What is it? A last fix of sunshine before the British winter sets in. The Costa Blanca has been endorsed as one of Europe’s healthiest climates by the World Health Organisation no less, and stays warmish even in winter (temperatures in late October hovered around 22 degree Celsius).

Where? Villa Gadea is a luxury apartment development on the fringes of Altea; a low key Costa Blanca resort that has mercifully escaped the mix of high rise building and English breakfasts that afflict other resorts on the same coastline. Benidorm may be close by, but this is the Beverley Hills of the Costa Blanca!

Description: [outside.jpg]Jo Waters and family check-in for an October half-term break at a luxury apartment in the village of Altea on Spain’s sunny Costa Blanca

We wanted the beach and the pool in autumn without having to fly too far. Oh, and all our home comforts like British TV, dishwasher, decent bathrooms, a sound system and fluffy towels. Having tried to book packages before we’ve often come unstuck because we’re a family of five – too large for most family hotel rooms and apartments. But we struck lucky booking through www.holiday-rentals.co.uk.

Altea La Bahia’s owners Suzy and John told me the apartment was so nice we wouldn’t want to go out much – and they were right. We feared our girls might be bored; but they loved the apartment and the surrounding gardens. Holly, 10, Annie, 8, and Phoebe, 6, begged us to stay by the pool all day, which we we had to ourselves virtually all week as many of the apartments are privately owned and empty for many weeks a year. When they weren’t in the pool they were having a soak in the outdoor Jacuzzi on our terracotta-tiled terrace, leaving us with time to chill out alongside them, reading a book and enjoying the scent of jasmine. If you do want to venture out, take advantage of the shingle beach, with entry through a private gate at the bottom of the development, which has a number of bars and restaurants dotted along the waterfront.

Altea Old Town is a five-minute drive away. We spent most evenings in the restaurants with outdoor terraces overlooking the cobbled church square. Musicians play and there is a buzzy atmosphere. There are more restaurants and tapas bars down by the seafront but they are less atmospheric, although there are good playgrounds on the beach.

We didn’t use any, but there is a children’s club in the 5-star Villa Gadea Hotel next door, which some of the apartment guests have used before.

Check out the spa facilities at the Villa Gadea Hotel next door and the Melia Altea Hills Hotel 1.5 kms away. Villa Gadea also has a gym which you can use for €9 a day.

Local activities: If you feel like being active there are boat trips and water skiing facilities at nearby Calpe, plus mountain bike hire, golf courses, hiking trails etc. Benidorm has a number of theme parks aimed at families, the best of which is Terra Mittica, which has all the usual scary roller coasters and is based vaguely on the history of Europe. Entry prices are expensive though; €34 for adults for a one day pass and €25.50 for children, but probably cost slightly less than the equivalent in the UK (the local McDonalds was giving away 2 for 1 tickets on our visit).

Wish we had known: As the apartment owners left an excellent list of recommendations for places to eat and suggestions for excursions, plus maps and guide books, we felt forearmed with insider knowledge!

Our top tip: If you get a rainy day, La Marina Shopping Centre in Benidorm has a huge Mango, H and M and Zara for a bit of retail therapy (plus a McDonalds if your kids have a hankering for chicken nuggets).

Kids say: “The outdoor Jacuzzi was such fun and we loved having the pool to ourselves. I liked the tapas dishes too especially the croquettes,” said Holly. “I liked being able to watch British TV on the nice telly, it was better than our one at home,” says Annie. “I liked swimming in the sea best – the waves were awesome,” adds Phoebe.

Getting There: Fly to Alicante. We flew with Easyjet from Luton for L950 for five of us. Once there, we hired a Renault Scenic from www.recorderentacar.com for around L150 for seven days. The Altea La Bahia apartment at Villa Gadea sleeps 6 to 7 and is available to book through www.holiday-rentals.co.uk/15589. Prices start from L460 per week in low season to L1,190 in peak season.

About our stay: In the past we’ve been a tad nervous about booking a villa or apartment, fearing the kids would utter the dreaded “I’m bored” before we could apply our sun tan lotion – so the Villa Gadea development was a real experiment for us. The apartment was really luxurious with practical stone-coloured microsuede sofas, cool original art works on the walls, satellite flat screen TV with surround sound, DVD players and about 150 DVDs and a well-equipped kitchen with dishwasher. There were three bedrooms – one en-suite with a Jacuzzi, plus a family bathroom and even a laundry room with a washing machine and dryer. A highchair and cot are also available for hire at an extra cost. The owners have thought of every detail from the Molton Browne toiletries and thick fluffy towels to the Egyptian cotton sheets and tea lights for the outdoor Jacuzzi. At first I was terrified our brood would break something or cause some irreversible damage to the expensive-looking electric blinds, but they actually respected the property because it was so nice and so we had no breakages (bar a wine glass my husband accidentally smashed the first night!). The outdoor pool wasn’t heated but it didn’t deter the kids who went for a swim and a play in the inflatable dinghy every day. They warmed up in the Jacuzzi and ate lunch cooked on the outdoor barbecue. We got into a pattern of getting up late, having a lazy breakfast and relaxing by the pool which was great for recharging the batteries after a busy autumn. [pool.jpg] On the hottest day we headed for the nearby town of Calpe and sunbathed on the sandy beach – the girls even swam in the sea and swore it was warm! We had to pinch ourselves to remember it was really late October. Another day we drove into the foothills of the mountains to see a local beauty spot, the Fonts of Algar, which are a series of natural rock pools that you can dive into, swim in and clamber up to the source – that’s in the summer though! A vital footbridge had been washed away by some heavy rain in the week previous to our visit so we were unable to make the ascent, but the views were still very pretty. From there we drove onto Guadelest, an old Moorish town in the mountains – there are spectacular views from the old castle and a fascinating museum that catalogues the old rural way of life in the area – mainly wine making and olive growing and pressing. The surrounding farm land in the valleys is packed with olives and oranges and lemon trees which the kids were thrilled to see. We did venture to Benidorm one day but I’d struggle to recommend it for anything except its shopping centre, although it does have a long sandy beach and a number of theme parks. The unplanned concrete high rise is a mess though and a lesson on what-not-to-build for all developers. Altea is a quiet haven in comparison (although it does have a busy road and some parking congestion in the centre) and one we’d be more than happy to make a return visit. The Old Town with its cobbled streets, galleries and cafes is atmospheric and feels very Spanish and authentic. [view.jpg] Saying that, the Altea Bahia apartment was a luxurious sanctuary and we really didn’t want to leave. The experiment certainly worked for us! [Jo Waters is a freelance journalist who has three daughters and writes for a variety of publications].

Created: 2007-11-20 09:41:45.687

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