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11 Alicante life hacks that will make you feel like a local

Spain's Alicante province is home to 375,000 foreigners, but even in a sunny easy-going place where many choose to retire, life can have its challenges. Here are 11 hacks that will make life on the Costa Blanca run more smoothly for you.

11 Alicante life hacks that will make you feel like a local
An aerial view of Alicante, where one in every five people are foreigners. Photo: José Jordan/AFP

Alicante, a province that’s part of Spain’s Valencia region on the country’s east coast, is famous for its sandy beaches, year-round sun and international community. 

The city of Alicante, and the wider province that includes foreigner hotspots Torrevieja, Benidorm, and Villajoyosa, are a fantastic and affordable place to visit, but making the move permanent can be trickier.

Here’s a selection of tips, tricks and other hacks to make daily affairs and outings in Alicante easier and cheaper, based on the experiences of Conor Patrick Faulkner, a Spain-based journalist who’s lived in the province. 

Understand where you want to be

When many in the UK talk of Alicante, they are in fact referring to the wider Alicante province and its cluster of tourist hotspots. 

The city of Alicante itself is a medium-sized coastal city of around 330,000 and while international, is definitely a distinctly Spanish city. 

If you are thinking about moving to Alicante, consider if you want to be in the busier city, with a younger demographic, or in one of the many nearby towns that are popular among foreign retirees.

If you fancy the city and want a truly alicantino experience, hang out around the old neighbourhood of Santa Cruz, known as ‘el barrio’ by locals, for a taste of authentic Spanish nightlife.

The neighbourhood of Santa Cruz in Alicante. Photo: Olga Berrios
The neighbourhood of Santa Cruz in Alicante. Photo: Olga Berrios

Take advantage of Alicante’s location

Alicante-Elche airport is one of Spain’s most popular airports, with dozens of direct connections to British and European cities. 

It’s just 14km from the city itself, there are a number of bus services, and a taxi isn’t too expensive if you’re in a rush. There’s also a host of direct shuttle bus services to Benidorm and Torrevieja.

If you decide to live in the city itself, live as the locals do and explore the province. 

Beat the beach crowds

At the weekend, many alicantinos avoid Alicante’s more popular beaches and take day trips to beautiful coastal towns like Altea and Dénia, up the coast towards Valencia, or drive south to Murcia’s Costa Cálida.

San Juan and El Campello beaches are less touristy than Alicante’s main beach, El Postiguet, and many locals prefer to take the short drive or tram ride and get away from the crowds.

For Britons and Irish nationals who are really missing home, there’s always taking the 40-minute drive up to Benidorm and enjoying a full English breakfast or pint of beer. They can also make the journey on the province’s coastal tram service.

READ ALSO: The towns in Spain where Brits outnumber locals

One of the quieter beaches in El Campello. Photo: mandoft/Flickr
One of the quieter beaches in El Campello. Photo: mandoft/Flickr

Buy a tram pass

No true alicantino pays for single fares on the tram. Save yourself some money and pay for a BONO 10 or 30 pass and swipe on and off using your preloaded journeys. You can add extra journeys if you want to take a daytrip and explore the province.

Learn some Spanish

Although many foreigners in towns such as La Marina manage to get by only speaking English, take advantage of Alicante’s international population to pick up some Spanish. 

Many locals are keen to learn and practice their English, so head down to one of Alicante’s many intercambio de idiomas (language exchanges and learn some Spanish, or take classes at one of the city’s many language academies. 

Take advantage of the markets

Once you’ve picked up some Spanish, you’ll be ready to shop like a local and utilise Alicante’s fantastic markets. 

While locals of course use Mercadona and Consum, many buy their meat, fish, fruit and veg from either Alicante’s impressive Mercado Central, beneath the Castillo de Santa Bárbara, or the smaller twice-weekly Benalúa market.

This is a great way to save money and the produce is always fresher than the supermarket. Live as alicantinos do and buy, cook, and eat your fish the same day it was caught.

A butcher's at Mercado Central in Alicante. Photo: Lisa Risager/Flickr
A butcher’s at Mercado Central in Alicante. Photo: Lisa Risager/Flickr

Buy a water filter

While enjoying your fresh fish with a caña or glass of local wine is the true alicantino way to eat lunch, invest in a good quality water filter. Like in many coastal parts of Spain, the tap water isn’t great so many locals use filters not only for the taste, but for the economic and environmental advantages of not buying bottled water.

Slow down – get used to the pace of life

Many people move to Spain to relax on holiday or retire, but getting used to Alicante’s pace of life can take time.

Almost all shops, bars and cafes will close for two or three hours during the afternoon, when locals eat lunch and have a siesta, and very little is open on Sundays, even in the city. 

When making friends or attending language exchanges, let go of your British timekeeping. If you arrange to meet a local, don’t expect them to arrive until at least ten or fifteen minutes after you agreed, perhaps longer. 

Great views without the crowds

Head to San Fernando Castle (Castilla de San Fernando) if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle. 

Alicante’s most famous tourist attraction is el Castillo de Santa Bárbara, a huge 9th century fort castle with incredible coastal views that dates back to the Islamic Empire, but it is often overrun with tourists.

Many locals avoid Santa Bárbara and head instead to Sant Ferran, a short walk away, to enjoy the views. Live like a local and enjoy some food or drink in the surrounding hills. Younger locals often take food and drink and sit in the hills (known as a botellón) to save money.

Get some of the best views of the city while avoiding the crowds from the Castilla de San Fernando. Photo: Paco Cameo/Flickr
Get some of the best views of the city while avoiding the crowds from the Castilla de San Fernando. Photo: Paco Cameo/Flickr

Take advantage of Alicante’s freebies

 Alicante is a city with a host of free museums and attractions, including the Museo de la Ciudad de Alicante (MUSA) and Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Alicante (MACA).

Another good way to get discounts and enjoy freebies in Alicante are the BONO Shopping vouchers, offered by the Department of Commerce. BONO vouchers are worth up to €40 and can be spent in various clothing, footwear, accessories, stationery, computers, bookstores, fashion, opticians and hairdressers and are valid for ten days after you apply for them online.

Discounts for seniors

As part of the Valencia region, Alicante residents of a certain age are eligible to apply for the Valencia region’s ‘Tarjeta del Mayor’ which offers discounts on many services, museums and concerts. To be eligible you must be at least 65 years old and resident in one of Valencia’s municipalities.

Article by Conor Patrick Faulkner, a Spain-based journalist who’s lived in Alicante, Murcia and Seville. 

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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