If you really are into mountain biking, a route through the Sierra de Mariola mountain range is a must. It's this range that the town
Banyeres de Mariola is named after. This town, which we will start this circular route from, is also the municipality that is located at a highest altitude in the whole province of Alicante.
The Sierra de Mariola is a natural reserve that spreads through the interior of the provinces of Alicante and Valencia . This 17,257-hectare area was declared a natural reserve in 2002. It's located between the regions of L'Alcoià, El Comtat and La Vall d´Albaida (Province of Valencia). The highest mountain in this range is the Montcabrer, with1,390 metres of altitude, which also makes it the third highest mountain in the province of Alicante. Apart from this, there are quite a few other mountains that go over a thousand metres of altitude, such as Alto de Mariola (1,158 m), El Contador (1,232 m) and El Portín (1,081 m), which provides us with some insight into what we are going to find there, even though the route we'll follow now is quite moderate if we take into account the topography and the possibilities the area offers.
We'll begin the route by the tourist information office in
Banyeres de Mariola, located at Parque de Villa Rosario s/n. From there, we'll take Calle La Creu and, once we reach the Church of Santa María, we'll continue through Calle San Jorge, which will lead us to the local cemetery. We'll then cross Avda. 25 de Abril to leave the town. After that, we'll take an uphill trail headed for an area called La Font de la Coveta. Even though we'll keep going higher gradually during this first section of the route, we'll come across both uphill and flat parts, where we can adjust our pace to make the ride easier or harder for ourselves.
We'll stay on this road, known as Camí de la Mallaeta, while enjoying the excellent views of the headwaters of the
Vinalopó river and the always magnificent
Montcabrer in the distance.
Eventually, we'll arrive at the CV-794 road. Although our route continues past this point, it's a good place to turn back at if there is any problem and we need to return to Banyeres de Mariola, since we can take the road down towards
Bocairent and then use the trails in the Vía Verde (scenic route) that runs along the old Xixarra train tracks all the way to
Banyeres de Mariola.
However, if we've not encountered any problems, we'll follow a very entertaining trail that goes along the main road towards
Alcoy ("Alcoi" in Valencian). At this point, we'll notice that the whole scenery changes, going from an area full of Mediterranean pine trees to one covered with holm oaks and aromatic shrubs. As soon as we reach the 7th km of our route, we'll cross the road to go into the woods and enjoy the different scents present in the Sierra de Mariola, famous for its wide variety of aromatic and medicinal herbs.
This road, which gets narrower at some points, leads us to the Santa Barbara drinking fountain, which gives its name both to the church next to it and to the area we are biking through, on the way to the Mariola Camping Site. This is a good place to make sure we have enough water and food for the route, since there is a small convenience store within the campsite. It's now, after the first 12.5 km, that we'll start the hardest part of our route: The classic climb to "Cava Gran". This ascent doesn't present any technical challenges, but you'll need to be in good physical conditions, since the gradient does get very steep and the road is made of compacted soil, which means we won't be able to pedal standing up at many points. During this climb, we'll pass Alt de Mariola (1,158 m) and Sima del Cavall on our right-hand side, and we'll continue through La Solana de la Foia Ampla up to Cava del Buitre before reaching our goal:
"Cava Gran" also known as
This "cava" (a sort of ancient man-made ice store) is located next to the Montcabrer shelter, at 1,220 metres of altitude. It's famous for its arched structure, which is why it's also called Cava Arqueada, and has an unbelievable storage capacity of about 2,000 m3.
Even though it's not strictly necessary, we recommend doing a last effort to go from the shelter to the top of Pico del Teix, where we'll enjoy a magnificent view of the area, with the
Beniarrés reservoir, all the towns and villages in L´Alcoià, and the Sierra de Aitana mountain range, amongst other things. This range is also a very clear natural border between the coastal and the inland landscapes of the province of Alicante. The climb up to the viewpoint might not cover a very long distance (under 400 metres), but it definitely is quite hard, since the elevation gain for just that section is close to 50 metres. We do think it's worth the effort, though, even if we need to stop and catch our breath at some points.
After this, we'll begin our way back to
Banyeres de Mariola. Although it's true that we've already completed the hardest parts of the route, we shouldn't forget that we're going through quite a hilly terrain and we still have some climbs left to do. To avoid going back through the same road we took before, we'll take the trail towards Alt del Cernical, leaving this mountain on our left and going around the Montcabrer through its northern side, on our way to Mas de la Foia Ampla. Once we go past this rural property, which we'll see on our right-hand side, we'll continue down the trail towards Font de Prats until we reach the CV-794 road. We won't stop at the Font de Mariola unless we need to refill our water bottles there. We'll then cross the road to get to the other side of the mountain range and arrive at the headwaters of the Vinalopó river.
We'll go past Mas de Reiner and Mas de Guidella. The latter is a really beautiful property, surrounded by vineyards and full of horses, reminding us of colonial houses and standing out due to its yellowish-ochre colour, very unusual in the area. Finally, before getting back to the town, we'll cross the Vinalopó river through the old Blanes factory, also known as Molí de Dalt and Molí de Baix, built to serve as flour mills but converted later into paper mills, in use until the first half of the 20th century. These buildings are brimming with nostalgia, while longing to be recognised as one of the most beautiful examples of industrial architecture.
At last, Banyeres de Mariola welcomes us as you would expect it to: with a very steep climb, just before we arrive at the town centre and reach the end of our route. By the time we finish, we'll probably be thinking already about doing more routes in the area, thanks to the amazing views and the amount of roads left behind, which our bikes will surely be glad to try some other time.
Villajoyosa/Vila Joiosa (La)
Alicante / Alacant
Alfàs del Pi (L')
What to see
The local heritage of Banyeres de Mariola is quite valuable and diverse, as reflected by the Castle - Fortress, the monument to Saint George and the church of Santa María, amongst other things. But what really catches our eye, regarding the architectural heritage of Banyeres de Mariola, is the predominantly industrial architecture, especially its mills, which are a clear reflection of the town's significant industrial tradition.
If we still want to learn more about it, we should visit the Valencian Paper Museum.
What to eat
The local cuisine of Banyeres de Mariola is strongly influenced by its mountainous location, given the short distance to Sierra de Mariola. Most traditional dishes have a high calorie content in order to fight the cold. Examples of these are: arroz con conejo (rice with rabbit meat), cocido (meat and vegetable stew), "coques" (savoury pastries with different toppings like tomato, sausages, sardines, etc.), "olleta" (a moist stew with meat, rice, beans and vegetables), "pericana" (a salad made with dried red peppers, garlic, cod, salt and oil), rice-stuffed peppers, "olla de penques" (artichoke stalk stew), "olla de bledes" (chard stew), "olla de carabassa" (pumpkin stew) and "gaspatxos" (similar to gazpacho manchego). We mustn't forget the artisan sweets and pastries that can be found at any bakery in Banyeres, like the almond pastries, the wine rolls, the anise seed rolls, the sweet potato pies or the sponge cakes. On top of that, we should definitely try the most popular local liquor: the "herbero", an alcoholic drink made of anise seed and other herbs, and also the perfect digestif after a big meal.
Did you know?
Banyeres de Mariola had a population of 400 inhabitants in 1646, but this number had almost doubled by 1710. By the last quarter of the 18th century, thanks to agricultural and industrial progress, the population grew up to 1,600 inhabitants.
The Vinalopó river originates in Banyeres de Mariola and, due to its 81-kilometer course, it's the most important river in the province of Alicante. It rises in the Sierra de Mariola and flows into the Mediterranean Sea after going through the salt lakes in Santa Pola.
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