TRAVEL TALES: ASIA GARDENS, SPAIN
You have to admit, there are few things more wonderful than getting lost in a new place. Soaking up the sounds, the smells, the tastes - it's when I feel most alive. Throw some sunshine into the mix and I'm in heaven.
It's been a long, long time since I've been on a traditional summer holiday. While I've been lucky to travel over the years, those getaways have always been about packing in as much adventure as possible within a limited time frame. And while my boyfriend and I have slowly been getting through our travel bucket list, we've never had much time for your typical lazy beach/pool type holiday - till this summer!
After a particularly busy year, we decided it was time and despite feeling the urge to run away to some far flung place, we opted to stay closer to home, maximising our time away and avoiding jet lag - always a win.
To say we find choosing on a holiday destination tricky would be an understatement, so after weeks of scouring the net, we settled on a resort called Asia Gardens Hotel and Thai Spa in Spain.
Located 40 minutes from Alicante, it promised an exotic sunshine filled paradise so we booked ourselves in for a nine night stay. While glorious heat (2019 Irish summer was rubbish) was top of my list, a good gym and the chance to get-away-from-it-all was priority for Himself so needless to say we were excited!
From the moment we set foot on the lush grounds of Asia Gardens, we were blown away. Had we not just stepped off a three hour flight from Dublin, we would honestly have thought we had accidentally flown to Indonesia; the flora and fauna adding a touch of magic to the place, transporting us to another world!
For me, the gardens were the most impressive aspect of what the resort has to offer, a visual delight around every corner. The pools, of which there are seven, are superb too. The heated 'adults only' pool a joy in itself, nestled away from the rest of the commotion and beautifully decorated with stone Tiki head waterfalls. We spent a day here reading and taking dips to cool off and can confirm it is pure bliss!
Dotted around the pools are plenty of sun loungers and umbrellas and despite what Trip Advisor reviews might say, the few days we spent flaking out by the water proved no difficulty in finding a place to rest our bums! Mind you, September is officially the start of low season so perhaps in the height of summer, it might be a different story.
Of course, our room was always going to be the deciding factor on how our stay would go. And I was pleased to find ours was relatively spacious with plenty of wardrobes and our own balcony overlooking the beautiful lawns. Incredibly clean and comfortable with all the amenities of a luxury hotel, the only slight hiccup we had was with the air con on day one which was fixed promptly and provided no more stress for the remainder of the holiday.
Food wise, you're spoilt for choice at Asia Gardens with nine restaurants and bars on site. Most evenings we dined in the buffet which celebrated a different cuisine each night, from Mexican to Spanish tapas and Asian - our fave! At €55 a head it's far from a cheap night out but if you arrive hungry and are up for drinks, it's good value for money. The spread is enormous with a station for everything imaginable and all-inclusive drinks include cava, wines and beer which will please most thirsty diners!
It's in this same restaurant, Udaipur, that breakfast is served and honestly, it's a feast for the eyes and senses. Sit outside if you can and enjoy the pure bliss of your surroundings - complete with the cutest chirping birds. For me the most relaxing thing about dining al-fresco here is the sound of running water, a feature that follows you around the entire resort; and it's not some ambience soundtrack - there are streams, lakes and waterfalls peppered all around the site.
We chose to dine in-room one lazy evening and honestly, the food is forgettable. Except perhaps the caprese salad which had the creamiest, freshest mozzarella I've ever had. Twice we tried the hotel's emblematic restaurant, Koh Samui, serving Asian cuisine. While the mains are huge (!!) the dishes are just alright - in fact, the Asian buffet was far superior.
However, the table service is excellent, the wine exquisite and the setting gorgeous. I also had the most incredible dessert - coconut pancake with cinnamon ice cream - here that I'd give anything to try again!
For those seeking to keep up with their #fitfam commitments, the Asia Gardens does have a gym, however it's quite modest. We were able to keep up with our HIIT sessions and there are definitely enough machines to get a good workout in but it you're a weight lifter or a lover of circuits, you may find yourself struggling a bit! Mind you, the resort offers complimentary pilates, yoga, tai chi and meditation classes so there are plenty of opportunities to get your bum into gear! And did I mention the SEVEN amazing pools?
As for what's in the locality? Honestly, this was the most disspointing aspect of our stay. With Benidorm - Spain's "ugliest town" - as the nearest city, we were limited in options. A quick stroll around one afternoon confirmed it wasn't really our vibe but we did return one cloudy day to check out the Mundomar marine park which put a glint in my eye with all the adorable animals who call it home - flamingo's, dolphins, lemurs and many more. Little tip - go after 3pm as entry is cheaper.
We had a lot more luck in majestic Altea which is a 20 minute cab ride from the resort. The charming cobbled side streets and the beautiful traditional square lined with bars and taverns make for a romantic setting ideal for watching the sun go down. Not forgetting the town's iconic blue-domed Iglesia de Arriba which stands proudly in the old part of the city, built 100 years ago with money collected by the 5,690 people residing in the village.
Our evening in Altea was spent marvelling over these glorious domes while sipping on beer and G&T's (with a lot of the G and very little of the T i.e they were STRONG) in the Plaza de la Iglesia before polishing off perhaps the best meal I've ever had in an Indian restaurant called Crown of India just off the square.
A Google search and the restaurant's rave reviews brought us here along with the promise of stunning views and we were not left disappointed! We let the friendly waiters choose our dishes for us specifying our tastes and spice tolerance and if we were to go back we'd do it all over again; a wonderful place I wish more people could experience.
All in all, Asia Gardens is beautiful resort for a relaxing holiday. However, if you're looking for an abundance of culture and a hopping night life (that doesn't revolve around wild stag nights), you might be best looking elsewhere!
Best for a 3/4 night stay, we felt 9 days was a little too long with the location being the main letdown. Will we return? Probably not but we've made some truly lovely memories.
(I should mention there's also a super shopping centre less than five minute drive from Asia Gardens with some excellent shops, a cinema, a bowling alley and an AMAZING nail salon called Lolita's. I got my nails done after a wee nail emergency and I've never been more impressed.)