A small town featuring the most recently built stately home in the Vega Baja
The small town of Jacarilla is located just a kilometre south of the River Segura in the Vega Baja area of the province of Alicante, and although there are under 2,000 people registered as living there these include a significant British expat community of approximately 200.
Most of these expats have acquired property in the rural vicinity of the Pedrera reservoir, where the Vistabella golf development was built in the early years of this millennium, but this cannot be because the town itself is an unattractive one. Obviously it is small – the whole municipality occupies an area of only 12.2 square kilometres - but it has grown up around the palatial residence of the Marquis of Fontalba, the last great manor house to be built in the Vega Baja between 1916 and 1922.
The house and gardens are set in grounds of 20,000 square metres, and are entered via the Gate of Lions and an avenue of palm trees. Among the features which can be visited inside are the sundial, a man-made cave and grotto featuring an image of the Virgen de la Almudena, various statues, the lush green gardens and of course the manor house itself, which although not elaborately decorated is nonetheless impressive.
The influence of the Marquises of Fontalba is also clear to see at the parish church dedicated to Nuestra Señora de Belén, where there is a small seating area similar to a royal box in a theatre which can only be accessed from outside the building. Needless to say, this box was reserved for the noble family when they attended Mass at the church.
The figure of Nuestra Señora la Virgen de Belén is also prominent in Jacarilla during the month of September, when the annual Fiestas Patronales are held, and other important dates in the calendar include the raffle on the first Sunday of January in honour of San Antón, when the lucky winner receives a pig!
On the same day there is also a Romería to the Parque Cabezo de la Cruz outside the town.
Outside the town itself, most of the rest of the municipality is occupied by the fruit and vegetable farming which for centuries was the main pillar of the economy in the Vega Baja del Segura, taking advantage of the rich, fertile soil on the flood plain of the River Segura. Irrigation has been supplied by the maze of irrigation ditches (“acequias”) which were left by the Moors for countless generations, and in the second half of the 20th century this was supplemented by the completion of the Tajo-Segura water supply canal.
In gastronomic terms, Jacarilla shares many of its traditions with its near neighbours in the Vega Baja area, with the logical inclusion of fruit and vegetables from the rich farmland surrounding the town in popular dishes. On special occasions, local favourites include rabbit paella, turkey and meatball stew and “almojábanas”, a kind of doughnut made with fresh white cheese.
Jacarilla may be a small town, but as the fact of it having attracted an expat community testifies it has many attractions. Not least of them is its location close to the River Segura, the CV-95 road and the A-7 and AP-7 motorways, making it just a short drive from the cities of Alicante and Murcia, the beaches of the southern Costa Blanca, a wide variety of golf courses and, crucially for visitors from abroad, Alicante-Elche airport.