Until a decade ago Javea, (or Xàbia as the Valencianos have it) was not the place to welcome the hoy-poloi. Once the home of those who retired with a few bob in the bank, the town has become much more cosmopolitan, emphasised by a recent census that showed fifty-two percent of the population as being non-Spanish. Nonetheless, it feels distinctly Spanish and these days appeals to a diverse visitor and resident population.

Three faces

In effect, there are three faces to Javea; the old town, still very Spanish with its narrow streets and historic buildings; the port area, which has the fishing and leisure ports and most of the day-to-day commercial enterprises; and the Arenal, the beach area almost entirely given over to tourism.

The earliest part of the old town, la Vila, was originally a fortress. One of the predominant architectural styles is the round Gothic arch with a keystone of tosca (local sandstone), examples of which can be seen on many public buildings, such as the Town Hall and Mercado de Abastos (municipal market). The recently restored Mercado is an excellent example of this sturdy architecture – and not a bad place to sample the local produce and fish direct from the Med.

The Port area was born as a fishing community and still thrives as such, although it has also become a popular sailing port. One of the most contentions buildings in Javea lies at the heart of the narrow streets of the fisherman’s quarter – the church of Our Lady of Loreto, built in the 1950’s. According to tourist promotional literature the ‘avant-gard structure’ ‘...rises, majestically...’ with its ‘...compact image and the architectural risk of the slender struts which support its boat-like roof.....whose zenital light perfectly evokes an atmosphere of reflection and spirituality’. To some less effusive mortals it’s just an eyesore!

Arenal Beach is where most of the tourism activity takes place. It has a prom that runs its whole length, with the sandy beach on one side and plenty of cafes, restaurants and bars on the other, and no shortage of beachy-type shops to keep the kids happy.