Our region has this year had more rainfall since January than at any time since the 1870s. The effects of this watery bounty are clear to see in the lush greenery of the landscape around us. The local waterways have also sprung to life as they drain water from the highlands and mountains that are such a feature of Alicante province. As such it has been a rare opportunity to see our streams and rivers in full flow. Our local river is the Rio Vinalopo which meets the sea at Santa Pola, on the coast adjacent to the famous salt lakes.
As soon as the weather improved we took the opportunity to visit the upper stretches of the Vinalopo near to where it rises in the Mariola mountains. The river runs through the Town of Villena which just happens to be Juan’s home town, so his parents came along for the adventure to act as our guides! What we discovered was a world of water meadows and verdant valleys tucked away in the heights of our province.
The start point of our walk was the village of Banyeres de Mariola in the ‘comarca’ of Alto Vinalopo, this is the nearest settlement to the source of the Vinalopo; from here the river runs down through Villena, Elda, Aspe, Elche and on to Santa Pola. We followed parts of two walking routes, the Ruta Miradors and the Ruta dels Molins. The second of these routes, as its name suggests, follows the mills that took advantage of the river to power machinery with different purposes across the years, flour, paper etc.
The experience was above all one of being immersed in nature. The banks of the river were fringed by lines of beautiful trees giving shade to the riverside path and it was quite extraordinary to see fast flowing water in the river itself. The sound of flowing water and the sparkle of light playing on its surface are always a special joy in southern Spain.
The experience of being near flowing water in a hot and sunny climate is something that has always been especially treasured in our climate. The famous Muslim paradise gardens of Andalucia and the later renaissance gardens of Italy and Spain always included fountains, pools and clever water features such as staircases with streams running alongside to give the sensual pleasures of moving water in contrast to the still and deep heat of the Mediteranean climate. Nothing however can compare to the thrill of walking alongside a natural river on a sunny day. The mountains that lie just inland from our coast contain many such springs and watercourses often including spectacular waterfalls and deep natural pools where it is possible to swim; as the summer rolls on we hope to visit some of these and perhaps even brave a little river swimming!
The ruta dels Miradors took us up into the thickly forested slopes on the highlands from where we could look down over miles of pine tree covered hills with sprinklings of colourful wild flowers. The beauty provided by these wild flowers is a particular pleasure in the Spanish Spring.
Our trip up the course of our local river took us into a magical natural world. However, the beauty of this place was made all the more precious by our knowledge that this little slice of earthly paradise is only temporary and in a few weeks the waters will drop and the colours fade in the arid heat of summer. In our neighbourhood it is spring and not summer whose “lease hath all too short a date”. We invite you to follow our footsteps and try these Rio Vinalopo walking routes whilst our local river is bursting with life thanks to the recent heavy rains, we’re sure that you will find beauty and peace up in the hills where our river is born.
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