, 2015 at 3:51 am

    Definitely return to Valencia. We had some time there and loved it so much, we will return. Love the colours of Villajoyosa houses and hope that they can stay that way. Color is a wonderful thing.

  • Reply
    Sue Reddel
    August 27, 2015 at 11:58 am

    I would love going to a Happy Place and sounds Villajoyosa perfect. I’ve never visited Valencia but I just love all the brightly colored buildings. Chocolate? That’s just another great reason to visit.

  • Reply
    Lesley Peterson
    August 28, 2015 at 11:49 am

    Some pinworthy photos, Irene! With all those pretty colored buildings, Villajoyosa really looks like a happy place. Beautiful!

  • Reply
    Catherine Sweeney
    August 29, 2015 at 1:43 pm

    I’m fantasizing about getting a flat there just from reading your posts and seeing your lovely pics. 300 days of sunshine, few tourists, lots of charm — The Happy Place is a totally appropriate name.

  • Reply
    Sand In My Suitcase
    August 30, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    How pretty is Villajoyosa! And such colorful buildings! We can see how you would have fantasized about renting a flat there. Spending some extended time in Spain is on our travel wishlist too :-).

  • Reply
    Patti Morrow
    August 30, 2015 at 8:40 pm

    How fun! I’ve never been to Villajoyosa, but sure looks like my kind of place!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      September 6, 2015 at 3:59 pm

      I just read your hang gliding post and I’m beginning to think it might be too sedate:-)

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