Behind the façade: Our guide to the treasures of the Costa Blanca
For years the Costa Blanca has suffered from a PR problem. Derided for being the ugly face of over-development, some never give it a try. But here we report on one of the treasures they are missing out on.
Guadalest: View from the Eagle's Nest
Think picturesque Costa Blanca and Benidorm is perhaps not the first name that comes into your mind.
But look at the map, forget what Benidorm is (and actually, it's not that bad at all!) and check out where it is, and you'll soon discover that it's very close to some of the finest scenery in all of Spain.
If you want views to die for, history galore and an atmosphere that is quintessentially Spain, you only have to take a short drive up into the mountains to a little village that was old when El Cid was a boy — and ancient when the first Conquistadors set forth for the New World.
Guadalest, the Eagle's Nest, is just that, an eyrie set high in the mountains, a place that the Moorish invaders, 1,500 years ago, took one look at and thought, this place has just got to be fortified.
And fortified it was. The area is dotted with the tumbled stones of ruined castles, brought low, at length, by earthquakes, armies and the relentless march of time.
On the slopes of the mountainsides, Moorish terraces still stand, slowly crumbling from long disuse, with ancient, long uncultivated vines trailing from the fallen stones.
The village itself, with its population of only around 200, is best seen, like almost everywhere else, out of season.
Yes, Guadalest has been discovered, and in high summer the tourists flock there, cameras a'clicking. But go there in winter, with a thin sun brightening the spectacular clarity of the views, and you’ll find a treasure of a place, almost within sight of the sea.
The lower village is a riot of souvenir shops, all selling much the same thing, but with bargains to be had in leather.
Have a look around, by all means, but to really see Guadalest, brace yourself, have a coffee, and begin to climb the steep path that leads to the village proper.
It's not that bad a climb, and finally leads through a tunnel, hewn from the rock in ancient times, to the old village, and the ruins of the last castle.
Yes, the souvenir shops are here, too, and the café-bars, but fewer of them; the big attractions are the small, private museums that are dotted about, featuring tableaux of life in antique, rural Spain, and the last remains of the castle.
True to form, the largest surviving room is the dungeon, dark and dismal as dungeons should be, but best appreciated when you check your photos afterwards and see the beautiful paintings on the wall, made centuries ago by incarcerated souls.
Guadalest, one of the treaures of the Costa Blanca
Another short climb and you're in the main village square, with its monuments such as the medieval cross, standing close to the modern 'Man Eating Hamburger'. Spain, as we know, is never predictable.
But you are drawn to the surrounding parapet walls as by a magnet to gape at the views, stunning in their clarity, across the valley to distant Altea,and directly down the azure brilliance of the reservoir with its tiny beaches that beckon you — and which you know full well you'd never be able to find!
To the right stands the tiny tower of Peñon de la Alcata, about the size of a bathroom, balanced precariously on a peak, from which guards once scanned the valley for invaders, Christian Goths searching for Moorish banners, Moorish soldiers anxiously scanning the horizon for returning Christians, even doubtless despondent Napoleonic infantry watching out for Wellington’s army.
Virtually inaccessible and freezing in winter, it was doubtless never a favourite post for any soldier.
Further up and the path grows steeper, winding and punctuated by a series of beautiful ceramic Stations of the Cross. Once monks were here, in the ruined monastery high above the village.
Villagers would climb during Semana Santa, bearing offerings for the church and food for the Brothers who administered it.
At the summit you wander the ruins of the fortress-monastery, clambering higher and higher to the final ruins, where the views assail you from every direction.
The clear mountain air makes everything seem floodlit, with the massive reservoir a tiny drop of brilliant blue in the far distance.
There are still houses in Guadalest, hopelessly traditional, still old ladies in black sitting outside, knitting and gossiping.
Times, and the tourists, have passed them by; they live as they have always lived and pause only to glare from time to time at the trappings of the 21st century.
Photograph one, and you probably risk the Evil Eye being put upon you.
As you descend the winding path, the centuries pile in upon you, until you come again to modern times, and wander back to the inevitable oversized car park.
High above, from the ruined monastery and the Peñon de la Alcata, history gazes impassively down at you. Guadalest is the true magic of Spain; visit it once, and you will always return.
Comment here on the article, or if you have a suggestion to improve this article, please click here.