Sun, Sea & Salt in Santa Pola
Area: Costa Blanca South
City: Santa Pola
Feature: Salt Lakes / Beaches
Once a traditional fishing town, Santa Pola has evolved to become a popular spot for foreign investors, with a wealth of treasures to enjoy.
With unspolit stretches of seafront, natural parkland sheltering a wealth of flora and fauna, and a buzzing town centre, Santa Pola certainly has a lot to offer to anyone who is considering relocating to the region. Team all of that with its close proximity to the Provincial Capital, Alicante, meaning excellent road and rail links with an international airport on the doorstep, plus the attraction of a mild, Mediterranean climate all year round, for those who live there, Santa Pola delivers just the right blend of everything you could wish for from a Spanish home. For expats in particular, facts relating to the climate are often the deciding factor, so you may be pleased to learn that Santa Pola enjoys an even climate, with relatively mild winters and warm summers, made easier to bear due to the cooling sea breezes. Temperatures fluctuate between lows of 11degress and highs of about 28 degrees Celsius, with an average annual rainfall of 317mm. As a rough guide for anyone planning a trip to Santa Pola, the warmest months are usually July, August and September, with January being the coolest. If you are not a fan of wet weather, then October is the month to be avoided, with July being the driest time year.
Santa Pola has a year round population of 20 000 to 25 000 people, which includes a significant international community of mainly British, Irish, German, Scandinavian and Dutch residents. As in many coastal areas, the population rises from Easter time onwards until the end of the Summer, peaking at four times the figure recorded on the census. In this sense, you should expect what is normally a quaint, fishing town during the winter, to evolve into a thriving seaside resort during the holiday period. The influx of visitors is predominantly Spaniards hailing from cities such as Madrid, Barcelona and parts of the Basque Country. The trend gives rise to seasonal employment opportunities which may be of interest to house buyers, also recommending this as a great location to invest in a rental property should you wish.
As a foreign resident or visitor, you should be able to get by with a limited understanding of Spanish, as natives working in the tourist trade and local services, such as Hoteliers, Waiters, Shop Assistants, and other Customer Services Attendants will usually speak English and other languages. However, bear in mind that their vocabulary may only stretch to products and scenarios which affect their line of work, so if you wish to have a conversation about your urbanization committee meeting with the checkout assistant in your local supermarket, then you may receive a blank expression followed by the words “No entiendo!” You will find that the locals appreciate any degree of effort made to learn Castellano (or Valenciano if you are very brave), and will be more than happy to correct or encourage you along if you are willing to have a stab at it. Indeed, you will find that many of the natives prefer to communicate in Valenciano, which they may explain is through a growing pride in their local heritage, but in reality is also a protest to the invasion of outsiders of every nationality, and their way of showing them that they were here first.
Old And New Town
There are really two divides to Santa Pola: the main town, which is quite old and traditional; and the newer phase to the South, which features rows of apartment blocks and was mainly constructed to attract the foreign market. Understandably, it is the latter zone where you will find the highest volume of foreign residents, as well as businesses and services owned by and aimed at the foreign market. As many of the properties here were purchased as holiday homes and rental investments, you might find that it is a bit of a ghost town during the winter, which after a very busy summer often serves to be a breath of fresh air for residents.
That said, Winter is not necessarily a time for retreating indoors in front of the television, but in fact the ideal time to take advantage of the local bars and restaurants; and bask in the natural charm and beauty of the town. The old sector is focused around the port, with regular ferries leaving to Tabarca and the comings and goings of a significant fleet of fishing boats. There are various pleasant beaches along the seafront, although many have become overshadowed by high-rise apartment blocks, making the beaches further along the coast a more popular choice.
Aside from the port, Santa Pola is most famous for its nature reserve and salt lakes. Salt production commenced in Santa Pola over 130 years ago, when artificially constructed dams and dikes caused the high tide to flood and divide into a series of salt pans. At the peak of the last century the town was producing up to 100 000 tons of salt across an area of some 2 740 hectares of wetland. Output was significantly reduced 20 years ago when a large section of the area was declared a nature reserve and is now listed as a “RAMSAR” site, which denotes a wetland site designated of international importance under the RAMSAR Convention. Furthermore, the zone is ratified in the Wetland areas of Europe and North Africa of the International Sea Project, and has also been declared an important bird sanctuary. The Salt Lakes have three different vegetation areas which are categorized as salt marsh, reed beds and dune vegetation. The plants which thrive in the salt marsh accumulate salts in their tissue; the vegetation of reed beds is located around ponds and waterways of fresh water, whilst remaining vegetation is cultivated naturally in the dunes. These unique conditions also provide the perfect habitat for a wide spectrum of fauna that live there throughout the year, such as the prominent pink flamingoes which are found in flocks of over 3 000 birds. The magnificent pink tinted lakes decorated with a body of pink flamingoes is a real landmark to the town, which can be seen for miles across the Alicante skyline. Depending where the sun is in the sky and the rate of evaporation, the hue of the lakes may alter from a deep green to aquamarine, blue, pink, yellow or white.
Museums And Monuments
Anyone interested in visiting this wonderful nature reserve is advised to pay a visit to the Salt Museum (open from 09:00 to 15:00), situated in the old mill near the Information Centre, where you will receive further insight into how salt is extracted and its importance in preserving foods. A guided tour to the Salt Flats Nature Reserve will also reveal the hidden treasures of the spot, as well as tips on where to find certain species of birds. Those interested in the history of the area might also wish to learn the significance of the Torre de Tamarit, which is situated a short distance from the shore. Having been recently restored, the existing tower dates back to the 16th Century, and historians believe that another similar structure also stood there before it. Its purpose was as a kind of watchtower linked to Santa Pola Castle, in a bid to protect the fortress and its inhabitants from attack by the Berbers (the Ottoman pirates) from North Africa.
History And Heritage
The salt lakes are not the only chronological point of reference for Santa Pola, as it also has a prolific maritime history, and museum depicting its past as a thriving fishing port. Its famous port also dates from the fourth century BC and is still one of the most significant in the Mediterranean. It is from here that salt is exported to other parts of Europe, and it also houses a small shipbuilding industry. However, fishing remains the main activity, and if you are in the area during late evening you can expect to see the Fishermen bringing in their daily catch, before it is weighed and auctioned to the local shops and restaurants. The Maritime Museum takes visitors back in time to the Iberian age, and the reproduction of a cave dwelling from the era. They have the opportunity to view and learn about all of the hunting and fishing tools and techniques which were used at that time. The modern “Esteban Gonzalez” Boat Museum is situated close by, and dedicated to showcasing the life and times of Santa Pola fishermen through the ages. Then there is the new Aquarium, which was created using some of the many artifacts which the fishermen have gathered during their ocean travels. It is the oldest aquarium in the Valencia region, featuring nine large glass tanks showing Mediterranean flora and fauna. Species including the starry smooth hound, triggerfish, loggerhead turtle, and many others can be found here.
Another aspect to Santa Pola’s marine attractions are its beaches, which are all fairly large and each have their own unique features and charm. To the north, bathers are treated to the facilities at Vardero Beach and Levante Beach; whilst in the south you will find Gran Playa, which is the main beach of Santa Pola, Pinet Beach, La Gola beach, Playa Lisa Beach Tamarit Beach. Santa Pola has become a hotspot for water sports enthusiasts, who come here to enjoy windsurfing, kayaking, stand up paddle or paddle surfing, sailing and kite surfing. The Gran Playa and Playa Lisa are two favourite beaches for surfers and wind surfers due to the geographical location and strong crosswinds. Practicing water sports is relatively cheap in Spain compared to other areas, so might be a hobby worth considering as part of your new outdoor lifestyle!
Places Of Interest
Santa Pola is not just about sea and salt, as the castle is another major landmark, and was constructed under the order of King Philip II to guard the town against invasion by pirates and privateers. Its square layout is guarded by two bastions and two towers, which lead to a parade ground, an underground reservoir and a chapel. The fortress became the scene for some of the area’s most ferocious battles, one that you may be familiar with is that which led to the expulsion of the Moors and the visit of King Alfonso XII. Today, the castle remains a popular meeting point and tourist attraction. The Roman Villa “El Palmeral”, is another noteworthy building, which belonged to a wealthy businessman and his family who traded in the town. The luxury villa was built during the fourth century and retains many original features including the geometric mosaics and murals which were used to decorate the rooms. A gentle stroll through the town also reveals a number of lively squares or “plazas”, such as Glorieta, which is a pleasant spot where you might like to join the locals for tapas and a few glasses of vino; and a network of natural viewing points like the one in Plaza del Calvario giving panoramic views across the town.
Anyone with young children who is considering relocating to Santa Pola will be particularly interested in the quality and accessibility of education centres in the area. There are two public primary schools: Colegio Aonai located at 1, Calle Rambla; and Colegio Público Doña Vicenta Ruso, which can be found on Avenida de Noruega. The two nearest secondary schools are Instituto de Educación Secundaria Ies Santa Pola at 95, Carrer del Mar; and IES Cap de l´Aljub which is a little further along the same road at number 101. If you will need to look into local school provision as part of your relocation research, you are best advised to search online first and read through the comments left on local forms and other information websites. From there it is always best to book an appointment to have a look around and get a feel for the school and staff for yourself, as what you are looking for in a good school might be different from another parent’s ideals. You will usually find that the Administrator can speak basic English and will be able to give you any additional information which you require over the phone or via email. If you would prefer to enroll your children in a private International School, King’s College in Alicante is the closest option to Santa Pola. The school is roughly 15 minutes drive away from the town, and admits children aged through three to eighteen years. Pupils study the British curriculum and 90.6% achieved grades A to C during 2016.The application process is relatively straightforward and can even be done online before you move, should you wish to secure a place.
SPF spoke to two expats who have recently made the move to Santa Pola, who were happy to offer the benefit of their experience. Twenty-four year old Katie relocated for the summer last year to work in a friend’s bar, and firmly vows that for her there is no going back! “I love Santa Pola. It has everything I could wish for from history and culture to a great social life. The natives are very friendly and seem to welcome the influx of foreigners, whilst the town also has a close-knit expat community so you really have the best of both worlds. The same can be said for the local shops, bars and restaurants with a good mix of Spanish and international venues at your finger tips.” Retired Teacher, Peter, commented that “I have lived in Santa Pola for ten years now, although it took only a few months before I began to call it “home”. It is certainly not without its drawbacks, but the positives of beautiful sunshine, the inexpensive cost of living and wonderfully relaxed pace definitely outweigh them. I cannot really speak for families looking to move here, but for anyone enjoying their retirement years this is as close as you can get to perfection”.