hidden europe 25

Dates galore: the Palmeral de Elche

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: Palm trees and waterfall at Elche, Spain (photo © Martin Garnham / dreamstime.com).


Early Arab settlers in the Spanish Levante created at Elche a remarkable region of palm groves. Curiously, a cultural landscape that was so Arabic in inspiration now serves mainly Christian interests. We take the slow train south from Alicante and stop off at Elche.

The cercanías was not built for creature comfort. The cercanías is the commuter train that slips past factories and vast areas of warehouses, and slides over viaducts affording views into a thousand backyards. It is a Spanish institution. The cercanías from Alicante negotiates a curving course out of the city past motorway junctions and then judders to a halt in San Gabriel, as if suddenly uncertain where to go next. Here the train reverses, and then turns more decidedly south, bound for Murcia which is the end of the line for the cercanías. Murcia del Carmen is a lovely station, its facade a spread of rich ochre embellished with dainty white balconies and topped by a superbly decadent station clock.

The run south from Alicante to Murcia is generally unexceptional. This is Spain's Levante region, a hotchpotch of warehouses and citrus groves and a region for paella and spicy pepper sauces. Around Elche, just twenty minutes out of Alicante, the cercaniás dives into a series of tunnels, which is a pity for travellers miss one of the most extraordinary places in the entire region.

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