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Sunday, 3 November 2013

On a pinnacle - Guadalest, Spain

About 25km inland from Benidorm is the enchanting town and castle of Guadalest. If you’ve never been there, it’s really worth a visit, as it has one of the most photogenic views in the Costa Blanca area. You can get there by car or an organised coach trip, travelling past lush and fertile valleys originally terraced and irrigated by the Moors. The best view of the craggy fortress and village is from the almond terraces and olive groves on either side of the twisting road.

Hundreds of people go time and again, and yet it never seems overly crowded; I’m speaking from experience, we take our visitors regularly, and they never seem to tire of the place. Its popularity is understandable when you realise that Guadalest is the second-most visited place in Spain for tourists, after Madrid’s Prado Museum - over two million visitors in all.

Strangely, if you watch the film My Life in Ruins, which is set entirely in Greece, you’ll catch some views of Guadalest, and other nearby parts of the Costa Blanca!

The water used in Benidorm’s many hotels actually comes from Guadalest; one of its main attractions is the breath-taking idyllic reservoir viewed from the castle walls.
By rights Guadalest should be an expensive tourist trap, with plenty of shops selling the whole spectrum of keepsakes and ornaments, from the ridiculous to the sublime. Yet it’s still magical and the prices, surprisingly, are better than you will find on the coast.

Like an eagle’s nest on a pinnacle, Guadalest stands out like no other Spanish town. There are countless attractive mountainside villages, and both Ronda and Cuenca are spectacular in their own way, but Guadalest is one of a kind.

Surrounded yet not dwarfed by the Aitana, Serella and Xorta mountain ranges, Guadalest has been named as a ‘Monument of Historical and Artistic Value.’

Way back in AD 715 the Moors settled here, endowing the place with its name. They didn’t plunder or molest the inhabitants in the area but lived alongside them, as was their way for hundreds of years until the Christian kings in the north started to fight their way south to eject them.

Jaime I conquered Guadalest in 1238 but it wasn’t actually occupied until 1245. There were ongoing battles with the Moors until their leader’s expulsion in 1275 and the ruling that no Moor could change his dwelling-place without the permission of Christians. Yet more uprisings of Moors occurred – even after their final expulsion in 1492 – by those who had stayed on. One of the bloodiest and last uprisings was as late as 1609; these battles are celebrated boisterously and noisily every year, particularly in nearby Alcoy.

In 1644 and 1748 Guadalest suffered earthquakes. The ground here trembled yet again during the War of the Spanish Succession when the town’s powder reserves blew up – whether accidentally or deliberately isn’t known – which prompted the place to be abandoned as a stronghold in 1848.

In its day it was quite formidable, the local population living within the castle walls, with only the single access through the gate of St José. The narrow streets are typical, providing shade in the sweltering long summer months and shelter in the blessedly short cold winters. The two hundred inhabitants devote their lives to tourism and agriculture.

Wend your way through the quaint shop-filled streets up the steps and through the St José Gate and immediately opposite is the entrance to the Orduña House which charges a modest entrance fee. Here you can view original and interesting furniture, paintings and kitchen utensils. Perched on and overlapping the rock edifice, the house offers some spectacular panoramic views. The library is perhaps the most attractive feature, with over 1,200 volumes. The house also provides the only access to the castle above, which is definitely worth venturing for the added perspective the viewpoints provide.

Next to this house is the church where scrolls were found mentioning the baptism of 190 Moors. The watch tower – Peñon de Alcalà – perched on the top of this rock could only be reached by a rope-ladder. The town square has the small but imposing town hall and below it a twelfth century dungeon, which is open to the public. You will also encounter several museums, ranging from modern sculpture to designs on pin-heads, from belens to torture chambers!

There are plenty of cafés and restaurants where you can stop and eat, all reasonably priced, the favourite meals being paella, stuffed peppers, rabbit in garlic mayonnaise and oven-cooked vegetables. The shops offer an amazing choice – beautiful local handicrafts, ponchos, shawls, stoles, china, porcelain and fine lace-work. These colourful shops stretch from the lower, outer part of the town all the way up to the high square, some 590 metres above sea-level.

The Guadalest dam is 73 metres high and 270 metres long and was built between 1953 and 1964. Nearby, and usually part of any organised tour to Guadalest, is the Algar river and waterfalls, both of which are refreshing and attractive and most certainly worth a visit while you’re in the area.

Strangely, I haven’t included Guadalest in my fiction yet. This is clearly an oversight. I feel that Leon Cazador will be called to resolve one of his cases here soon.

Spanish Eye - first 22 cases of Leon Cazador, Private Eye
due out from Crooked Cat Publishing 29 November 2013

 NB – ‘belen’ – nativity tableau




Kathleen Janz-Anderson said...

I love to read about foreign places. Great stuff, interesting setting for one of your books.

Nik said...

Thanks, Kathleen. Yes, I can feel a Leon Cazador short story coming on... just need a window to write it!