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Unlocking the Hidden Gems of Elche: Discover the Charm of this Spanish City

Looking for a Spanish city that offers a delightful mix of history, culture, and natural beauty? Look no further than Elche, where ancient civilizations, UNESCO World Heritage sites, and breathtaking landscapes await your discovery. Get ready to uncover the charm and allure of this hidden gem on Spain’s Costa Blanca!

  • Explore Elche’s fascinating centuries-old history & unique UNESCO World Heritage Palm Grove!
  • Marvel at the architectural wonders of its historical centre, including the Basilica of Santa Maria de Elche and Altamira Palace.
  • Enjoy outdoor activities, day trips to nearby attractions like Tabarca Island and Elda for an unforgettable experience!

Exploring the Rich History of Elche

Nestled in the Valencia region of Spain, the city of Elche is a vibrant destination with a rich history and long tradition that spans centuries. From its beginnings with Greek settlers to the growth fueled by Roman and Muslim influences, the city has developed into a thriving hub, boasting a prosperous footwear industry.

As you walk through the historical centre, you’ll encounter ancient fortresses, Arab baths turned into convents, and Christian basilicas built atop old mosques, all of which draw tourists from around the world.

The Origins and Development of Elche

Greek settlers established Elche around 500 BC, before it was occupied by Carthaginians and Romans. The influence of the Roman and Muslim periods was instrumental in shaping the city and led to the establishment of a thriving footwear industry.

The city of Elche saw considerable growth during the 18th century, a trend that continued into the 19th century with the introduction of the railway.

The Footwear Industry

The robust footwear industry in Elche contributes significantly to the city’s growth and prosperity, drawing both visitors and businesses. The industry has a long and illustrious history, with the city’s palm groves renowned for their connection to footwear manufacturing, which combines traditional craftsmanship with modern techniques.

Currently, Elche is renowned as Spain’s primary producer, vendor, and exporter of shoes, sustaining more than 1,000 shoe factories and establishing it as a key footwear hub in the Alicante province.

The World Heritage Palm Grove

A visit to Elche wouldn’t be complete without exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Palm Grove, a unique and picturesque attraction boasting over 200,000 palm trees. Dating back to prehistoric times and formally laid out during the Arab occupation of Spain, the Palm Grove serves as a cultural asset of great importance.

Aerial view of Elche's World Heritage Palm Grove with its iconic palm trees
Aerial view of Elche’s World Heritage Palm Grove with its iconic palm trees

Now, it serves as a picturesque and culturally vibrant setting for your exploration of Elche, where you can interact with locals.

Huerto del Cura Garden

Located within the Palm Grove, the Huerto del Cura Garden is a tranquil oasis, offering a glimpse into the traditional structure of Elche’s garden, complete with plots and paths. The garden is home to the famous Imperial Palm, a one-of-a-kind date palm with seven branches, as well as an abundance of other palm species.

The garden, declared a National Artistic Garden in 1943, was named after Empress Elisabeth of Austria who visited the Palm Grove in 1894. It attracts tourists worldwide.

Architectural Wonders in Elche’s Historical Centre

Wandering through Elche’s historic center, you will be captivated by its magnificent architecture, such as the Basilica of Santa Maria de Elche and the Altamira Palace. These impressive structures showcase the city’s rich architectural heritage and provide a fascinating backdrop for your exploration.

View of Elche's historical centre with its Basilica of Santa Maria de Elche
View of Elche’s historical centre with its Basilica of Santa Maria de Elche

Basilica of Santa Maria de Elche

The Basilica of Santa Maria de Elche stands as a beautiful mix of neoclassical, baroque, and Renaissance styles, built on an old Muslim mosque. The basilica features:

  • A Latin cross layout
  • A large central nave with chapels on each side
  • A stunning dome covered with blue tiles
  • An elaborately decorated main entrance

But what truly sets this basilica apart is its hosting of the renowned Mystery Play of Elche, a sacred musical drama that traces the dormancy, death, and assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Altamira Palace

The impressive Altamira Palace, built by the Lord of Villena as his private residence, is an architectural marvel featuring cylindrical towers and a higher four-sided tower. The palace has a rich history, having accommodated important figures such as Jaime II of Aragon, Ramón Berenguer, and Pedro IV, along with the Catholic Kings after the Christian conquest.

Now, the palace is a venue for social and cultural events, offering visitors a captivating setting to appreciate its beauty and historical importance.

Museums and Cultural Experiences

Elche presents a variety of museums and cultural experiences for those interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the city’s history and customs. From the Archaeological and History Museum of Elche (MAHE) to the performance of the Mystery of Elche, there are numerous opportunities to engage deeply with Elche’s rich cultural heritage.

Archaeological and History Museum of Elche (MAHE)

The MAHE museum, located in the Altamira Palace, showcases Elche’s history and ancient artifacts, providing a fascinating insight into the city’s past. Notable exhibits include the famous Lady of Elche, a limestone bust discovered in 1897, along with an extensive collection of ceramics and Iberian art.

Iconic Dama de Elche statue
Iconic Dama de Elche statue

The museum also features artifacts from prehistoric times, Iberian, Punic, Roman, Visigothic, Arab, and Spanish periods, offering a comprehensive exploration of Elche’s intriguing history.

The Mystery of Elche

Held in the Basilica of Saint Mary, the Mystery of Elche is a religious play that celebrates the city’s rich cultural heritage and devotion of its residents. Dating back to the 13th century, this sacred liturgical drama traces the dormancy, death, and assumption of the Virgin Mary.

Each year on August 14th and 15th, the play is performed entirely in Valencian, the local form of Catalan, stirring the passion of both residents and visitors alike.

Outdoor Activities and Adventures

For those inclined towards outdoor activities and adventures, Elche presents numerous opportunities. From exploring the Vinalopó River to enjoying the city’s parks and green spaces, there’s no shortage of opportunities to connect with nature and soak up the Spanish sun.

Vinalopó River

The Vinalopó River provides a scenic backdrop for various activities in Elche, including:

  • Walks along its course
  • Picnics by the river
  • Hiking in the Sierra de Mariola to visit the source of the river
  • Exploring the Nature Reserve of Clot de Galvany
  • Taking a guided tour of the river in Elda

Furthermore, the river hosts a varied range of flora and fauna, making it an excellent place for observing wildlife.

Parks and Green Spaces

Elche’s parks and green spaces offer a peaceful retreat from the bustling city, perfect for relaxation and leisure. Some must-visit parks include:

  • Palm Groves of Elche
  • Jardín Artístico Nacional Huerto Del Cura
  • Parque Municipal
  • Parque del Molino del Agua
View of a typical accommodation in Santa Pola
View of Santa Pola, Costa Brava

These lush oases provide a tranquil atmosphere for strolling, picnicking, or simply taking a moment to appreciate the beauty of Elche’s natural surroundings.

Day Trips and Nearby Attractions

Elche’s location serves as a perfect base for day trips and excursions to nearby attractions like:

  • Santa Pola
  • Tabarca Island
  • Alicante
  • Elda

From stunning beaches to historical sites, these nearby destinations offer even more opportunities to experience the charm and allure of Spain’s Costa Blanca.

Santa Pola and Tabarca Island

View of Isla de Tabarca, a pirate's paradise located off the coast of Santa Pola
View of Isla de Tabarca, a pirate’s paradise located off the coast of Santa Pola

The coastal town of Santa Pola and the island of Tabarca offer beautiful beaches and a taste of traditional Spanish life. In Santa Pola, you can visit:

  • Isla de Tabarca
  • Faro de Santa Pola
  • Transtabarca
  • Pola Park
  • Tabarca Water Taxi

Tabarca Island, the smallest permanently inhabited islet in Spain, boasts a rich history and is a designated Marine Reserve since 1986, providing a unique and picturesque destination for a day trip.

Alicante and Elda

Alicante and Elda provide a mix of historical sites, shopping, and dining experiences, perfect for a day trip from Elche. In Alicante, don’t miss the must-see attractions like:

Panoramic view of the beautiful city of Alicante
Panoramic view of the beautiful city of Alicante
  • Castillo de Santa Barbara
  • Guadalest Valley
  • Alicante Tram
  • Playa de San Juan
  • Passeig Esplanada d’Espanya

Meanwhile, Elda offers unique attractions such as the Museo Del Calzado (Footwear Museum), Santuario de la Magdalena, and Colonia de Santa Eulalia, providing a glimpse into the region’s history and culture.


In summary, Elche is a captivating Spanish city that offers a wealth of history, culture, and natural beauty for visitors to discover. From its UNESCO World Heritage Palm Grove to its vibrant footwear industry, stunning architecture, and fascinating museums, Elche promises an unforgettable experience. With a variety of outdoor activities, nearby attractions, and a rich cultural heritage, it’s time to unlock the hidden gems of this charming city and embark on your Elche adventure!

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Elche worth visiting?

Elche is a must-see for its many nature reserves, coastal towns and prestigious gastronomy. It’s much less touristy than nearby Alicante but offers attractions such as the Palm Groves of Elche, Huerto Del Cura Jardin Artistico Nacional, Rio Safari Elche. And Monographic Museum and Archaeological Site at Alcdia – making it well worth a visit!

What does Elche mean in Spanish?

Elche is a Spanish town in the province of Valencia, known for its archaeological finds, medieval religious drama and amazing fruit growing industry, including dates, pomegranates and figs. It’s a place definitely worth visiting!

What is the main industry in Elche?

Elche’s booming footwear industry is the city’s lifeblood, driving its growth and prosperity.

What are the top attractions in Elche’s historical center?

Discover Elche’s rich history by visiting the majestic Basilica of Santa Maria de Elche and Altamira Palace – two of the top attractions in the city’s historical center!

How can I get to Tabarca Island from Santa Pola?

Hop on a taxi boat and enjoy the 15-minute journey to the stunning Tabarca Island from Santa Pola!

Discover Valencian Community

Each region of Spain is divided into provinces. Their names often coincide with the names of their main cities. Valencian Community is divided into three provinces, each of which has different tourist attractions and interesting places to offer:
ProvinceTourist attractions and interesting places
ValenciaCity of Arts and Sciences (Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias), Valencia Oceanarium, BIOPARC Valencia, Mercado Central in Valencia, Turia Gardens, Valencia CathedralPopular cities: Valencia 
AlicanteSanta Barbara Castle (Castillo de Bárbara), Canelobre Caves, Explanada de España, Volvo Ocean Race Museum, Puerto de Alicante, Terra Mítica Amusement Park, El Peñón de Ifach Natural park, beaches in Alicante (i.e. Playa del Postiguet, Playa de San Juan), Torrevieja (i.e. El Cura, Playa de la Mata, Playa de los Locos), Granadella (Playa de la Granadella) in Jávea.Popular cities: Alicante, Benidorm, Torrevieja, Jávea, Santa Pola, Elche, Villajoyosa, Calpe, El Campello, Altea, San Juan de Alicante, Guardamar del Segura, La Marina, San Miguel de Salinas, Sant Vicent del Raspeig, Pilar de la Horadada, Cabo Roig, Ciudad Quesada, L'Alfàs del Pi, komarka Baix Vinalopó
CastellónPopular cities: Castellón de la Plana

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Jessica Alvaro
Jessica Alvaro
Travel has always been close to me. For me, it's the air I can't breathe without. The sun, without which I forget what a smile is.