Calpe is on the south coast of the Marina Alta region, one of the most beautiful places in the north of Alicante province.
Apart from being a beautiful town, Calpe, now officially known in Valencian as Calp, is steeped in history. Its fantastic location and exquisite climate have attracted many civilisations to come and settle near the mighty Rock of Ifach since time immemorial.
According to some historians, the Phoenicians took refuge on the Rock of Ifach as they made their way along the Mediterranean coast. The Romans also settled here, at the so-called Baños de la Reina (the queen’s baths) on the shore of the bay overlooked by the Rock; their main activity was producing and trading salted fish. Some time later, the Muslims arrived, making their living by fishing and working on the land.
In the 13th century king Jaime I discovered the virtues of Ifach as a strategic position for defending the coastline. However, up until the late 18th century, frequent attacks launched by pirates and corsairs made life hazardous for the people living here.
Traces of settlements from the Iberian era have been found on the slopes of the Rock of Ifach. The Romans later set up a prosperous colony on the plain devoted to producing and trading salted fish. Later, in the Medieval era, the inhabitants were dispersed into small farms, with Christians and Muslims living side by side peacefully but coming under constant attack from pirates from the 14th century right through the 17th century.
By the 18th century, and once it was free from the threat of pirates, Calpe was gradually starting to thrive. By the 19th century the foundations were laid for its future prosperity as it developed into a popular destination for both domestic and international tourism.
Rock of Ifach Nature Park
The most striking geographical feature in and around Calpe is the Rock of Ifach (known as Penyal d’Ifac in Valencian). The rock and the area around it was the very first official Nature Park in the Community of Valencia and is an enduring symbol of the Costa Blanca. The limestone Rock rises 332 metres above the sea is one kilometre in length. It covers an area of 50,000 m2. With 45 hectares of protected land, it is one of the smallest nature parks in Europe.
The Rock is joined to the mainland by a narrow isthmus and was formed by a landslide from the nearby Sierra de Oltà mountains. It is one of the most remarkable and beautiful geographical features on the entire Mediterranean coast.
On both sides of Ifach, sandy beaches and crystal clear waters stretch away into the distance. To the north, Levante and La Fossa beaches, to the south, Cantal Roig and Arenal-Bol which, together with Morro de Toix, form the bay of Calpe.
Beneath it are Calpe’s Royal Yacht Club and the fishing port, where the town’s fishing boats land the day’s catch.
Since the tunnel going through one of the walls on the north-east face was opened in the early 20th century, walkers can take the path to the summit, which is a third-category geodesic point.
Nearby are the Salinas de Calpe salt pans, once a old lagoon that covered an area of 18.76 hectares. When the Greeks occupied the land, the lagoon stretched from the Rock up to the nearest mountains. In subsequent years it was closed off and filled with sand blown on the wind. The lagoon was then turned into salt pans, but they were abandoned in the 20th century. Nowadays, the salt pans are part of the Community of Valencia Wetlands Catalogue.
All this is what makes this the most popular nature park in the Community of Valencia, attracting around 100,000 visitors every year. This was also one of the reasons why it was declared one of the region’s 7 Wonders.
What else to see in Calpe
Calpe’s municipal area invites visitors to explore magical places by following a variety of routes. Although the Rock of Ifach nature park is one of the most obvious places to visit, you can also walk on the seaside promenades, see the archaeological remains of the Roman town and the Baños de la Reina, admire buildings by the famous architect Ricardo Bofill, take in the spectacular views from La Manzanera and Morro de Toix headland, or do some hiking in the Oltà mountain range. Calpe is also a good base for day trips to other tourist attractions inland or further along the coast.
The Prince of Asturias ecological path runs round the base of the Rock of Ifach and was once part of the area dynamited in 1957 to build the fishing port.
The path is made from local stone and is nearly one kilometre long, with landscaped gardens, palm trees and a wide variety of plants. A series of viewpoints along the route are set into natural breakwaters.
As you walk along the path you can admire the mighty Rock of Ifach and its amazing sheer sides, providing a stunning backdrop for native plants and birdlife, and the deep blue of the Mediterranean sea. This is a wonderful example of a restored landscape that follows the conservation criteria for maintaining a balanced ecological system in the nature park.
The two-kilometre Infanta Cristina promenade enables visitors to walk along the Levante or Fossa beach. It has some fantastic views of the north wall of the Rock of Ifach, one of its most rugged faces. The wide range of bars, restaurants and leisure areas nearby make walking along the promenade an enjoyable experience for everyone.
The Infanta Elena promenade, running alongside the beach of Arenal-Bol, is two-and-a-half kilometres long and links the fishing port with Calpe town.
Lining the promenade are recreational facilities, leisure and relaxation areas, open-air bars and restaurants, all of which have amazing views of the Rock of Ifach and the headland of Morro de Toix.
You can also see the archaeological site of the Baños de la Reina fish farm in the bay of Calpe. The rectangular site is split into six compartments, formed by a wall running lengthways and two walls crossing the site from side to side. There are four channels for letting water into the compartments, two of which are separated by a triangular cutwater. Next to the channel opening you can still see the notches where railings or boards would have enclosed the area. The whole site was carved out of solid rock.
Although the name Baños de la Reina – the queen’s baths – alludes to a bathing area that was, according to legend, made especially for a Moorish queen, the site is, in fact, a fish farm with tanks that were directly filled with seawater. The compartments were used to store various species of live fish to feed people living in the neighbouring town, the remains of which have also been unearthed close by.
Dotted around the municipal area are various monuments and museums, such as the chapel of San Juan, the Casa Cocó Ethnological Museum and the Museu Fester, which displays items connected with local festivals.