Many visitors to the Alicante province of the Costa Blanca will see little more than the beaches, bars and restaurants in the resort in which they are staying. The Costa Blanca tourism industry flourishes in an idyllic climate, and towns such as Benidorm are incredibly popular with holidaymakers from all over Europe seeking sun, sea, sand and a reasonably priced summer holiday. Along the coastline of the Costa Blanca this is exactly what you will get.
Just 15km inland and a few km from Alicante Airport is the historic town of Elche (Elx in Spanish). Nowadays Elche is a busy industrial town, with a range of products including rubber, footwear, olives, dates and other agricultural produce, as well as tourism.
Elche was formerly occupied by the Romans, the town is most famous for its palm plantations (Palmeral of Elche), which is the largest palm plantation in Europe. The area covers around 3.5 km/square of palms with over 11,000 palm trees, with many new ones germinating every year. In the centre Elche is the Municipal Park (Parque Municipal) which contains a museum and amazing sub-tropical gardens. These gardens are carefully managed, and are very popular with visitors. The hot, dry climate of the Costa Blanca region allows growth of a huge range of sub-tropical plants including some very large cactuses which are on display in the gardens. For more information on opening times of the Municipal Park see the Elche Tourism website.
From the Municipal Park it is possible to walk to the less managed areas of the plantation, which have not changed much over the last two thousand years. The plantations date back to Roman times, and possibly even prior to this, as the area was developed as early as the 5th century BC by Carthaginians. Some of the individual palm trees are up to 300 years old. Most of the palms are date palms (Phoenix dactylifera)), which were harvested for the fruit (the date), which was a staple part of the Roman diet. The date fruit was also used to make wine. Walking through the palm forest of Elche, it is easy to forget that you are in Europe, it is easy to imagine that you have been transported to a sub-tropical rain forest.
There is a regular bus service from Alicante to Elche, so if you are taking a holiday in the Costa Blanca, and would like to visit a place of outstanding beauty within easy reach of the main resorts, Elche is definitely worth a visit. In summer the temperatures can be warmer inland than on the coast, so take plenty of water, or stop off in one of the many cafes and restaurants that Elche has to offer.