Retreat From The Beaches
An article covering the walking with mountainWALKS from the magazine WALKING ABROAD issue Nº6, August/ September 1999.
Olive and almond groves, limestone pinnacles and sleepy villages are all within a beach ball’s throw of the Costa Blanca. Gill Page steps off the beaten track.
It reminded me of the Olivio advert. OK we were in Spain and not Italy, but tales of two 80-year-olds having a fight in the bar, the fact that more than half the population of the village is over 70, and the oldest man still working is 87,just confirmed to me that olive oil is life’s elixir.
The village is Quatretondeta, which dates back to Moorish times, and is just 50km(31 miles) from Benidorm, on Spain’s notorious Costa Blanca. But a bigger contrast would be difficult to find. At 5 o’clock on Saturday afternoon we wandered through the dusty streets, between white-washed and shuttered, sun-baked and could have heard an almond drop. Even the dogs were silent.
Not the sort of place you expect a British couple with two young children to settle then? But that’s exactly what Brian and Pat Fagg did seven years ago. Disillusioned with the world of big business in England, they hit upon Quatretondeta by chance and liked it so much they bought a few acres of farmland.
It took several years of getting to know the locals before they were able to buy a run-down, 100-year-old house in the village, which they have converted to the delightfulEls Frares hotel and restaurant- translated as "the friars" and named after the local mountains.
The atmosphere and décor of the hotel is just right. Comfortable and friendly, with fifteen en-suite bedrooms. Pat is the cook and she specialises in top quality Spanish food-the vegetarian options are superb. Brian leads walking groups for Waymark Holidays – which is how I came to be there.
Walking in the Sierra de Serrella mountains in spring is like having an outdoor aromatherapy session. The scent of lavender, sage, rosemary and thyme is all pervading. The locals still pick the leaves for medicinal use. Maybe that’s another reason why they live so long?
Brian has a repertoire of more than 40 walks and we sampled two of them, starting with a gorge walk which ended in the town of Lorcha.
A gentle step-out along an old railway track loosened the limbs, before we climbed steeply up the rocky cliffs, through scrub. Then we joined another track for an easy few miles to our destination, where Brian just happened to know of a bar that was open!
The 10 mile route took us about five hours including a picnic stop, but an elderly man in trainers reckoned he’d done the same walk from the opposite direction, in just 2 hours. It must be the olive oil!
Our second route started from the hotel, straight up into the surrounding hills, among the weathered, Dolomite-like pinnacles of the Sierra de Serrella. As we climbed, the views over the plain revealed layer upon layer of white limestone terraces, planted with rows of olive trees, some up to 1,000 years old.
Skirting around the pointed ranks of the Els Frares rocks we came to "Brian’s discovery" – a hole that with a bit of fumbling for handholds and nimble footwork took us down through the rocky outcrop and onto a path across the scree.
Then it was on to Africa: yes, we were puzzled. Surely we wouldn’t be able to see across to the African coast. Perhaps it was the safari park that I’d seen a leaflet about.
As we crested the top of the hill, all became clear. In front of us was a massive hole in the rock, looking like a page out of a giant atlas.
A golden eagle entertained us with swoops and glides as we ate our picnic, savouring hazy views down to the coast. It’s a great area for bird watching. I spotted a golden oriole, and shrikes are sometimes seen.
Sitting on my balcony on our last evening I could smell woodsmoke mingled with Pat’s cooking. The mountains were clearly defined in the evening light, birds twittered, the church clock chimed the hour and all I had to think about was how many bottles of olive oil I could stuff in my rucksack and how many roasted almonds I could stuff in my mouth without ruining my appetite for dinner . It was only a short visit to Quatretondeta but I came back totally relaxed- those who go for a week or 10 days must be so laid back they’d have to be carried on to the plane.
Walking Abroad was a bi monthly magazine published in the UK. The magazine was edited by Gill Page. Unfortunately due to distribution problems this great magazine no longer exists.
All inclusive guided walking holidays by mountainWALKS were available from Waymark Holidays in the UK. Waymark Holidays were taken over by Exodus back in 2003 and finally ceased to exist as a company offering walking holidays at the end of 2007. A lovely friendly independent company in its time and a great loss to those enjoying walking holidays.
Read another article… Scotland on Sunday