A black sheet hangs on the balcony of a blue-painted house by the sea. In the distance a ship with local sailors returning from America or perhaps the Philippines. One of them looks ahead and recognizes the blue house where the sheet hangs. The black color indicates that someone in the family died while at sea.
For centuries, La Vila Joiosa (La Vila, for the locals) has maintained a dialogue with the sea through objects, houses and myths that today enrich its history. It is 32 kilometers from Alicante, between ancient walls, amazing beaches and colors. Many colors in Vila are associated with the sea. In the sixteenth century, the city was considered a strategic point for the defense of the Alicante coast against attacks by Barbary pirates. It was fortified, and watchtowers were built. After the attacks ended, the country’s affairs grew beyond the walls to merge with the Mediterranean.
The houses of the first sailors lay on the beach, but they resembled each other so much that the fishermen decided to paint them in different colors so that when they returned from the sea they could recognize them from a distance. Thus, it was also possible to identify messages sent by family members with black or white sheets or fabrics, in case a new member of the family was born.
Years later, it faithfully reflects its past: just stroll through the historic center and get lost in the callejón del Pal, where the scents of Paella, pebrereta (the typical dish in the area) and hanging clothes. There are houses overlooking the Amadorio River and you can be captivated by the colors and observe the roofs behind which palm trees and air conditioners eroded by the salt sprout. Or you can stroll down to the harbor.
The small community has focused on the fish market to promote tourism linked to the sea. The “From Sea to Table” tour allows you to experience ancient customs such as deep-sea and coastal fishing. After a brief explanation, the tourists board the boats where the catch is taking place and participate in the auction at the market. The tour closes at the Club de tennis restaurant for a gourmet evening.
“Our suggestion stems from a typical question that wives asked their husbands when they came home: ‘What did the sea bring us?'” Says Beatriz Almarcha, project manager. “We use today’s catch, bought just before the market, to cook the dish together in a large kitchen and in a relaxed atmosphere.” Dinner is usually one fish meat, a typical seafood soup: one person peels the onion, another cleans the fish and in the meantime we all tease something. Finally, we eat what we have prepared.
It is a project created by the collaboration between Vila Joiosa municipality and the Fishermen’s Brotherhood to strengthen tourism, diversify activities in the coastal towns and keep alive the connection with the area’s past.
There are other ways, besides fishing, to learn about Vila’s past. The activity related to the sea did not end with fish, but was also related to the trade in chocolate that came from the routes that connected it to Marseille, Guinea or South and North America, from where cotton, tobacco or exotic products arrived cocoa beans that came in secret from the port of Alicante.
Vila Joiosa was one of the first cities in the Valencian community to export sweets since the eighteenth century, although the first cocoa factory was founded in 1840. By 1937, there were already ninety chocolate shops distributing delicacies throughout Spain. Three factories can be visited today. Chocolate Pérez is the smallest, but also the most authentic, because it is the only one with a craft production. The founder’s grandson takes care of the guided tours. Then there is the Chocolate Museum, where the visitor learns curiosities about cocoa and the history of its manufacturing process. And finally, Chocolates Clavileño, a factory that has been open for more than one hundred and thirty years, where there are many traditional tools, including a granite mill.
Before visiting these three paradises, you can start from zero kilometers of a gourmet tour starting from the central market and its stalls. cocas (a kind of focaccia) and salted foods. The best way to get close to the typical esmorzaretValencian version of brunch, is to go to Cantina Gallina, where in addition to tasting delicious sandwiches, it is possible to take the groceries to market to have it cooked on the plate. Instead at Taverna 314, Jaime Pinet prepares an excellent fish risotto.
At Vila Joiosa there are many things to discover, such as the church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, one of the few examples of a church fortress in the Alicante area, built in the sixteenth century in Catalan Gothic style. Also in the surrounding area you can visit the ancient watchtowers, Roman ruins and beautiful beaches.
The Xarco and Aguiló towers are the perfect excuse for a trekking route that could end with a swim in the sea. La Malladeta is another very interesting itinerary, which leads to the archeological site of an Iberian shrine with the best views of the coast.
In the surroundings there are bays where there is only space early in the morning, such as Racó del Conill, surrounded by pine trees, turquoise blue water and rocks used as seesaws. Or Esparrelló bay with its cliffs or Bol nou beach dedicated to diving.
On the other hand, those who do not want to leave the village can take a walk through the historic center, without having to worry about the black color of the sheets. ◆ fr