Orihuela – where Spanish culture, history and cuisine come together

Located in the south-west corner of Alicante, neighbouring the province of Murcia, lies the Orihuela region, one of Spain’s best-kept secrets.

Away from the hustle and bustle of Valencia and the bright lights of Benidorm, the capital of Alicante’s Vega Baja Del Segura region is where rich culture meets incredible cuisine, and the quiet pace of life is set against a backdrop of jagged coves, crystalline coastline and untouched countryside.

Situated on the banks of the Segura River, Orihuela is considered one of Spain’s most outstanding religious and cultural expressions, although its history is only the beginning of its charm.

Here, 16 kilometres of pristine blue-flag beaches merge with colourful streets dotted with architectural gems, dominated by high mountain peaks.

Considering the second largest palm grove in Europe, farm-to-table cuisine and year-round sunshine, and Orihuela may be a place you never want to leave.

Museums and monuments

© Valencia Region

Orihuela is the heritage capital of Alicante and the best place to start your cultural journey is in the city centre, which was declared a Historic Art Conservation Area in 1969.

Step back in time as you wander through a charming treasure trove of monuments, churches and palaces from medieval times, starting at the Colegio Diocesano de Santo Domingo, a former convent turned university.

The architecture of this monument, with its carved Corinthian columns and magnificent Baroque doors, is remarkable, as is the Catedral del Salvador y Santa María, a majestic Valencian-Gothic fortress from the late 13th century.

To discover Orihuela’s fascinating origins, head to the Museo de la Muralla to admire historical relics, including the original city walls and Gothic architecture.

Meanwhile, art lovers should head to the city’s network of museums, including the Museo Diocesano de Arte Sacro with its extensive collection of religious paintings, cultures, clothing and books. The highlight of the collection is Velázquez’s masterpiece, La tentación de Santo Tomás de Aquino, or ‘The Temptation of Thomas Aquino’, painted in 1632.

Religious history is deeply woven into the fabric of Orihuela, and the parish church Iglesia Santa Justa y Rufina is worth a visit for its Renaissance façade and Gothic bell tower.

Made by medieval masons, the church was built on a mosque after the reconquest of the city in 1243. Today, visitors can see the architecture from both periods through the single-nave interior,

Poetry, politics and plein air painting

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Perhaps one of the most influential figures from the region is the poet and playwright Miguel Hernández, who died in prison in 1942 after being imprisoned for his political beliefs and his role against fascism in the Spanish Civil War.

Casa Museo Miguel Hernández allows literature lovers a glimpse into the poet’s humble beginnings and wander through the rooms where he lived with his family and created some of his best works.

Today, Hernández’s legacy lives on in Orihuela, and nowhere more so than in the San Isidro district, where a wave of thinkers, writers and artists have transformed humble homes into an area of living, breathing art.

Once the site of a tribute to Hernández, what was a temple in 1976 has taken on new life as a canvas for the city’s muralists.

Now a cascade of colour and creativity flows down the hills and streets in what has become a fascinating monument to freedom of expression and expressionism.

Every March, artists come together to add murals and continue the exciting redevelopment of the area into an open-air museum.

In recent years, the tribute has also taken the form of a pilgrimage, with walkers embarking on a scenic 19km journey from Orihuela to Albatera, known as the Poet’s Path or Hernandiana Trail, which passes through areas of cultural significance.

Seafood and stews in the City of Rice

© Valencia Region

The culinary traditions of the Orihuela province speak of the area’s landscapes, where palm groves and gardens meet the sparkling Mediterranean Sea.

Known as the ‘City of Rice’, Alicante’s gastronomic identity has been preserved over the centuries and Orihuela is a bubbling pot of flavours, spices and stories passed down from generation to generation.

Today, guests are spoilt for choice by countless bars and restaurants serving local and international cuisine, and the best way to overcome the difficulty of choosing a dish is to order them all.

Tapas is the most fascinating culinary dish in Spain, full of a variety of complementary flavours, and Orihuela is adding its own local varieties, with fresh produce in abundance from the palm grove of El Palmeral and the many surrounding farms.

Every larder in the province has salted fish, an ingredient in dishes such as pericana, a traditional cod paste, ñoras or dried peppers, garlic and olive oil. Meanwhile, the nearby coastline provides abundant fresh seafood served directly on the plate.

Other local specialities include the famous arroz y costra, a rice dish baked with sausage and beaten eggs, or the hearty cocido de pelotas, a meatball and vegetable stew of Jewish origin. For something sweet, grab some almojábanas and pasteles de Gloria, pastries baked in traditional ovens that can be found in bakeries and convents.

From the intoxicating smells emanating through the streets to the bright and varied dishes that make up the mix on the plate, Orihuela’s cuisine is a lesson not only in taste but also in geography, culture and history – and there’s no better way to learn than to pull up a

This article is a translation of the content sent by Valencia Region

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