My virtual September began on the beach on the outskirts of Valencia. The coastline is dotted with holiday villas and small, purpose built holiday villages. The first I passed through was Port sa Platja, seven miles into the week. It’s a pretty little place filled with boats and handy places to stay, away from the hubbub of the big city.
Three miles on and I was in the centre of Valencia, the third largest city in Spain with the fifth largest container port in Europe. It was founded as a Roman colony by the consul Decimus Junius Brutus Callaicus in 138 BC. Occupied but Moroccan and Arab Moors in 714, it was reclaimed by King James I of Aragon in 1238. Such a long history and a wealth of ancient monuments makes it one of the countries most popular tourist resorts.
The winding streets in the centre of the city hide buildings dating from Roman and Arabic times. The thirteenth century gothic cathedral stand beside the Gothic Basilica de La Mare de Déu dels Desamparats and the fifteenth century Serrans and Quart towers were once part of the town walls. All in all it is a place I’d feel quite at home.
The week came to an end as I entered the maritime village of El Perelló about fifteen miles from the centre of Valencia. Basically a satellite village catering for Valencia’s tourists, it is within the Albufera Natural Park, surrounded by beautiful scenery. There is, of course, a beach and a pretty marina with a yacht club and sailing school. This week with just 28.78 miles, I may not have walked as far as I’d have liked but I’d have certainly found some great places to stay if I’d been there for real.
The first five miles of week two was all Beach walking. First there was a stroll through the little resort of Les Palmeres and across the Canal del Mareny, another of the irrigation canals like the ones I walked along last month. Then I walked across the beaches of Playa Del Rey, Bega de Mar, Mareny Blau and Mareny de San Lorenzo, all tiny little beach resorts, white sand, chalets and small hotels.
When I reached the Cap de Cullera I had to leave the beach and take to the coast road around the promontory. The road took me past the lighthouse, Faro de Cullera and the Cave of Dragut where it’s said the Naval Commander Dragut, known as “the greatest pirate warrior of all time”, “the most able of all the Turkish leaders”,and “the uncrowned king of the Mediterranean,” once stayed.
The next three miles were spent walking along the coast road below Les Rabosses mountain range. The town of Cullera nestles between the foot of the mountains and the sea. The mountain directly above the town is called Munt de l’Or or Muntanya de l’Or and, with an altitude of two hundred and thirty theee metres, it is the last mountain in the Iberian System before the Mediterranean Sea. At the summit a thirteenth century Moorish fortress looks down upon the town. Within it is the Sanctuary of the Virgen del Castillo, a nineteenth time century church.
Leaving both town and mountain behind I crossed the Júcar river. Now I was passing through agricultural land again, small parcels of land growing fruit and vegetables dotted with the odd farmhouse. I stuck to the rural road, passing behind all the little tiny beach resorts and occasionally crossing irrigation canals now and then Until I came to Gandia one of the largest coastal towns in the area. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it was an important cultural and commercial centre. The town is divided into the beach resort with apartments bars and nightclubsand the city with all the historical monuments and the commercial centre
The powerful and controversial Borja family were Dukes of Gandia and their palace still stands in the town. Two Borja’s became popes, Alfons de Borja, or Pope Callixtus III between 1455 and 1458, and Rodrigo Lanzol Borgia, or Pope Alexander VI, between 1492 and 1503. They were also patrons of the arts but ultimately, their hunger for power and their corruptions is what is remembered.
For the final five or six miles of the week the patchwork of fields was broken up by little towns, Daimús, Guardamar de la Safor and Piles.
The final town of the week was Oliva, a little bigger but still a small town. It has a weekly market, beaches, and two churches Sant Roc from the late eighteenth century and Santa Maria la Major from the late seventeenth century. Santa Anna Castle, built in the sixteenth century, looks down from a hill in the old town.
At the beginning of week three I left Oliva, passing more small beach resorts Aigua Blanca, Bassetes, Molinel, Playa Santa Ana and Almadrava.
The first big town I came to was Dénia, half way between Valencia and Alicante. Inhabited since prehistoric times, there are Iberian ruins on the nearby hillsides, along with a castle, built on the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The town has gone through the usual round of Greek, Roman and Arabic control before being reconquered by Christians in 1244. During the 1800’s it became an important trading port, specialising in raisins.
When I left the town I headed away from the coast and up into the Montgó mountain, famed for its rock formations, caves and unusual flora and fauna. The next three miles would not have been easy walking but the views would certainly have made up for the climb.
My descent took me into the town of Xàbia, a popular seaside resort and market town. The first inhabitants are said to have lived in caves on the mountain some thirty thousand years ago and Roman fishing boats used the port in the second century BC, making it the oldest commercial port for fish and minerals on the coast. There is a gravel beach and a marina Duanes de la Mar. Like Dénia, it was used to export raisins until the rain trade collapsed at the end of the nineteenth century. Now it is a fishing harbour. The most unusual landmark is the church of Mare de Déu de Loreto, built in 1967 in the shape of an oval boat keel and looks like a fishing boat bursting through the waves.
The next five miles took me though terraced vineyards on the lower slopes of the mountain. The walk was dotted with little hillside villages, La Mandarina and Les Fonts.
The week ended in Moraira, a sprawling, upmarket coastal town on the Costa Blanca. The town began life as a fishing village and still has the most popular fish market on the Coasta Blanca but, today, many residents are well off British retirees. Although the pretty fishing cottages have mostly disappeared planning regulations limiting the height of new buildings mean this is an attractive area. There is a privately owned marina built in 1985 and the sandy beaches and rocky coves make it popular with families, snorkellers and scuba divers.
The first town of week four was Calp, yet another tourist town known for its beaches. It isant all beaches though, there’s a little history to keep me happy, Baños de la Reina, with Romans sea pools cut into the rocks and Pobla de Ifac, the ruins of a medieval walled village. The coastline is dominated by Peñón de Ifach a massive limestone rock bursting with birdlife. The Prime Meridian crosses Calp.
Just along the coast and ten miles into my week I reached Altea, another tourist town with a maze of winding streets and whitewashed houses. The beautiful bay and the church of La Mare de Déu del Consol (Our Lady of Solace), with its blue and white tiles domes make this a pretty place to walk.
Next up was Benidorm. When it comes to Spanish tourist destinations this must be one of the most well known. For me it’s always felt a bit too touristy so I’ve never visited and probably never will. Personally I’d have preferred it when it was a little fishing village but that was before I was born. Now it’s all skyscrapers, hotels and English tourists.
There were people living in Benidorm as long ago as 3000 BC but until the Moors arrived the population was tiny. By the eighteenth century the tuna caught by local fishermen was famous and the town blossomed. When the fishing industry declined in the early 1950’s the town council turned to tourism to boost the economy.they were more successful than they could ever have dreamed and today more than five million tourist visit Benidorm every year. It is the fifth most populous town in the province and has the most high rise buildings per capita in the world. Needless to say I would have hurried through if I’d been there for real.
The next town, Villajoyosa, was much more my kind of place, not least because it has a chocolate industry and a chocolate museum. The town name means Joyful Town and I can understand why. Along with the chocolate they have three kilometres of beaches, a gothic church and the annual festival of Moros i Cristians, celebrated at the end of July.
September ended as it began, on a beach. This one in Sant Joan d’Alacant, the centre of the Old Garden of Alicante, just outside the town of Alicante. In fact it shares the Alicante fire department and metro services. It serves as a bedroom community for the main town and houses part of the campus of the University Miguel Hernández of Elx/Elche.
When the month began my goal was Alicante, although I hoped to get further. In the no I didn’t quite get to the main town but I came fairly close so I guess I shouldn’t complain. All in all I walked 131.98 miles in September, not nearly as many as I’d hoped. My goal for October is to beat that mileage.