Exploring Dénia is a delight; sat in the south east corner of Spain, it teeters on the edge of the Costa Blanca magnet. And yet Dénia could not be further from the Costa image that has been generated by decades of tourism to this sunny, southern fringe of Europe. Authentic, vibrant and offering a wide variety of things to see and do, Dénia draws us back year after year.
We are not great ‘returners’ to places because there is so much of the world to see, why would you want to have a return visit to somewhere? And yet, we all have our favourite ‘go to’ places where we feel instantly comfortable and pretty much ‘at home’. Dénia is that place for us. After six visits over the last four years, we strangely find ourselves magnetised to this corner of Spain and especially during the winter months, provides just a little sanctuary for our travel weary tyres.
And each visit opens up something new to us drawing us further in to exploring Dénia’s irresistible charm. So much so that we feel we have now compiled a super list of things to entertain and delight you as you make your way to Spain’s southern beach belles. Why not swap the tourism of the coast for a little bit of authentic Spain wrapped up into a dynamic ball of culture, gastronomy and entertainment.
Here is our Guide to exploring Dénia, where we show you how this fabulous destination could offer you a winter get away or a summer vacation with relaxation and activity blended together like a perfect cocktail.
1. A peak into Dénia’s history
As we begin exploring Dénia, we must first look at its history – a story that begins way back when it was the capital of the Muslim Kingdom. If you are a historical purist then you would have to acknowledge evidence of Dénia’s prehistoric existence going further back than the history books can reveal. May be back then there was little interest in the town’s southerly location and oceanic position, although certainly as we crawl along the historical timeline we can see why Dénia was so widely admired by outsiders.
The Greeks, Muslims, Christians and French have all placed their mark on Dénia in some form or another; whether it’s been to trade the raisins that were a strategic export from the town for over 100 years or using the 11th Century castle to protect their kingdom, Dénia’s place in history is firmly set.
In 18th century the Spanish regained control of this important region and it has been firmly in charge ever since. Now a modern grip has been placed on the town offering respite to tourists albeit not in the same way as its Costa cousins around the corner. Dénia manages to maintain its authentic roots, charm and unobtrusive personality – that is until festival time. More on that in a moment.
With its busy fishing port and ferry hub for the Balearic Islands, Dénia refuses to remain passive in Spain’s economy. With its discrete hotels and restaurants positioned along the pedestrian promenade that stretches from sandy beaches, marinas to craggy coves, Dénia demands attention from those intent on passing by on the nearby AP7. Will you be one of them? Are you ready to begin exploring Dénia sometime soon?
2. Our 4 favourite things to do in Dénia
Walk around the harbour, marina and promenade
The enormous marina oozes opulence as you weave your way through the Nautical Club and observe the gin palaces on display alongside the town’s promenade. For a moment you can gaze at their lavish lifestyle and dream. In stark contrast next door the fisherman moor up their rigs ready to off-load their daily catch in preparation for the fish market. Between 4.30-5.30pm every night, it’s worth heading into town to watch their antics and get a real cultural feel for Dénia’s working personality. Serenaded by parakeets that fly between the palm trees that line the coastal road you can also admire the mastering of the Balearic ferry coming into to dock each day. If you fancy the walk around to the breakwater, behind the ferry terminal, you are rewarded with gorgeous views as you look back to the town’s skyline – particularly beautiful as the sun sets. Why not grab a beer at the Zensa Lounge and relax in their White Ball chill out zone. After which the solar powered boat will happily escort you from just behind the ferry terminal back across the harbour to the main town promenade – all for free.
If exploring Dénia is really on your list, rather than just passing on by, then there’s nothing more authentic than their local market. It is here where you rub shoulders with residents going about their daily lives. I love the feel, smell and look of markets with their vibrant colours and regional fare on display to tempt your taste buds. Dénia has two weekly markets; Monday morning’s market is all about clothes, shoes and accessories located at the western edge of the town at Mercadillo. And Friday morning is all about the fruit and veg stalls which is just two blocks away from Dénia’s shopping area – Marcos de Campo. Two streets of stalls draw you in with their calls of ‘Todo Euro’ – all for a £ – and there are certainly some bargains to be had. Although they don’t do much for the reduction of plastics sadly.
At the top end of the Friday market area, there is also an indoor market, which is well worth a butchers, as they say! With meats, some incredible cheese, fish and bizarrely some vegetables too, this is a permanent market area and is great to wander around. So treat yourself to a coffee or chocolate and churros and just watch the market world unfold before your eyes.
Wandering around the Old Town
At the heart of every town, are its ancient streets and alleyways that all have a tale to tell. Where ghosts and shadows of a time before modern life, are etched into the walls of old buildings and cobbled streets. Each visit we find out just a little more about Dénia’s old town and as we wander the alleyways just back from the marina, we find more character, culture and local hide outs. This year we did so much more exploring of this part of town and found Els Magazinos. A brand new courtyard that promotes street food and local chefs from the main part of town. With its fabulous vibe, you can get your food from any one of the 20 or so suppliers and either enjoy the energy from within the heart of the courtyard, or go up to the Terrace where you can drink and eat to your heart’s content. This is where the locals hang out. So if you want to really begin exploring Dénia, then this is a great place to come for a few hours.
Come in March and experience Las Fallas
Dénia may be a working port and a hub for authentic Spanish life, although you come mid March and the whole town takes on a completely different vibe. Firecrackers pop, bands play through the streets, traditional Valenciana customs come out of the wardrobe and 50ft statues appear through the streets. Las Fallas, the most bizarre experience that has to be entertained if you are in Spain in March. Throughout the whole Valencian region, this ancient tradition that stems from carpenters brings towns along this eastern coastline to life. For a whole week, these incredible works of art that have been crafted during the year are presented to the town. A competition for the best in their category, are vied for and money awarded for the most original art form. Papier maché, steel and wooden structures loom above you with intricate detail, which at the end of the week are burnt! It is just something you need to experience, just once in your life. Check out more about the festival by clicking here.
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3. Rides for cyclists
Exploring Dénia is best done on foot, although this is also a cycling Mecca. positioned beautifully in a basin nestled between the Montgó Massif and Mount Pego creating a landscape of orange groves and almond trees. With these comes a lot of gorgeous flat cycling routes. For those looking for something more challenging, then just a few miles inland you will find plenty of mountains to test your skills, like the Col de Rates. Cycling teams from all over Europe come here to train in the winter, so serious cyclists are well catered for.
A gentle cycle through the orange groves
The route from the northern side of the town on the Via Verde to Els Poblets is fabulous. With the heady aroma of orange blossom from the acres of fruit laden trees, this car-free ride is wonderful. With the site of Mont Pego to entice you, this is a super leisurely ride. A quick refreshment at Els Poblets and then take the same route back, or along the coast if you are a looking for an alternative. From Camping Los Pinos, it’s a 18 mile round trip. From Dénia centre it’s about 11 miles.
A challenging cycle around Montgó
If you are looking for something more testing or you have an electric bike like we do, then why not give the Montgó circuit a go. The ride will take you up the challenging mountain route from Dénia to Javea and then hugging the lower edges of the mountain you head back into Dénia on a good 19 mile round trip. And the views at the top are spectacular.
A cycle to Jésus Pobre Sunday market
Another nice stretching cycle takes you out of Dénia out to a little mountain top village that each Sunday has a gorgeous artisan market. So armed with strong legs for the ascent to the village and some pennies for a bit of lunch and a beer, you will be in for a treat on this fabulous cycle.
4. Our 3 favourite Hikes for walkers
Dénia offers some wonderful walking, with gentle strolls along the coastline to more stretching hikes up through the Montgó Natural Park. Take your camera, your binoculars and of course water and layers as the afternoon winds can brew up suddenly in this area. Whilst we’ve not scaled the heady heights of Montgó as yet, we do have three favourite walks that we recommend.
A saunter up to the Pepperpot
You can either join this walk from Dénia, if this is where you are staying and walk along the coastal promenade, or from Camping Los Pinos at Les Rotas. As you wind your way along the Mediterranean Sea, the crashing waves are mesmerising. This south easterly edge can be a bit breezy in the winter and early spring, especially whipping up in the afternoon so you will often see surfers trying their luck on the waves. Just past restaurant Mena, you follow the signs for Torre del Gerro and wind steeply up the hill to what is lovingly called the Pepperpot. This building that purveys the coast below it is actually the remnants of a 16th century fortification built to protect against pirates. The views from up here are magnificent. For instructions, you can use this link. If you’re feeling energetic, you can carry on up across the hill over towards San Antonio Lighthouse, although this is a big stretch and will take you another 2 hours round trip.
A hike up to Javea’s windmills
This is a great climb up into the hills overlooking Montgó. Not only are you treated to superb views that can on a clear day take your eye up towards Valencia, your nature-loving personas will adore the wild rosemary, lavender and 650 other species of flora that call this landscape home. En route you will come across a run down and abandoned village that is now home to some amazing graffiti artwork. Perhaps locals see this as a blot on the landscape, although it is certainly a unique vantage point. As you continue to climb, you cross Las Planes and towards the ancient windmills that were built to maximise the winds that blow here to farm their wheat. Now mostly restored these windmills, some of which have been converted into homes, have incredible views over the Javea shoreline. It’s a walk that requires at least 3 hours and some sturdy boots, although a great hike of about 6 miles. For routes check this link out.
A Walking Tour of Dénia
Every town seems to have their own free walking tour and Dénia is no different. If you head to the main Tourist Information Office you will be able to pick up information about their Walking Tours. We took ours during their LAS FALLAS festival in March 2017 and the tour takes in the Old Town as well as all the festival statues that are created specifically for this event. It is well worth visiting in mid-March to experience this extravaganza.
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5. Our 4 favourite places to eat
Exploring anywhere means we need to eat. So much of our cultural experiences are through food and exploring Dénia in this way is no different. Dénia is a veritable feast for foodies, as you might expect being both in Spain and on the coast. If you love seafood, then you. are going to love Dénia’s eatiers. We have found four amazing places, (aside of the street food in Els Magazinos) to eat that are our go-tos when we are here.
The Republic – Dénia Marina
This is a place to come for a special event. It’s a five course meal for €22.95 and with views over the Marina and out to sea, it is a stunning location, with great prices. We adore it here. Read more about this special place here.
Fuegos – Bar and Grill
If you are looking for something more earthy, then you will never go wrong with this local restaurant. Always busy and in the four visits we’ve had here, we’ve not been disappointed. With a Menu del Dia for €15 and their house speciality half a chicken, this place is excellent value.
Not a restaurant, although a must when you visit Denia – the frozen yoghurt shop. This is a great treat and if you can imagine your deliciousness naughtiest ice-cream fantasy with toppings galore then you will have come to the right place. Located in the lower end of the buzzy Marco de Campo shopping street, Llaollao can’t be missed. It’s fluorescent green – and for between €3-4 you can have a tub of frozen deliciousness with toppings that take you back to childhood. We highly recommend it.
Just a few steps away from the Republic is Basta! A restaurant that sits in between its neighbour and Fuegos for taste and an eating experience. The chef is said to have originated at the Republic, so no guesses for the slight air of competition. With its Menu del Dia at 17.50€ this is an outstanding, great value way to eat lunch. Alternatively you can chop and change some elements from the menu of the day, or eat from their main menu if you wish. With pizza, pasta, meat, fish and tapas options, you really are spoilt for choice. It is a casual whilst refined delight that we and the packed out restaurant goers would highly recommend.
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6. Things to see beyond Dénia
You could easily while away your time simply exploring Dénia with buses, bikes and your own feet to guide you. Although beyond this magical town is a plethora of other sites that are worth exploring. For many of these we have hired a car, or had friends take us to these spots, so if you have additional transport, these are definitely worth looking at.
The caves at Benidoleig
Not more than 15 minutes by car, or if you are feeling fit, you can cycle to (especially if you are electric assisted). The mountainous region surrounding Dénia is a jigsaw of natural and historical pieces that need to pulled together to complete your visit here. Whilst not the longest caves we’ve been in, they are of great archeological and scientific value. For a mere €3.90 per adult, €2 for children, this is definitely worth visiting. For more information check here.
Jalón Valley – Almond Tree Blossom
Just 20 minutes by car inland, you weave your way through the Gata de Gorgos and reach the small town of Jalón, which if you are in the area in February is a must visit destination. With orchards of Almond trees, which are the first to blossom, this is a magical site. With the frame bordered by mountains, the pink and white flowers are worthy of photographing and walking through. The scent is heavenly. Also on a Saturday this place is a Mecca Market and is the place to come for culture and a bargain or two. There are a couple of excellent bodegas in town selling some excellent wines and spirits and with a fabulous Aire that costs just 5€ for the night for campers, it’s really worth heading to.
Javea is a popular tourist destination with its protected bay and shelter from the magnificent Montgó Massif. From Denia it is only a 15 minute drive away and buses will also take you there. It’s worth exploring for its harbour, coastline and old town. There is also a ferry that runs to and from Denia to Javea for €18 pp if you want to top off your experience. It runs from April to October – for more information and timetables, click here.
Stand on the Greenwich Meridian point at Beniarbeig
Only 15 minutes away by car, or slightly longer if you cycle, you will reach the lovely little town of Beniarbeig. Famed for its old bridge monument and its Greenwich Meridian Point. Standing at this spot seems strange when you think you are directly in line with London a mere 1200 miles away.
If you have your own transport or can hire a car, then slightly further afield it is really worth visiting this gorgeous region. Just 15 minutes from Benidorm, Guadalest is steeped in history and is known to be one of the most highly visited sites in Spain. With its a reservoir surrounded by mountains and the castle and old town perched precariously on a precipice, Guadalest is full of charm. For a mere €4 you can enter the castle house and indulge in its history and bask in the views that, on a good day will take your gaze to the Benidorm coast.
Whilst a bit of a drive – allow 80 minutes from Dénia, you will find Xátiva. This is one of the best fortresses we have ever seen and is the oldest in the Valencian Community. For a mere 2.40€, you can enter this chamber of history and architecture which will whiz you around the last 1000 years or so. It has been loving tended to and you need to allow at least an hour to explore the fortress. If you have a car, you can drive right to the top of the fortress mount where you can park. Alternatively, if you have your camper/motorhome with you, then we suggest you park up at the Sports Arena, opposite the Decathlon and walk in. (38.994643-0.52963) The old town is impossible to drive any medium or large size motorhome, so please don’t try. There is a tourist bus that operates twice a day; 1200 and 1600 that for 4.20€ will take you up to the castle, gain you entry and a 2 hour tour of the Fortress. It is open every day except Monday from 1000am to 1800 (in winter) and 1900 in summer.
Just 10 minutes drive into the mountains, it is also worth seeing the La Cova Nega – the Black Cave, which has been preserved with some Neolithic remains. The area s very beautiful to walk, stay overnight and have a picnic.
Pego Marshes and Font Salada Thermal Springs
Just 30 minutes drive north from Dénia is an area devoted to rice growing. Who would have thought that the Dénia region was known for its rice? Not us for sure. The area is understandably flat and marshy, which offers great opportunities for cycling, bird watching and walking. There is a lovely natural park area where you can do a nice 5 mile walk. Half way is a restaurant and a wonderful thermal spring which has a tepid temperature all the year round. We visited on Boxing Day and it was very odd to see the locals swimming. You can also park at the Font Salada overnight. (38.874855 -0.087629).
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7. 3 Recommendations for sleeping
Dénia feels like home to us and each winter it draws us back. If you love the relative safety of a campsite then you’ll love Camping Los Pinos. At the southern end of the town, away from the buzz of port life and nestled in amongst the pines, you will feel a warm welcome from this family run site. Just a minute’s walk from craggy coastline, this site is perfect for watching sunrises, walking and cycling. The longer you stay the cheaper the site. For stays over 7 nights you pay only €15 and over 21 nights just a mere €12.50. It’s a multi-cultural site with a lovely mix of Dutch, German, British and French all connecting and social events at night, if that is your thing. Although this site is getting so popular that you will need to book.
Wild camping isn’t officially permitted in Dénia, like many places in Spain, although we do see vans down at Fernando’s restaurant at the northern end of town. Interestingly on Google Maps, it’s listed as an RV Park! (38.847934, 0.102204). Although it’s a bit too busy down there for us with vans side-by-side. A night or two seems to be tolerated alongside the marina (38.837167, 0.120973).
If you ever need camping accessories or van supplies, then there is an excellent store up in the near-by El Verger. Just a 15 minute drive north, you will find an extensive offering of everything to do with camping, motor homing and caravanning. There’s even an Aire here if you need an overnight stop or services. (38.861775, -0.007745).
And if you prefer hotels or apartments, then why not check out Hotel Port Dénia by the Marina or the Bravasol Apartments in Las Rotes, right by the campsite. The apartments overlooking the coast can be rented for €29 per night if you are staying for 21 days or more.
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Exploring Dénia will offer you so much and after four years and six visits, we still find new places, whether by foot, bike and further afield by car. Rich in gastronomy, festivals and day to day life, Dénia is ready to welcoming you with open arms and a warm heart. Each time we leave, it gets just a little harder – and that is coming from two free nomads roaming the world.
So next time you are heading for the Costas on the south coast, just make a short diversion off the motorway and check out the delights of Dénia – you’ll not be disappointed.
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