Anyone stumbling slightly the worse for wear into the lobby in the Hospes Amerigo Hotel might be forgiven for thinking the DTs had set in. Not pink elephants but red globes are everywhere; they’re piled in heaps next to the reception desk, they’re lined up like tubby soldiers on every available spare shelf, they lurk by the lift doors and they offer themselves as trip hazards on the marble stairs. There really are a lot of tomatos hanging about in this chic converted monastery in Alicante old town.
The reason is simple, Hospes Amerigo is launching a new holiday idea for foodies who also love the sun, ‘Discover the Tomato’. For three days guests can immerse themselves in a local product; seeing how it’s grown, how it’s harvested, how it can be cooked and most importantly how it can be eaten.
Versatile, varied and found all over the world since being spread by the Spanish who discovered it in South America, the tomato is more mysterious than you might think. For a start although it’s always regarded as a vegetable, it’s classified as a fruit because it develops from the ovary in the base of the flower. It’s a close relative of the potato and also of Belladonna, or Deadly Nightshade, one of the most poisonous of plants.
Alicante is one of Spain’s best tomato growing areas with scores of varieties flourishing in the sun-baked fields. On the break guests get to discover the incredible tastes that gourmet chefs can conjure up, as well see first hand how tomato varieties are being saved from extinction.
The Hospes Amerigo is a cool hotel and it needs to be with the average temperature in Alicante around 25C in summer. This part of Spain has always drawn Brits seeking the sun but today the old ‘Benidorm’ days are thankfully over. The marina clinks to the sound of dream yachts, the palm fringed Esplanada offers shady walks and the beautiful sand coloured Castle of Santa Barbara looks out over a town cheerfully at ease with tourism. It’s a class act in every way.
And so is the Hospes Amerigo. We found the ‘Dreamer’ room on the special offer break has a spacious twin-sinked bathroom, a luxuriously large bed and glossy wooden floor, as well as a cute balcony perched over the busy street below, along with TV, DVD Player, Wi Fi and everything else you might need.
Dinner is served and it’s all tomato based. Restaurant The Monastrell is headed up by Chef Maria José San Román, who has cooked at El Bulli and who has made Monastrell, located in the building of Hospes, but independently owned, one of the most innovative restaurants in Alicante. The tomato dishes are remarkable, dreamed up as they are by Michelin Starred Spanish chefs. Even dessert has a tomato focus because whilst a tomato’s centre is tart, the flesh is sweet and so clever things can be done by clever chefs. It’s a uniquely interesting meal and something to savour
Next day after the hotel breakfast where we gorged on gorgeous hams and chorizos, we were taken out to Elche, a Gastrobotanical test bed set amongst the palm trees that Elche is famous for. After a short ride we were greeted by the family that own the orchard and taken into the tomato growing area, first putting on fetching paper boiler suits to keep the tomatos safe from contamination by us.
In the Elche’s tomato orchard, scores of varieties are being organically grown with the intention of saving the lesser-known ones from possible extinction. There were tomatoes of all shapes and sizes and after some fast work with shears we were heading back to the house kitchen.
There as we knocked back Cava in the sun the chefs turned our tomatos into dazzling gazpacho shots, spread them on large slices of toasted local bread with garlic, and gave us strange and delicious tomato concoctions using green as well as red tomatoes. Just as good were raw tomatoes laid out in pieces so we could compare the different tastes and textures of each. If you ever needed convincing of the uselessness of those pale Dutch things we get in UK supermarkets, this was it.
With a hotel supplied picnic we explored Alicante over lunchtime popping into the Museum of Contemporary Arts (MACA) for some up to the minute culture in a converted granary dating back to 1865. Around the area the shady backstreets are packed with tempting food shops with the finest hams, small tapas bars and the region’s fine speciality arrocerias, or rice restaurants. We went to one of the best, Nou Manolin that evening for a well-priced and high quality meal tucked away in a side street.
The next day after another of those brilliant hotel breakfasts and a trip to the hotel spa, we went for a wander on the sandy Postiguet Beach with a glass of the Valencian speciality Horchata, the deliciously cold drink made from Tigernuts, water and sugar bought from Kiosco Peret.
A quick trip to the Mercado Central de Alicante to stock up on cheese, olive oil and vacuum packed hams, and it was off to the airport for the short flight home. We even managed to smuggle back some beautiful ripe tomatoes without incident.
With golden sands, warm water, great restaurants and near constant sunshine, Alicante now has it all. And with their Gastrobotanical breaks, Hospes Amigo has plenty to tempt you to sample it for yourself
HOSPES AMERIGO Rafael Altamira 7 03002 Alicante www.hospes.com