Orihuela is the capital of the Vega Baja del Segura region. It's one of the most famous towns in the whole province of Alicante. In fact, it was the capital of some historic territories, such as the Procuración General de Orihuela, the Gobernación de Orihuela or the Gobernación Ultra Xaxonam and, for a short period during the reign of Philip V, it became the capital of the Kingdom of Valencia.
The main assets of its historical heritage are the old quarter (which has been declared a historic-artistic and monumental site) and the local festivals, such as the Easter celebrations (declared Fiestas of International Tourist Interest) and the Reconquista commemoration (the Moors and Christians festival). Many famous authors were born in
Orihuela and/or lived there, including Miguel Hernández, the great poet whose legacy is held in really high esteem in this town.
Most foreigners probably won't know about the environmental and landscape diversity of this municipality. We need to take into account that
Orihuela is the largest municipality in the whole province of
Alicante, which provides it with many different types of scenery.
Orihuela, just like the rest of the towns and villages in the Vega Baja del Segura region, is affected in many ways by its proximity to the Segura River and the croplands by the riverbed. The Segura riverbanks are full of citrus and vegetable crops. This type of ecosystem is so unique that there are only 10 of its kind in the whole world, 4 of them being in Spain. Together with these crops, there are also extensive dryland farming areas where olive and almond trees are grown. Even though most of the coastline is overbuilt, we can still find some unexploited locations like the Mosca cove, the Sierra Escalona range, the Dehesa or the Campoamor pine forest. Despite this being one of the least mountainous areas in the whole province, it features some remarkable mountain ranges that cross the whole municipality, such as the Sierra de Orihuela (634 amsl at its highest point). And we should not forget to mention the La Pedrera reservoir for two basic reasons: it plays an important role in the area and the route we'll follow takes us right to its shore. This reservoir is located between the villages of
Torremendo and Hurchillo, and it was built during the second half of the 20th century as a result of an interbasin transfer between the Tajo and the Segura rivers.
We'll start the route at the town centre, by a street called Sol, which is next to the police station and runs parallel to the Segura River. Once we've covered the first 2 kilometres of the route, we'll see a watermill on the other side of the river. We'll be able to access it if we take a short detour over a bridge.
After the 3rd kilometre, we'll leave the side of the riverbed by turning left on a road that runs between some farming fields, crosses the CV-715 road and leads to the CV-923 road, from which we'll start the main climb of the day to the Sierra del Cristo.
Once we reach the top of this mountain range, we'll have the chance to admire some amazing views despite its low altitude (only 200 metres above sea level). From there, we'll begin our way downhill until we reach the CV-949 road at the 13.70 kilometre point. We'll cross this road and we'll keep going until we get to the CV-954 road after two short climbs. Even though we'll have to stay on the same road all throughout this part of the route, we recommend bringing some notes along or using a GPS tracker to avoid getting lost or taking a wrong turn onto one of the many secondary paths we'll find on our way, which lead to crops and sheds. When we get to the CV-954 road, we'll turn left onto a downhill road that goes all the way to the village of
Torremendo (legally dependent on
Orihuela). We'll go past this village and we'll take a really charming path that runs along the edge of the La Pedrera reservoir. This is the only technically-demanding part in the whole route. We'll leave the reservoir's dam on our right and we'll turn onto the CV-925 road, which joins the towns of
Pilar de la Horadada, until we reach the village of
Hurchillo after a tough climb and a steep descent. We'll keep going on the same road (CV-925) all the way to
Orihuela. After we recover from the day's efforts, we'll have the opportunity to enjoy the town's vast and well-preserved cultural heritage, together with a wide and diverse food offer that results from the combination of its high agricultural productivity and the fact that a part of the municipality borders with the sea.
Alicante / Alacant
Alfàs del Pi (L')
Villajoyosa/Vila Joiosa (La)
What to see
Orihuela's cultural heritage has so much to offer that we recommend taking a look at the town's website in order to determine what we would like to visit and in what order: http://www.orihuelaturistica.es . In fact, just having a walk through the old quarter and trying some of the most typical dishes is a great experience in itself. However, we should not leave Orihuela without having visited the Miguel Hernández House-Museum, on the street of the same name (also known as Calle Arriba).
What to eat
As we said before, the town of Orihuela is strongly linked to its most representative figure in recent history: Miguel Hernández, who said that "Hunger is the most important thing to know: to be hungry is the first lesson we learn.".
What is now clear is that the inhabitants of Orihuela have managed to "satisfy" that first lesson almost to perfection. Traditional local dishes include the cocido con pelotas (meatball stew); the pollo en pepitoria (chicken in a vegetable and bread sauce); the guisado de pavo (turkey stew); the paella huertana or arroz y jardín (chicken and vegetable paella); the arroz clarico (meat, vegetable and rice stew); the arroz de los tres puñaos (rice with lentils and vegetables) or the cucorrones (rice with chickpeas and vegetables); the tortillas paisanas (potato and vegetable omelette); the trigo picao (wheat, chickpea and vegetable stew); the migas con chocolate, con uva, or con melon (breadcrumbs with chocolate, grapes or melon), the migas con sardinas (breadcrumbs with roasted sardines) and, of course, the most popular dish in the area: the arroz y costra (baked meat, egg and rice dish). Don't forget to check out the very traditional and high-quality cured meats and salted fish.
The wide range of confectionery products available plays an important role in the local cuisine, too. Most of these products were originally made by nuns that lived in the multiple convents that can be found in town (in Orihuela, desserts made by nuns are known as "repostería conventual"), but became so popular that are made in most local bakeries nowadays. Some of the best-known local specialties are the Pasteles de Gloria (also known popularly as "nun's breasts"), the tortadas de almendra (almond sponge cake) and the almojábanas (a type of biscuit).
Did you know?
The village of Hurchillo was actually the first location of the town we know as Orihuela nowadays. Until the 17th century, the base of the Orchello mountain held the remains of what most likely was a Greek settlement. The village's original population moved away and the new location they chose was first named Orcellis. This changed into Orihuela many years later.
According to the inhabitants of Torremendo, the village is named after a Moor or a black man called Mendo, who used to live in one of the caves there (now covered by the La Pedrera reservoir), next to a big tower.
Miguel Hernández was born in 1910 in Orihuela, where he began his studies at the local Jesuit school. He had to drop out shortly after in order to work as a shepherd, taking care of sheep and delivering milk. In the 1930s, he moved to Madrid, where he collaborated with José María Cossio on the writing of his bullfighting encyclopedia Los Toros, and he became acquainted with other poets like the famous Chilean author Pablo Neruda, and the Spanish writers Rafael Alberti and Luis Cernuda, amongst others. He participated actively in the Spanish Civil War and tried to leave the country after that, but he got arrested at the Portuguese border. He was first sentenced to death and later on his sentence was commuted to thirty years in prison, which he couldn't serve because he died of tuberculosis in 1942 at the Adult Correctional Facility in Alicante, exactly 75 years ago.
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