21km (13 miles) SW of Alicante, 56km (35 miles) NE of Murcia, 406km (252 miles) SE of Madrid
Sandwiched between Alicante and Murcia, the little town of Elche is famous for its age-old mystery play, lush groves of date palms, and shoe and sandal making.
On August 14 and 15 for the past 6 centuries, the Misteri d'Elx (Mystery of Elche) has celebrated the Assumption of the Virgin. It is reputedly the oldest dramatic liturgy in Europe. Songs are performed in an ancient form of Catalan. Admission is free, but it's hard to get a seat unless you book in advance through the tourist office. The play takes place at the Church of Santa María, which dates from the 17th century.
Unless you visit at the time of the mystery play, the town's Palm Grove holds the most appeal. The 600,000-tree palm forest is unrivaled in Europe. It's said that Phoenician (or perhaps Greek) seafarers originally planted the trees. A thousand years ago, the Moors created the irrigation system that still maintains the palms. Stroll through the Huerto del Cura (Priest's Grove), open daily from 9am to 6pm, to see the palm garden and collection of tropical flowers and cacti. In the garden, look for the Palmera del Cura (Priest's Palm) from the 1840s, with seven branches sprouting from its trunk. In the grove you will see one of the most famous ladies of Spain, La Dama de Elche. This is a replica -- the original 500 B.C. limestone bust, made by the Iberians and discovered in 1897, is on display in the National Archaeological Museum in Madrid.