Discovering Villajoyosa on the Costa Blanca

Watercolor of Villajoyosa, Spain

The charming beach town of Villajoyosa on the Costa Blanca, Spain’s Mediterranean coast, offers visitors a glimpse of provincial life in Alicante.

In 2024, European Best Destinations named Villajoyosa the #1 Hidden Gem in Europe, describing it as an alluring destination “hidden away from the crowds.”

On an ocean or river cruise, you’re sometimes lucky enough to visit an off-the-beaten-path place. They feel authentic—with few tourists—and you are so smitten with the introduction that you hope to return, stay longer, and dig deeper.

Such was the case when we discovered Villajoyosa, a small beach town in the province of Alicante on a shore excursion with Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

Along with Altea (a “white city” that is a post artists’ colony), Villajoyosa was one of two intriguing towns we visited when anchored at the port of Alicante (the port city in the region of the same name).

The sandy beach at Villajoyosa
The sandy beach at Villajoyosa (credit: Jerome Levine)

Imagine a place that boasts 300 days of sunshine each year. We were so charmed by the town that we dreamed about staying there for a week or for a summer, and even fantasized buying a flat.

Promenade beside the beach in Villajoyosa
Promenade with outdoor restaurants and beach bars beside the beach in Villajoyosa (credit: Jerome Levine)

The Happy Place

Translated into English, Villajoyosa literally means “The Happy Place” but locals simply call it La Vila.

Our tour guide, Ivan Llorca, explained that although Altea was one of the most beautiful cities in Spain, to him, and visiting Villajoyosa was almost like going home.

He would be taking us to see the town where his grandmother lived.

Ivan, our tour guide
Ivan, our tour guide (credit: Jerome Levine)

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.

Villajoyosa: Old and New

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.

The old town is small enough to make it extremely walkable.

View of the modern upper town
View of the modern upper town (credit: Jerome Levine)

Bougainvillea hangs from the walls and potted plants line many of the alleys.

A portion of the well-preserved city wall in Villajoyosa
A portion of the well-preserved city wall in Villajoyosa (credit: Jerome Levine)
One of many winding alleys with potted plants
One of many winding alleys with potted plants (credit: Jerome Levine)

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 in Villajoyosa
One of many houses for sale in Villajoyosa (credit: Jerome Levine)
Winding street in the old quarter of Villajoyosa
Winding street in the old quarter of Villajoyosa with their typical wrought iron balconies (credit: Jerome Levine)
Other colorful houses in Villajoyosa
Other colorful houses in Villajoyosa (credit: Jerome Levine)

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.

Madrid, one of the bustling restaurants lining the beach
Madrid, one of the bustling restaurants lining the beach (credit: Jerome Levine)

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.

Visitors still throng to the vibrant fish market at the port, located at Casa del Mar (House of the Sea), where fish are auctioned to buyers along a conveyor belt from Monday to Friday.

One of the preserved ancient walls with houses built on top
One of the preserved ancient walls with houses built on top (credit: Jerome Levine)
One of the defensive towers
One of the defensive towers (credit: Jerome Levine)

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 (created in 1998) and factory store. (Unfortunately, it wasn’t open in August.) In 2006, the chocolate company celebrated its 125th anniversary.

Chocolate bars are among the many Valor products
Chocolate bars are among the many Valor products

At the end of July, the town hosts a raucous Moors and Christians Festival paying homage to its rich history of victory over pirates and invasions with dancing, music and fireworks. It festival re-creates the Moors arriving by sea to fight the Christians with parades and fireworks.

If you are traveling to Valencia, Villajoyosa makes a delicious 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.

This is a substantial 2024 update of a previously published post.


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.


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26 Comments

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

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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 :-).

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