Right in front of the city of Alicante, just 11 nautical miles offshore, Tabarca is the only inhabited island in the Region of Valencia. The crystal-clear waters surrounding it are officially declared a Mediterranean Marine Reserve for their excellent quality and biodiversity. The beaches and the coves around Tabarnia are spectacular. The few streets of the harbours – absolutely charming, and the fresh seafood – to die for.
Also called Isla Plana or the flat island, Tabarca is actually part of a small archipelago that comprises 4 islets. It is approximately 1,800 metres long and measures some 400 metres across at its widest point. Permanently inhabited by about 80 people, the island comes alive in high season, when its small harbour welcomes boatloads of sea-loving visitors every half hour, from Alicante, Santa Pola, Guardamar, Torrevieja and Benidorm. Historically a refuge for the Barbary pirates up to the end of the 18th century, Tabarca later became a fort against them and today, as the boat approaches the harbour, the first thing you see are the remains of the wall, the fortress and the church. A lighthouse at the far end of the island and a church in the middle of town also date from the 18th century.
Organising your Trip
A visit to the island usually lasts one day. There are numerous departure times from the port of Alicante, although the regularity of these depends upon the time of year. The boat ride is comfortable and lasts for around one hour.
Tabarca became Spain’s first National Marine Reserve in 1986. Thanks to this official status, created for the protection, regeneration and development of fishing resources and to protect the underwater flora and fauna, it enjoys a rich marine life, with popular diving spots hinting at the sub-aquatic paradise that lies hidden within its depths.
The town is laid out in a square pattern which shows the military origin, with only a few streets bordered by old fishing houses and one quite upscale modern hotel which once was the Governer´s residence, as well as a few restaurants which mostly serve seafood. The gateway to the town is a portico, which welcomes you into the inhabited part of the island and onto Calle d’Enmig or Middle Street, adorned with souvenir shops, bars and restaurants. The island also has a lighthouse, a watchtower and an 18th-century Governor’s House which is now a charming hotel. The entire island enjoys sea views, is peppered with coves, some of which are hard to reach, and is bathed by remarkable emerald-green waters.
The local cuisine obviously gravitates around fish and seafood, still one dish in special stands out, the local stew or caldero tabarquino. Families have spent lifetimes preparing this dish and have handed the recipe down through the generations. Made with scorpion fish as main ingredient, together with smaller fish known as fry, and cooked with ñora peppers and garlic, it is served alongside potatoes with a touch of aioli, followed by rice.
There are many more dishes for you to try on the island: fideuà noodles, all types of rice dishes (arroces), particularly those with shellfish, squid, octopus, troll-caught lechola fish, fried whitebait… The set menus range from some €12 to €30 euros but there’s also plenty of finger food to choose from.