A village with a portal and a long drive from urbanisation.
We drive for what seems like hours, ascending gradually through a long wide valley rimmed with mountains, reminding us of Umbria. Pablo blanco (white villages) are dotted around clinging to hillsides. the terracing of the landscape is impeccable and productive. The almond blossom at last emerging, signals the start of spring and sweeps across the slopes of orange earth with a lilac froth and delicate scent.
It was towards the end of our stay in Valenciana, Costa Blanca, that we arrived at Guadalest. The village is perched on a hilltop surrounded by dramatic cliffs, one with a bell tower (de la Alcala) impossibly constructed on the top. We stopped for beer at a music cafe, the ceilings shimmered with the CD’s glued to it. The lavatory was decorated in Goth style with disco lights, and the walls were lined with hundreds of pictures of Mick Jagger from all decades. Everything in this welcoming establishment is for sale.
We park the camper van for the night at El Refuge. It is run by Spaniards and has a reputation for taking care of the areas climbing community and visitors. We chatted to the owner who had put up so many of the sport climbing routes in the area.
In the morning sun we sit and eat outside the van gazing down the valley, idly watching black redstarts in the bushes. As the sun climbs higher, we watch the smoke drift slowly upwards from fires lit to clear away the prunings from the olive groves. More fires appear in the distance and the air becomes hazy with smoke.
“Guadalest Is the third most visited village in Spain”, we are told this by a chatty Spaniard who although much younger than us, no longer climbs. He pats his rotund stomach and shows us pictures of his baby daughter by way of explanation. He describes the beauty of Gaudalest with enthusiasm, giving great mention to the villages many museums, then making an O with his hand, he kisses his fingertips. Guadalest is worthy of its popularity. It’s unspoilt and you have to drive some kilometres out to even buy bread. There is a coach park but none of the scruffy edges and air of degradation that many Spanish towns and villages seem to have.
After a mornings rock climbing and feeling hungry we tried the menu del dia at a busy cafe in the village, just a short walk from the rock face. This is great value being about 10 euros for a 3 course meal including beer and coffee. The menu is fixed with a few choices.
The village has a twist in its architecture. You must pass through a steep gateway to get to a partially restored fortification and then you find yourself in a different part of the village, only accessible through this gateway. And it’s a charming, attractive set of streets with town hall, tidy cobbled square and white painted terraces. From the terraces, views over the reservoir filled valley of azure water take us by surprise.
To enter the bell tower and castle area you can also visit what would have been the grand house of the village, El Castell de Gaudalest. The village was run by one family for many generations, who although not royal were given special status because a former family member had given impeccable service to Christian royalty after the Reconquest. The house interior, approached through a high ceiling hall with terracotta floors and white walls ,gives way to sets of smaller rooms that are more humble in proportion. They are complete with the family possessions from around 150 years ago. Heavy dark furniture, chunky colourful ceramics, simple fireplaces and the white walls made it a house of beautiful spaces that you could imagine yourself living in. The bedrooms are decorated with pious simplicity, complete with antique brass beds, and a crucifix at the head of each bed.
Now back to those museums. Each seems to have several titles. One, the Microgigantic museum (the most incredible museum in the world) is a museum of famous scenes carved onto a pinhead, or a grain of rice, the bible on a human hair. It is truly spectacular or so we are told by a large hoarding. We are not swayed.
In the Museum of Antonio Marco (it’s unique in the world) everything is 70 cm of height. It is the life’s work of carving by a craftsman who carved everything and anything in miniature. Whole towns can be seen inside, made small. There was no attempt to fit anything on a pin head just scaled down replicas made about a hundred years ago. One item caught our attention, a 12 ton recreation of the nativity scene, this being the last exhibit you will see.