We try to visit local wine countries where ever we travel. Our challenge this time was to find a way to visit wine country only using public transportation. Since our last visit to Spain and Portugal, we have sworn off renting a car to get around. Mostly, because of the great public systems here, that’s been easy and affordable, but it presents problems for rural wineries. So we looked at a wine country near Alicante where we could take taxis to nearby bodegas.

After a bit of research, the small city of Villena kept popping up. Its slick website with an equally slick promotional video hails the city as a joyous destination, showing a half dozen beautiful thirty-somethings having the time of their lives. Convinced we should stay overnight in fun-city, we booked Casa de Felix, touted on the website as a charming bed-and-breakfast in the town center.

Getting to Villena was easy – an hour-long trip from the Alicante Train Station. Relatively warm weather with clear sunny skies were forecast, but the morning in Alicante was overcast and buffeted by chilly winds. A weird golden orange light had descended on Alicante the day before – caused by a Saharan sandstorm – and persisted through the morning as our train sped through bleak suburbs and industrial areas. Viewed through the dirty train windows, the combination of weird light and dark skies seemed menacing. We stepped out of the train at our destination into the cold rain and howling wind. Welcome to Villena.

It wasn’t long before we realized that the real wind-swept Villena was a far cry from the idyllic wine country paradise portrayed in its online marketing. Charming it was not. Instead, we discovered a rather drab working-class town dominated by nondescript apartment buildings splashed with graffiti. The foul weather certainly didn’t help our first impression.

The bone-chilling winds picked up, peppering us with short bursts of icy rain, as we made our 20-minute walk to Casa de Felix.No one greeted us as we self-checked ourselves into our top-floor suite with terrace top priced at $60 a night. The hallway was cold and dark; the courtyard was overgrown. It felt like a mini version of the Overlook Hotel in The Shining.

The ancient wooden doorway to the suite was about a foot shorter than Ron. It opened into a bedroom with two twin beds. A cloth curtain separated it from a kitchen equipped with a daybed. Steps away was a bathroom with a storm door, most likely to keep cold air from the bathroom out of the kitchen. The silver lining was that we were here for just one night, so we would make the best of it. We turned on the only source of heat, a mini-split in the bedroom. It coughed into action, wheezing and chugging like an old washing machine, putting out all warmth it could muster, which wasn’t much.

Our first winery appointment wasn’t until three that afternoon, so we decided to grab lunch while our rooms warmed up. Through text messaging, our Casa de Felix host gave us recommendations for places to eat. We set out, trekking through wind and rain only to discover the suggested place was closed and another open but not serving food, just beer, and potato chips.

Finally, we found an open neighborhood cafeteria, where we played it safe and ordered hamburgers. Unfortunately, our hamberguesa plates arrived with three patties of mystery meat, sans buns, fries, and a beer. We think the meat was ground ham – edible at least. And the server was nice, in a gruff Villena kind of way.

Boy, were we ready for wine tasting as a taxi sped toward Bodega Francisco Gomez, about 11 miles from town. Things were looking up as the narrow roads wound through a valley covered with vineyards and groves of olive trees. As we passed through an impressive arched gate and up a grand driveway, we had our first glimpse of the massive winery complex.

It was as empty as it was grand. Not a sign of life anywhere. The rain and wind picked up as our taxi drove away. The doors we tried were all locked. Our phones were useless since there was no cellular signal. Were we stranded? For the night?
To be continued: Part 2, Wine to die for.

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