Updated: Nov 2
When Nicki and I first arrived in Cocentaina we didn’t really know where to explore first, and some of our early choices were somewhat questionable. Like the day we took a ride round the Beniarres reservoir only to find ourselves struggling up the steep hill to Planes and realising why all the cyclists were all coming the other way.
So, if you’re new the Comtat, here are 4 great rides to start you off. They’re relatively easy - all between 40 and 65 km long and with less than 1000m of height gain. There are spectacular views throughout, lots of cafes to stop at and plenty of possible variations and handy escape routes back to Cocentaina, should you need them. Enjoy!
#1 TOUR OF THE COMTAT
Length 42km Height Gain 527m Rating *****
The CV790 eastwards towards Benilloba is the quickest way out of Cocentaina and into the countryside. Swoop down over the Riu Serpis, under the motorway and past the honey factory on the left, then take the left fork onto the CV706 towards Millena. The short drop to the bridge over the Riu Valleseta proves to be the last rest for a while; from here it’s steeply up for a km before the angle eases into a steadier climb into the hills.
For a further 3 km the road meanders along, mostly upwards but with one or two respites along the way, through rolling, wooded terrain and past an imposing white house that must have been a gorgeous wayside inn in its heyday. Straight ahead on the hillside above stands the imposing ruin of Castell de Travadell, framed by the impressive mass of the Serra d’Almudaina, beckoning you onwards and upwards.
A last steeper section and hairpin bend brings you to an oblique T junction where you take a sharp left and continue the climb alongside a charming barranco to what I over-grandly call the Benillup Pass. Now it’s into the big ring for some well-earned downhill fun. The pretty village of Benillup soon shows itself on the left, and at the road junction it’s worth pausing to visit the mirador and take in the views down into the Barranc de Caraita.
You can escape from here via a lovely long descent into Benimarfull, but we stay on the top road (CV 710, then 708), which undulates pleasantly around the contours with spectacular views across the valley on the left. There’s another escape route on the left just after the 12km point but we keep going to Almudaina, and then through a series of swooping undulations to the tiny hamlet of Benialfaqui.
Take care at the entrance to the village because the road jinks left here and drops very sharply to a blind, tricky right-hander and past a tiny church on the left. Take a moment to notice the unique triangular church tower if you can, but immediately you’re into a short but exhilarating drop into the gorge, fast over the bridge and then quickly down the gears for the sharp, winding climb up the other side.
After only a km the effort is over and the larger village of Planes lies ahead. The second exit at the roundabout brings you to our favourite shady café on the left (garage opposite) where the welcome is warm and the coffee is excellent. Take a rest here or continue on to the next junction and turn left onto the CV 711 towards Beniarres. There’s a fast section here that sweeps you down over the barranc and then sharply up between the castell perched dramatically above the Barranc Fondo and the ermita high above on the right.
Now: hold onto your hats because there’s a wild drop down to the reservoir. It’s a single steep kilometre and I always find the gentle but blind right-hander half way down plus the hard braking at the bottom rather scary. You’ll return to attack the climb when you’re feeling strong, but for now it’s a straightforward bimble around to the dam, with some gorgeous views across the reservoir to your left, and gently along to Beniarres.
At Beniarres (cafés) turn left onto the CV 705 towards Muro d’Alcoy and follow the relatively flat road past Gaianes (café with piscina), past a big bodega with an interesting mural, under the motorway, past Setla de Nuñes and into Muro d’Alcoy, where you head up through the town to the main road at the top. From there it’s a fast 4km run back to Cocentaina along the N340, keeping to the service road where possible to avoid the worst of the traffic.
#2 TOUR OF THE COMTAT REPRISE
Length: 47km Height Gain 788m Rating ****
There’s plenty more of this wonderful valley to see, so here’s another cracker of an intro to whet your appetite for the harder rides to come. This one’s ever so slightly longer and harder but still very much in the same vein, with winding roads, pleasant climbs, great descents, and spectacular views throughout. This one can even be linked up with the first ride to create the full valley tour, which is a great day out and a wonderful treat.
This time we leave Cocentaina on the road towards Alcoy, which means that we’re climbing from the front door and soon threading our way through the centre of Alcoy’s more modern northern zone. A left and right at the entrance to the city takes us along the paseo and past the main hospital to what I call The Causeway but is actually a modern viaduct across the Riu Serpis called the Pont Francisco Aura Boronat.
A surprisingly steep exit from this bridge brings us to the foot of “Family Cash Hill”, named by Nicki after a randomly located signpost half way up indicating the way to an inexplicably distant local supermarket. A series of switchbacks waft you efficiently up the hill to the motorway roundabout, where you take a right down to the next roundabout and then up and away from the town on the wide yet largely traffic-free N340. Take a moment here to spot the Manantial del Molinar in the deep barranco down to the left: this quirky building marks the site of Alcoi’s principal water source down the ages.
At the 12km point, just after Venta Jordi, we take a left onto the Benifallim road (CV 785) and follow this steepishly and then more pleasantly up through the woods, with the mini-mountain of La Serreta and its Iberican settlement visible over to the left. After a few false summits we start contouring down and around to Benifallim, where ignore the turning to the puerto (for now!) and skirt around the town to the left, to find a wonderfully straight and fast descent towards Penàguila. From here on the road is impressively scenic, with great photogenic views over the whole of the Comtat to the north.
A left turn in Penàguila spares you the trials of Tudons Pass (this time) in favour of a blissfully level 2km stretch and then a testing dive into and out of the gorge, landing you breathlessly at a T junction on the CV70 at Benasau. Turn left here and you’re rewarded with a simply glorious high-speed descent towards Benilloba, somewhat regretfully braking for the right turn to Gorga at 32km. The next 4km starts levelly but features a somewhat testing double dip through multiple gorges and past some smelly chicken houses into the unexpectedly pretty village of Gorga with its handsome avenue and friendly café set among extensive olive groves.
You won’t see it from the road, but not far off to your left as you climb out of Gorga on the CV 710 there’s a 2000-year-old olive tree that’s reputed to be the oldest one in Spain and whose hollow core was once used as a dwelling. Another day, perhaps. After the climb through the hairpin bend, we soon get to the roundabout at Millena with its impressive leaning tree sculpture, before diving down again past a Zona Recreativa and its font on the right and through a truly delightful narrow canyon with a river at its base and high cliffs on either side.
Take this as fast (or as slow) as you wish and then turn left onto the CV 706 below the Castell de Travadell for the long downhill run home. Alternatively, go straight on here to continue the tour of the valley on Route 1 above towards Benillup and beyond.
#3 ACROSS THE SIERRA DE MARIOLA
Length 54km Height gain 768m Rating ****
The Sierra Mariola is our go-to place for a short but energetic outing when we don’t have much time to spare. The straight N340 out of Cocentaina falls gently away northwards and in less than 5km you’re already in Muro d’Alcoy, nicely warmed up and turning left onto the CV 700 towards Agres. For 6km the road drags steadily upwards, and at 3 to 4% it’s manageable so long as you´re patient with it. The last couple of km after the railway tunnel are a bit steeper, but soon you´re at the top and enjoying the views across to Bocairent.
From here there’s a brilliant little descent into Alfafara, which is short on cafés but long on pretty barrancs and interesting walks in the hills above. Only a km beyond the village, watch out for the unmarked Via Verde that crosses the CV 700 at an oblique angle. Turn left here and follow the old railway line on good tarmac at first and then on a potholed but adequate surface up to Bocairent. Turn right at the green railway carriage and drop down to the big roundabout on the main road, turning left onto the fast and wide CV 81 dual carriageway.
Like many Spanish roads this one has a generous margin to ride on, so there’s no feeling of being bullied by the traffic as you make your way up the short drag to the left turn at the second roundabout. Here we follow the road around to the right past some industrial buildings to another roundabout and the start of the short but sweet 2km climb (10% max) up onto the Sierra de Mariola proper.
From here on the views are lovely as the road winds and undulates gently up and across the high pasture, sprinkled with poppies and dotted with huge old farmsteads. At the 31km point you reach the high point of the route at just over 900m, and if you fancy lingering there’s a turning to Font de Mariola on the left after a few km more. Here the character of the road changes from open uplands to an intricately twisting descent on a narrow road down through lovely rocky scenery, and it’s one of our absolute favourites, despite the not-so-great road surface. A degree of caution is advisable in case of oncoming traffic but it’s a generally quiet road that gives 7km of downhill pleasure.
Shortly after a tight-ish 180-degree right-hander there’s a turning that cuts back sharply to the left and uphill. Follow this up and around the back of the Sargento urbanitzacio for a couple of clicks before breaking out into a delightfully remote and peaceful landscape in the hills high above Alcoy. From the high point at 40km the long, looping descent to the CV 796 is an absolute joy that’s well worth the extra effort to get here. The beautifully surfaced road is always practically deserted aside from a few walkers’ cars and it’s a great place to let rip.
At the bottom we turn left and follow this often-busy road past a natural open air swimming pool on the left and the Preventori (old people’s home) on the right, until suddenly we’re met with a stunning view over the city of Alcoy spread out in the valley below. After a couple of bends and a short, dark tunnel we pass the awe-inspiring entrance to the Barranc del Cint on the left, which is an extremely popular trailhead for walks into the Mariola.
From there the remaining descent into town is steep, fast and technical, with a couple of annoying speed bumps and a 90-degree right-hander at the end that always takes us by surprise. From here the rest is easy: you can pick up the cycle path that run parallel to the railway line and past the train station or drop down to Carrer Juan Gil Albert, the main one-way road that takes you through Alcoy and straight back to Cocentaina.
#4 SIERRA DE MARIOLA CIRCUIT
Length 62km Height gain 823m Rating ***
This circuit must have been one of the first rides we did from Cocentaina, and it’s a great way to see the countryside, villages, and towns around the edge of the Sierra de Mariola.
We start in the direction of Alcoy as for Route #2 but this time we turn right after the Opel dealership and follow the recently laid cycle path past the main railway station. Then it’s best to follow the straight, one-way Carrer Gabriel Miró to its end. Turn right at the lights and then left, still following the one-way system until you reach an angled roundabout at the Plaça la Concordia. Take the second exit here and now you’re climbing quite steeply up and out of town towards a quite daunting wall of hills and cliffs.
This is the site of the famous Xorro el Salt, an impressive seasonal waterspout that leaps from the top of the cliff and plummets 200 feet into the barranc below. By bike, we follow the old road up past the ancient Casas del Salt, where there are palaeolithic remains and a vast ice cave set back from the road on the right, before emerging, breathless but relieved, on a bridge above the main road.
From here we follow the undulating CV 795 along the valley bottom, with the massively imposing Santuari de la Font Roja high on the hillside to the left and the rich olive groves of the Masia el Altet on the right. Passing the Ermita de Polop Alt and the turning to Ibi on the left, we climb to the high point and then dip down and up to the CV 803 junction to Onil.
Here at the 22km point begins a wonderfully straight, wide and super-fast 3km plunge to the Riu Vinalopó, after which there only remains a short uphill past the Font del Sapo and into the picturesque town of Banyeres, located on the steep western slope of the Mariola and with a huge castillo at its top. There are cafés here if you fancy them – our favourite is the glass-fronted Brasería la Moreneta – but Bocairent is a better option.
So, we skirt around the bottom edge of the town until hanging a left at the roundabout-cum-T junction and zipping all the way down through the industrial area to the main CV 81 at the bottom. Turning right onto the wide margin of this busy road we pick up speed on joyous whisper-quiet tarmac. Seven rapid km later we’re already turning left into Bocairent for coffee at one of the many cafés on offer in this charming village. Do take the trouble to find the main Plaça de l’Ajuntament if you can: it's a genuinely beautiful spot.
Afterwards it’s back onto the main road where we continue at high speed down to the CV 700 turning to Alfafara on the right, then follow the pleasantly winding and gently descending country road to Alfafara, where there’s a handy font on the right for the thirsty. The next 3km up to Agres are always a trial for tired legs but there’s respite on the way up and anyway, it’s all downhill from here. Agres has a wealth of great cafés but there’s not far to go now so we stay on the road and enjoy the long descent alongside the Riu d’Agres all the way down to the N340 once again.
Here there are 3 options. Turn right onto the main road and follow it straight and fast back home; continue down through Muro d’Alcoy to the CV 703 and come back through Alquieres d’Asnar (hillier); or, if you’ve got the bike for it, find the old train station and come back along the gravelly via verde of the old railway line. Either way you finish at the Plaça de la Font with its pretty fountain, antique lavadora and shady spaces.