27 November 2019 – Sierra Mariola and Alcoy

I have a vague memory of someone writing about cycling holidays based in Alcoy, and they mentioned that visiting the Sierra Mariola was a must. So that’s what we set out to do on this cycle.

Leaving Ibi to the north, we were straight into a climb. Ibi is lucky to have such a wonderful climb on its doorstep, rising up the hillside in myriad twists and turns, offering a superb view back down on the town, and to anyone further down the climb from you. It is only about 3 miles long at 4% average, but very enjoyable. Maybe because it isn’t so hard.

Here’s a thing… I always feel sad when I come across roadside shrines. I’ve spotted a few on this holiday, but on the climb from Ibi, there was something a little different. About halfway up, written on the road next to the crash barrier, is “Gracias 24-6-17”. Clearly this barrier (or more likely the previous incarnation) has saved a life. That was a nice thought, and put a wee smile on my face.

After topping out, we descended for a while before turning left at a T-junction, heading towards Banyeres. This involved a long, straight drudge of a climb before we got into descending again. Another short rise and a corner followed, after which Banyeres was revealed, with a prominent castle on top of a hill, like so many of the towns in the area.

It was time for a coffee, so we left the main road and started climbing steeply towards the town centre. However, we hadn’t gone far before we spotted a possible coffee stop, the Hotel Meson et Castillo. I poked my head round the door and asked “cafes?”. The answer I received was affirmative, so we quickly tied up the bikes and went in.

We took a seat with a view and soon had our Americanos. The waiter spoke English and asked if we wanted cakes. “Oh God yes!” was the approximate reply. One was a sort of creme caramel type pudding (similar to what the Spanish call “flan”) and the other was similar to a roulade. Both were delicious. I could hardly believe that the bill was just six euros!

Leaving the town, we picked up the Via Verde, or what is marked as such on my map. This is basically an ex-railway track converted into a walking / cycling path, I was a little nervous, as our previous experiences show that the surface can be quite rough in places, not unlike the National Cycling Network at home.

Well, to start off it was proper road, later turning into a well surfaced track, with plenty of people out walking. Then it got rough for a short while before we were deposited back on tarmac again. The decision was vindicated, as we would otherwise have had to ride on the fairly busy main road that we could see in the distance on our left.

We had got quite close to the town of Bocairent by this time, when we intercepted the CV-794, turning right and uphill away from civilisation into the Sierra Mariola. The ascent took us through a forest of what must have been some species of oak, judging by the acorns that were falling onto the road. It was another lovely climb, but slightly steeper than the one out of Ibi. The “official” climb (as marked by signposts) ended and the road flattened out before ascending once more, taking us to about 3000 ft elevation.

Sierra Mariola

It certainly was a lovely ride, with the narrow, quiet road and being surrounded by greenery giving a feeling of peace and tranquillity not dissimilar to riding in the Scottish highlands. After a while, the ride turned into a descent, but the scenery remained just as beautiful. I deliberately went slow just to make it last, as I knew we were heading to busy Alcoy.

When we joined the CV-795 for Alcoy, it did indeed get busy. It was also a little disconcerting to pass a no entry to bikes sign, but that referred to a tunnel ahead, and we took a right just before the tunnel opening, onto Carrer Salt.

This funny little road, only open to bikes and residential traffic, took us through what looked like some ancient, disused industrial buildings and afforded a great view over the valley below. We stopped for a good look, and while Colette looked for cats, I could make out the Via Verde below crossing a couple of impressive viaducts. There were a number of cyclists using the route, so based on our experience of the Via Verde earlier in the day, we made a decision there and then to return to Ibi via the Verde, so I stopped my pre-planned route on the Wahoo.

A very fast descent took us into Alcoy, where we were looking for somewhere resembling the city centre. Using my phone, I navigated us towards a large church, then we got off our bikes to have a good look around. Colette noticed some market stalls, and then we discovered we were beside a vast indoor market.

I peeked in to see what it was like, but didn’t think bikes would be allowed. As if reading my mind, I was followed out by a chap saying something like “parking por bicyclettas”. He seemed to be the gaffer for the place, making sure that things were running smoothly.

Anyway, he ushered us to some fancy bicycle stands, where you turned your cranks horizontal and pushed them into a slot, which held the bike between the crank and pedal. It was a very stable arrangement, and Senor Gaffer was very proud of them, possibly because they were brand new, as he took a picture of the bikes once in place.

We then went to explore… The market had every type of stall: fruit, vegetables, meat, prepared meat products, fish, bread and cakes, sweets, perfumes and more besides. And if that wasn’t enough, there was a little supermarket for everything else. Oh, and what we were interested in most: it had several places to eat.

We sat down with a couple of beers and the best hot bocadillos we’ve ever had. Then espressos afterwards and another surprisingly cheap bill at the end of it. By the time we got up, everyone was packing away their stalls, so we had arrived just in time. If you are ever planning a visit, make sure you get to the market by 1pm.

Trying to find our way to intercept the Via Verde from the market proved quite tricky due to the one way system, but finally I got the hang of it and eventually we were on the cycle track, leaving town. It was paved with a kind of green asphalt and quite smooth rolling. The path took us over a couple of high bridges, which we had seen earlier from much higher up on Carrer Salt. The second bridge was particularly high, and as we crossed, we felt a very strong cross-wind, which was funnelling down the valley from our right. That wasn’t a combination that Colette was keen on!

The green road

After that, the path was very enjoyable, taking us gradually uphill through the trees, with occasional views over to the urban sprawl of Alcoy and Cocentaina in the valley to our left. We also started going through tunnels. They were short to start with, but grew longer as we progressed. Luckily, they had motion sensitive lighting, and lit up as we entered. However, on one of the tunnels, the lights went off well before we were through, leaving us in the dark. We were glad that we had our bike lights and had them switched on already, just in case of such an occurrence.

After the final tunnel, there was about two miles of Via Verde left before we reached proper road. However, the paved surface gave way here to gravel. There was a way of escaping onto the road earlier, but we thought we might as well complete the journey on the Via Verde as far as it would take us.

The gravel got coarser as we entered cuttings, where rain seemed to have washed the finer gravel away. Then it turned to a dirt singletrack, more suited to mountain bikes. I began to ponder the merits of gravel bike for cycling in this area. However we took it carefully and avoided any mishaps.

We had arrived at the service road alongside the A7, and were heading uphill, directly into the wind. That was a bit of a slog, but the road then turned downhill, making it a lot easier. After a roundabout, we had another mile or so till we reached Ibi, where we were greeted by the sight of a clear perspex-like statue of the three kings, backlit in spectacular fashion by the sinking sun. That was a nice welcome back.

This was probably the pick of our six cycles from Ibi, due to the variety of cycling, the scenery, the food, and the fun of the Via Verde. I would certainly jump at the chance to do it again.

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