The island of Tabarca - Here be pirates! (well, there were pirates, a while ago)
I couldn’t quite contain my excitement once I found out that the little island of Tabarca off the Santa Pola coastline was once a pirate stronghold.
A few weeks ago, on a wet and windy day in Granada, we decided we needed to decide where we were heading off to for the next part of our adventure. Bryony felt that it was too early to jet out of Spain and miss other cultural experiences. I agreed of course, however I was craving a good bit of sun and t-shirt weather. Bryony, not such a sun bunny, due to fair skin, was keen to be back near the sea.
So, I stumbled upon Santa Pola, a once quiet fishing village turned tourist hot spot due to its 300 days of sun per year, its extensive beaches, incredible seafood fresh from the boats each day, salt lakes full of flamingos and, of course, the pirate island of Tabarca.
For me the island of Tabarca was the game changer and the reason I voted for Santa Pola. I love pirates! Not the modern-day pirates of course but the pirates of old, of fairy-tales and novels. I once even investigated how much it would cost to own my own full-sized fully crewed pirate ship if I won the lottery, but as it turns out the lottery wouldn’t be enough! So, a former pirate island would just have to be enough for me. It didn’t disappoint.
Getting to Tabarca
Just 8.4km off the coast of Santa Pola the island of Tabarca is Spain’s smallest inhabited island. Playing host to around 50 permanent residents, it is just 1.8km long and 0.4km wide (at its widest point). Actually, it’s not just an island it’s part of a tiny archipelago which has been declared a Mediterranean Marine Reserve due to its vast underwater fields of flora and fauna and extensive variety of marine life, something that I hope to see if I go scuba diving there.
The only way to reach the island is by boat. There are varying different types from huge glass bottomed catamarans to tiny little boats that look like they may not even make it out of the harbour. We chose a mid-sized waterbus which was quick, a fantastically smooth ride, and just €15 for a return ticket. As it approaches peak season make sure to get your chosen boat tickets early to avoid any disappointment.
As you begin to near the island it’s easy to see why pirates would have picked it as a hideout. It’s only a short distance from the mainland and it’s covered in caves, coves with plenty of marine life for fishing. It was a great place for them to hide and plunder any vessels passing nearby. It was originally known as San Pablo and was a refuge for the pirates all the way up until the 18th century when King Carlos III became truly fed up with them. He rescued fishermen shipwrecked on the Tunisian Island of Tabarka and settled them on the Island. The King then commissioned a fort to be built to keep the pirates from returning and renamed the island Neuva Tabarca (new Tabarka) in their honour. Some it still stands today and is perfectly preserved.
I loved the crystal clear shallow waters and exploring the coves and caves. You can see clearly to the sea bed and the water is teeming with fish and crabs and whole meadows of vegetation. You can find some brilliant little caves just south of the main village. Just make sure not to get trapped by the tide! If diving is your thing there is also a marine cave complete with stalactites which is reputedly where the pirates stowed their treasures!
Don’t forget to explore around the defensive walls and the, no longer locked, three gates. Its easy to imagine yourself in the 1700s keeping a wary eye out for pirates and attackers. I’m not 100% sure but I like to think that the walls all had cannons too but maybe that’s my imagination!
As you walk through the centre of the walled village you are surrounded by fantastically preserved architecture, hotels (yes you can stay here!) and plenty of restaurants showcasing the local, freshly caught seafood.
In peak season, if you want to avoid a busy restaurant, you might be better off bringing a picnic and enjoying it on the other side of the island in the shade of the Torre de San José and taking in the views over the cliffs.
Really, unless you’re spending a day tanning on the beach or scuba diving and snorkelling, a visit to the island of Tabarca needn’t take all day, it only takes an hour and a half to walk around the coast so it won’t leave you tired out, but it will leave you with a big smile on your face on the boat ride home.
As you may be able to tell I love pirates and anything to do with pirates, so if you know of anywhere fantastic that you can suggest I visit please do leave a comment below, or contact me on social media, I would love to hear about it!
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