Maestrazgo and Srs de Gudar and Javalambre
The mountains of the Sierra de Gudar and El Maestrazgo lie due north of Valencia. Maestrazgo spans the boundary between Aragon and Valencia. It is one of the most sparsely populated areas of Spain, rich in historic detail and with a fine network of roads that link the ancient villages. Returning to Valencia from the west, via the Sierra de Javalambre, provides access to some quite different but equally impressive roads and scenery. The area is quiet. For much of the tour, traffic encountered was around one vehicle per hour. Weekend visitors to the area, from cities such as Valencia and Barcelona, increased traffic slightly. More noticeable was the increased demand for accommodation. During the week, we were usually the only residents in our accommodation. The area is hilly! Some days involved up to 1500 metres of total ascent, most of it to go over mountain passes. The highest of these, Puerto de Linares is at 1720 metres. Gradients were comfortable and a typical day was in the region of 70km. The quiet roads are often narrow but with a reasonable surface. A road improvement programme is in progress. This means that some roads are being widened and may also take a more direct route, rather than the often perfect and delightful contouring of the existing road. Late May/early June was a good time to visit. The side of the road was like a giant rock garden in bloom, the temperatures were not too hot and if there is a tourist season, it certainly hadn't arrived. Any rain tended to be confined to thunderstorms in the late afternoon or through the night. Another advantage is that you can avoid the numerous bull tormenting festivities that take place during July and August. A few hotels weren't open in spite of their year round status in the tourist literature. This wasn't a problem. Apart from in Valencia, accommodation had not been booked.
An account of a cycle tour, May 2001.
Part 1: Valencia to El Maestrazgo
Day 1 Valencia to Segorbe (66km; 850m)
From the airport the road to Riba-Roja was busy and dusty. The local ceramics industry probably accounts for much of the traffic. Once beyond Riba-Roja, pleasant countryside leads on to Lliria along the CV 50. Taking the CV 25, We were soon climbing into the Calderona range, through pine forests and the villages of Olocau and Gátova, refilling water bottles at the village fuentes. A fast descent into Segorbe and onto the picturesque village of Navajas. Unfortunately, the only hotel was closed so it was back to Segorbe and the Hospedieria El Palen, a pleasant family run small hotel in this historic town. The hotel restaurant provided good food but no menu - we were simply asked what we would like to eat. Sergobe has plenty of interest including the remains of a Gothic aqueduct and ancient town walls.
(Update 2003: More recently the under construction Via Verde de Ojos Negros provides a route through this area all the way from the coast. The route folows the old railway fom Torres-Torres (Valencia) to Barracas (Castellón) and then on to Cella (Teruel). Further details are available at http://www.viasverdes.com.
Day 2 Segorbe to Rubielos de Mora (63km; 1360m)
Following the road to Navajas and the river Palancia, Jérica is reached by quiet roads, at first through pine and cypress trees and later open farmland. Jérica's late-Moorish bell tower forms a distinctive skyline. Climbing steadily through Caudiel, over the Serra de l'Espina and descending past Montán leads to Montanejos on the Mijares river. Pools in the river look tempting after the climbing but it's upwards again, through the dramatic gorge above the town. By the time we reach Olba we're ready for finding accommodation but there is none listed nearby. Rubielos de Mora is where we head for, but only get there after another 300m climb. Its been a long day but we have the satisfaction of having got well into the mountains - Rubielos de Mora is at about 930m. It is an attractive walled town with much to admire within the walls. This includes the Hotel Los Leones, a converted palace. It is the only one of four hotels listed in our accommodation guide that is open. Not cheap but well worth a visit. There are no other guests. A massive thunderstorm during the night illustrates how the unusual additional protection at the base of the house doors is for preventing water flooding in from the street. One of us, still jet lagged, sleeps through the storm.
Day 3 Rubielos de Mora to La Iglesuela del Cid (67km; 1500m)
It's cool in the morning at this altitude. A steady climb over the Sierra de Nogueurelas is followed by a good descent into Linares de Mora. From here a steady climb to Puerto de Linares at 1720m leads onto barren limestone scenery and a gentle descent. The four eagles circling overhead outnumbered the vehicles that we encoutered. Moqueruela, our lunch stop, was typical of many of the villages - attractive but almost empty. Typical Aragonese balconies fronted shuttered windows, waiting for the weekend visitors. Much livelier was our destination L'Iglesuela del Cid, reached following a good descent through pine forests and final short ascent in a brief shower. The good value family run Casa Amada was to be our base for three nights. L'Iglesuela del Cid also has an excellent panaderia (bakery), which was our first call each morning. Unusually, this one has a display window - most don't - and is therefore easier to find.
Part 2: Maestrazgo and Sierra de Gudar
Day 4 L'Iglesuela del Cid - Cantavieja - L'Iglesuela del Cid
A rest day really. Time to explore and admire. Amazing terraced hillsides and great views as the road rises gradually from one village to the other - 1227m to 1299m. An important discovery was the old road that contours nicely round the hillside. At the top of the rise leaving L'Iglesuela del Cid, the old road takes off to the left. It rejoins the new road after the second of the two big dips that result from the more direct line of the new road.
Day 5 L'I del C - Portell de Morella - Cinctorres - Morella - Forcall - Mirambell - Cantavieja - L'I del C (94km; 900m)
Terraced hillsides seem to be everywhere as we headed towards Portell de Morella and a fast descent into Cinctorres. A great view of Morella and its ruined 12th century castle is followed by a steep descent and the final climb into this historic town. The well preserved town walls enclose a busy tourist centre with plenty of places for lunch.
The route home from Morella was in total contrast to the route there. The village of Forcall lies where two rivers join. From our approach it looked like an estuary port. We followed the river Cantavieja towards Mirambell in hot sun, passing pig farms and poppies at the side of the road. Mirambell is a perfect walled medieval village with a much photographed main gateway. Another few kilometres and Cantavieja is seen, clinging to the rock outcrop at the head of the valley. Then home to L'Iglesuela del Cid (via the old road).
Day 6 L'Iglesuela del Cid to Gúdar (72k; 980m)
Back to Cantavieja where we wait for the shop to open. Then upwards through forested slopes followed by alpine pasture to the Puerto de Cuarto Pelado at 1612m. A rapid descent brought us to Fortanete . Upwards again to the Puerto de Villarroya and down as a thunderstorm gathered to Villarroya de los Pinares, where we spent some while sheltering from the storm. We only encountered a couple of showers but this one was heavy. A few kilometres further on, we encountered our only other cycle tourists - a couple from Plymouth going from Madrid to Barcelona, doggedly pursued by a couple of Germans. Onwards to Allepuz and turned south to Gúdar. This is a dramatically situated village with good accommodation in the Hostal El Mirador. A good dinner, a game of darts and a drink in the bar rounded off the day.
Day 7 Gúdar to Los Cerezos (63km)
We continued our journey south along a pleasant valley bringing us to the rather incongruous ski resort of La Virgen de la Vega. A climb from here took us to the Puerto de San Rafael, our last pass in the Sierra de Gudar followed by a great descent of about 18km all the way to Mora de Rubielos. We were heading for Manznera on the other side of the N234 National Highway and had to cycle only a short distance along this busy road to get back on quiet roads. Looking round Manzanera and consulting the accommodation guide supplied by the Tourist Office, we opted to go a little further to Los Cerezos where there are two hotels. Taking a left turn at Los Cerezos brought us to a very attractive spot with trees, running water and a hotel. This was the Hotel Balneario, an interesting place containing a mixture of noisy elderly people and staff in white coats. Would we be let out?
Part 3: Javalambre and return to Valencia
Day 8 Los Cerezos to Ademuz (68km; 850m)
We made our escape before breakfast - from what turned out to be a popular health spa. We rejoined the easy gradient of the Torrijas valley. The altitude is deceptive, with Torrijas being higher than the villages that we had stayed in the Maestrazo. We couldn't find a panaderia in Torrijas but worse was to come. During the night there had been a severe thunder storm and the road from here was under construction. The effect was for our wheels to sink into the clay surface, collect hefty deposits of gunge and deposit it around the brakes and pretty much everywhere else. Road conditions improved around Arcos de las Salinas and a fuente (con baño) enabled a complete wash of bikes and riders. Turning right at Losilla de Aras, the road to Ademuz via Puebla de San Miguel is a gem. The drama of the surfaced donkey track route was enhanced by the threat of an adjacent thunder storm. Barely wide enough for a car, a series of bends led down to the valley floor for the start of an ascent of around 400m. This isolated road winds past wild vines and the remote mountain village of Hoya de la Carrasca. The descent, first through beautiful forests of pine and oak and then through new olive plantations, led all the way to Ademuz and the Hostal Casa Domingo.
Day 9 Ademuz to Tuéjar (57km)
We had been a little apprehensive about the Hostal Casa Domingo with its size and rather brash exterior. Appearances can be deceptive. Excellent food, very friendly staff and great value were good memories as we headed of on the old Valencia road (CV 35) alongside the River Turia. We were now in a different climate to the one that we had become used to and the agriculture of the valley floor contained orchards of olives, almonds apples and pears. The Turia then flows though a spectacular narrow gorge and the road soon has to take a different route, climbing to around 1000m. Although busier than the roads we had been used to, the CV 35 was still quiet. At Tuéjar we checked into the hotel fresh from a great descent from Titaguas.
Day 10 Tuéjar to Valencia (77km)
Taking the CV 35 as far as Losa del Obispo we found our way through the network of small roads leading back to the River Turia and the villages of Buggara and Pedralba. This was pleasant cycling through intensive agriculture and fascinating irrigation systems. At Pedralba, we crossed the river and headed for Riba Roja and back to the airport. This was quite a short day with most of it downhill, giving time for a trip into the city for the evening.