Pink lagoons and flamingos: the hidden gems of Torrevieja in Spain
The Spanish Costa Blanca is best known for its Mediterranean climate, beautiful beaches and water sports.
Just south of Alicante is the resort town of Torrevieja, popular with northern Europeans seeking year-round sunshine.
In this episode of Explore, we leave our deckchairs and discover a lesser-known side of the seaside town, hiking and biking trails in a magnificent nature reserve with a surprising cultural heritage of the city.
Torrevieja means “old tower” in Spanish and the town takes its name from a watchtower built to defend it from pirate attacks in the Middle Ages.
Although the original tower no longer exists, visitors can explore its “twin”, the well-preserved Torre del Moro, located along the coastal road leading out of town. Vacationers who venture away from the beaches and up the hill are rewarded with spectacular views of the coast and the Mediterranean.
Torrevieja began as a fishing village and the town’s statue, the Bella Lola (Beautiful Lola) honors the wives of those fishermen and sailors lost at sea.
“La Bella Lola represents long waits and uncertainty,” says local tour guide Maria José Minguez Mateo. “Waiting for that person, that loved one, to come back from those long journeys. Where sometimes they came back from and unfortunately other times they didn’t”
Maria José’s family has lived in Torrevieja for generations and she is passionate about sharing the treasures of her hometown.
“There are many interesting things to see in Torrevieja” describes Maria José.
“If you go to the center of the city, there is the Church of the Immaculate Conception with its square, then there are the pedestrian streets, and the Casino, which is an emblematic building, it is very nice.
History of salt lagoons
Torrevieja is surrounded by two beautiful pink and green natural saltwater lagoons, which form the “Salinas” or salt pans.
The use of salt here dates back to Roman times but it was in the early 19th century that it became the center of the salt industry in Spain, transforming the small fishing village of Torrevieja.
It is today the leading salt producer in Europe, with more than 600,000 tonnes extracted per year. Much of it is used to salt the roads of northern Europe in winter.
Visitors can take a tourist train from the city center to see the salt mines and enjoy the impressive pink lagoon. The pink tint which is completely natural would be due to a micro-algae which lives in the water.
Scenic nature trails
The salt pans are located in a beautiful natural park, the Parque Natural de las Lagunas de la Mata y Torrevieja, which is a protected nature reserve.
It is a paradise for cyclists and walkers, offering several trails to explore the unique ecosystem.
Francisco José Martinez Garcia is the director of the park and describes what distinguishes the flora and fauna of the park.
“Around the lagoon, there are very particular plants because they come from very saline soils, so these plants form a priority habitat for the European Union.
It’s also a paradise for bird watchers, home to over a hundred different species, including flamingos.
“On the island, an island that we have, you can see flamingos that were born this year because they are a bit dark, they haven’t acquired that pink color yet,” says Francisco.
Delicious local cuisine
No visit to the Valencia region is complete without sampling its culinary delights.
Local restaurants source their fruit and vegetables from the Vega Baja, a large plain just inland from Torrevieja. Its fertile soil and warm climate all year round make it the market garden of Europe.
Everything is served with local products and the fresh flavors are mouth-watering.
The region is also famous for its fish and seafood and the local paella is not to be missed!
“This paella is very typical of Torrevieja, the Costa Blanca and the Valencian Community (Region),” explains Torrevieja waiter Manuel Patricio Perez Cisternas, “Seafood paella with clams, prawns, langoustines and small shelled prawns. It is very popular with tourists.”
Getting off the beaten track in Torrevieja is a delightful experience. From stunning nature walks to fascinating history and delicious local food, this part of the Costa Blanca has it all.