A visit from friends from Finland gave an excuse to revisit one of the most intriguing local towns; Bocairente. This little town lies just over the border into Valencia Province and is situated in a mountainous region of high peaks and steep gorges. It sits atop a rocky spur of land with sheer drops down to the valley below on three sides. The town in its present form is believed to date back to muslim times and was conquored by Christian forces in around 1250. It preserves a fascinating set of features from its Islamic and early Christian history. It also possesses possibly the most stunning location of any local town.
The town has at its centre a magnificent elongated market place hedged around with exceptionally tall ancient houses of seven or eight storeys, reminiscent of Italian towns of a similar period. The market place contains restaurants and bars in which to enjoy lunch or simply a drink surrounded by this extraordinary townscape. The market place is however just an overture to what lies up in the oldest part of the town.
Up a steep ramp one enters a maze of alleyways and passages dating back to the period of muslim rule by the Caliphate of Cordoba. One climbs higher and higher past churches and stone houses quite literally stepping in the footsteps of men and women who lived in the town well over a thousand years ago. The old town is a place to wander and explore; everywhere there are remnants of the history of the place, maybe a street name recalling some previous trade carried on or a medieval church built on the site of a former mosque. It is not a museum town however and the old town still hums with evidence of everyday family life such as modern children’s playgrounds sited in the little neighbourhood squares. Eventually one crosses the ancient heart of the town and descends to its opposite side. Here one encounters medieval gateways leading out of the line of the old town walls and into a very special space; “La Ruta Mágica”.
La Ruta Mágica (“the magic route”) is a walking route that has been created around the foot of the old town walls skirting three sides of the rocky peninsular upon which the town sits. The walk includes several remarkable survivors of the town’s history including an impressive view of the winding pilgrimage route to the town hermitage on the other side of a barren valley. Further along from the hermitage are the town’s famous caves (Covetes dels Moros), these were used for a variety of purposes over the years and it is now possible to explore them, although be warned it is only for the relatively fit and intrepid!
Our favourite part of the Routa Magica is where it winds through a complex of terraces built into the hill sloping down to the river below. These terraces have been cultivated since muslim times and contain little orchards, walled vegetable gardens and miradors to enjoy the spectacular views across the steep valley with the river below. This part of the town does indeed seem timeless and weaves an enchanting spell upon any visitor.
Above all it is the town’s location, perched high on its little peninsular, that gives it a special atmosphere. The surrounding valleys are varied in character. On one side of the town the valley is barren and broad giving a wide vista into a forbidding and almost desolate landscape. In contrast, the valley on the opposite side of the peninsular is deep but quite narrow with an intimate sense of space and scale; this valley contains the rivers Vinalopo and Clariano and its waters bring life in abundance with layers of vegetation obscuring the valley floor far below.
We have visited the town three times already and find something new on every visit, not least the warm and relaxed welcome from the townspeople who seem to know that they are the custodians of a rather special, and perhaps magical, place.
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