Feeling like a 1980s 'Playboy' for the day... If someone said to me that they were jetting off to Spain for the day, I would immediately think of a 1980s 'Playboy', going to a Spanish Costa, spending their newfound riches on a private jet to the Med and hanging out in a beautiful villa surrounded by equally beautiful women. This is the life led by Danny Dyer in Nick Love’s British gangster film ‘The Business’ or Tom Hiddleston in The Night Manager.
The reality of my day trip to Spain was very different.
How to go to Spain for the day for only £30 return...
With a bit of planning, it is possible to go to many European destinations on the Ryanair or EasyJet map just for the day and often for less than the price of an equivalent day return to somewhere less glamorous in the U.K by train.
To make the day trip by plane possible, simply look for an early morning flight departure leaving before 0700 and then find a return flight leaving after 1900.
With the obligatory time pressures at the airport, transfers and an unfamiliar arrival destination to fathom, anything earlier will not leave enough time to explore a city or town properly.
From London, there are many day return options because the flight frequencies are higher. Outside of London, there are only a handful of cost-effective possibilities. I found Alicante on the Costa Blanca to be the best day return flight from Manchester Airport with Ryanair and decided to do the ‘Tapas Day Trip’ with Scott in early December. Best of all, the flight was only £30 return!
Ticking off a few boxes when in Spain...
We had a basic plan in mind for the day though it was certainly less Hollywood than you might be thinking.
I wanted to have a Spanish tapas omelette from a local bar, visit the football stadium of Hercules FC, dip my hand in the Mediterranean Sea and wear shorts in December. Scott wanted to see the castle and do some cycling along the coast.
We arrived at 1030 after a 2-hour flight and took the 20-minute public bus to Alicante city centre. I was not what to expect of Alicante as some European port cities I have been to can be very bleak and full of dodgy characters.
Alicante was not like this at all and we noticed that many of the passengers on the flight were heading to Benidorm just up the coast and every cliché linked to the ITV show was represented!
As soon as we got off the bus, I was pleasantly surprised by Alicante and we headed to the beach. I could not get my head around that only a couple of hours ago, we were in Manchester Piccadilly train station, yet now, we had our feet in the sand and our hands in the Mediterranean! But unlike other visits to Spain, we’d be coming back the same day.
The low-cost airline model made this day trip possible...
Getting to Alicante had taken the same time as it would have done going by train to Llandudno in Wales and cost just as much! The low-cost airline model pioneered and refined by Ryanair; along with the mobile phone and the Internet will define my generation in years to come as flying has become affordable for most people.
Over the past year, I have been able to go on similar cycling trips to Cork, Dublin, Eindhoven, Geneva and Oslo with each return flight costing less than £30. With every booking confirmation I receive in my Inbox, I still think that it is a modern-day economic miracle that travelling by plane is so cheap!
Walking and cycling around Alicante...
One of the main visible landmarks in Alicante is the Castle of Santa Barbara on top of the 166 metres high Mount Benacantil. Built by Muslims in the 9th century, the dramatic castle sits atop the city overlooking the city and the Mediterranean Sea. We took the lift up to the castle first before returning later to conquer the hill climb on our rented 3-speed city bikes.
From the castle, we walked up through the hilly city to the Estadio Jose Rico Perez, the home of local football teams Hercules FC and Alicante FC approximately 3km from the city centre. The stadium was used in the 1982 World Cup and Hercules now lie near the bottom of the Spanish Second Division. The stadium is large, yet a crumbling concrete ground with a brutalist, architectural style.
We also ticked off another goal of the trip by having an excellent trio of tapas and coffee in a traditional Spanish bar.
Hiring a bike for a few hours...
After walking back to the city centre, we decided to rent bikes from a local bike shop called Blue Bike located very close to the castle and market. The guy who owned the bikes was from Argentina and enjoyed practising some great English words such as ‘Dude’ and ‘Mate’ with us.
The bikes were upright, city bikes and only had 3-speeds, but to be honest, for this kind of cycling what more do you really need? We rode out along the smooth cycle path to the Port where the ferry to Algeria departs from. We didn’t really want to hang around the ferry terminal for North Africa for long, so we cycled back along the promenade to the neighbouring village of Albufereta.
The high rise residential tower block called El Barco (The Ship) that dominates the skyline took my eye given that it looked like an exact copy of the modernist Alpha Tower in Birmingham or the more iconic Pirelli Tower in Milan. After reaching the village centre, we turned back along the coast road to Alicante and reflected on the day so far.
Nothing beats cycling in the warm sun in December...
Cycling around in December wearing shorts and enjoying the warm sunshine was one of the highlights of the year. For both of us, there was an overwhelming sense of joy in that sunny moment along the coast and made me realise why I put the effort into making days like this possible.
Some may not think it is worth the hassle of getting up at 4 am, dealing with airport security and going on a plane to another country just for a few hours and repeating the process all over again.
My answer to this is simple…It's always worth it!
When we were sat in the castle atop Alicante, eating an ice cream knowing that we’d be heading home in a few hours’ time, it dawned on me how lucky we are to live in a time when it is possible to fly to Spain for the price of a day return train ticket from Manchester to Birmingham.
For all of the challenges facing Europe at the moment, in reality, Europe has never been closer to our doorstep.