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Wednesday, March 5th, 2008

Altea, meeting point of artists and artisans

Altea, meeting point of artists and artisans

Set alongside white beaches and cliffs, against the backdrop of the Bernia mountains, this Mediterranean town invites to an intimate and revealing walk through art and history.

Sky, and earth and sea. So much did the Iberians, the Greeks and the Muslims know. A river called ”Health”. A tower on the top of the hill, the Vella Guarda. A population that leaves behind its primitive settlement and moves on in seach of shelter and protection.

Thus, we can not speak of one without mentioning the other: Altea la Vella, a settlement of ancient cultures and the later town of Altea. In Altea la Vella, the white Stations of the Cross, dotted with cypress trees, accompany the ascent by the Calvario, which protects the way to the cross. Behind a hidden slope, we discover uphill a gorgeous chapel. Not far away, by a fountain founded in 1884, el Garroferet, historical moments are eternally commemorated by the tranquil stunning views. The hamlet has not lost the vestiges from the past and feels so intimate; it even seems to foretell the future of the town which will become one day.

Altea, meeting point of artists and artisans

Originally derived from the Greek word Altahia, which means “I cure”, possibly also linked to the proximity of the referred river Algar, which, despite the fact that does not flow any longer, it could well be still curing, in memory of what it one day was, the spirit of the passer-by.

Protected by the ancient fortress and the bay, we find the new shelter, where the Christians founded the new Altea. The Plaza del Convento is the entry door to the old part of the town. We access a labyrinth of steep and narrow streets, stairs and turrets, all in an old-fashioned stone style. On the summit, the great plaza and its omnipresent basilica dedicated to the Virgen del Consuelo. Its dome, to top it all, is the most representative of the Levantine style, because of the dazzling coloured ceramic tile laid in a patchy mosaic pattern in blue and white.

From one side of the square, the most spectacular views to the bay and the inland can be expected. Having climbed so many slopes, and with splendid views right are our feet, one realizes that we have only taken one of the ways and that each street is different. Streets which are scattered with a number of handicraft workshops, art galleries and restaurants, with an aura of bohemian extravagance which still remains a mystery to the visitor.

Inquiring about such mishmash of art, artisan tradition and culture, any local will evoke the visit of numerous artist and, also great artists, who, in search of inner peace and, perhaps inspiration, have converted this settlement into the fascinating historical artistic collection which constitutes today.

Cultural life in Altea has always been shaped by the toing and froing of artists on the international scene: Rafael Alberti, Marc Abel, Vicente Blasco Ibáñez,… We find an assortment of expressions of the plastic arts: the superb Casa de Cultura, the Navarro-Ramón Painting Museum and Eberhard Schlotter Foundation amongst others.

Altea, meeting point of artists and artisans

Musically speaking “Palau Altea”, the Musical Conservatoire and Villa Gadea constitute a privileged referent. The latter, International Centre of Music of Unesco, is a splendid house-palace and former farm estate, which showcases the permanent exhibition of ”Musical Instruments of the World” by Carlos Blanco Fadol of international renown, amongst other various exhibitions. The town hall of Altea has also sponsored a series of master classes wherein accomplished professionals continue to nourish its musical prestige.

Institutional presence of University Miguel Hernández, currently proposes a bachelors degree in Fine Arts and in Dance and in the future will also offer studies in Art History, Film Science, Drama and Music History, and is yet another illustration of the flowering of art in days gone back.

Altea has something which captivates the imagination. This is a little town with charm that bursts a reminiscent of yesteryears. The traveller may not only observe, but is certain to taste the utmost depths of time and space, as if it were a canvas of sheer colour and texture in broad daylight. Indeed a good reason why it has been, and still is, a melting pot of artists, creators and intellectuals. They all have created a rich scenery which is indelibly etched on the memory.

We descend to the inlet which houses the promenade, where the Bernia mountains plunge precipitously into the sea, to form an spectacular array of beaches, islands and caves which stretch for more that 65 kilometres. From the marina to the northern cliffs, to the fishing quarter and pebbly white beaches, the traveller will delight in, and even marvel at the virtuous beauty of this unspoiled retreat of the Mediterranean. From here we see the word in a totally different light, with peak intensity.

In Altea, we can make a pit stop at topnotch coastal restaurants to taste delicious seaworthy food, especially the caldero or arroz a banda con alioli.

Special dates

In September, festival of Moors and Christians in honour of San Blas.
Particularly during the summer, the colourful traditional handicraft market.

Altea is located on a bay between Punta Albir and Morro del Toix overlooking the sea. It is barely 10 kilometres away from Benidorm, 15 from Calpe and 51 from Alicante. It is intersected by the N-332 and located directly on highway A-7 (Exit 64).

By: María Martínez Balaguer

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