4 Spectacular Scenic Routes

Updated: Nov 2


There’s something about the way Cocentaina nestles between the rugged limestone of the Sierra de Mariola and the pretty river Serpis below that gladdens the heart. Above it, at the top of the most distinctive and spectacular hill in El Comtat county, sits a Gothic military tower that provides far-reaching vistas over the surrounding area. As we head for home on our bikes we always look out for this landmark and its promise of respite, and suddenly our legs don’t feel quite so tired.


#1 Tollos Penella Round Distance 57km Height gain 962m Rating *****


Much of this route has been covered on recent Vueltas de España, and it’s an absolute cracker. Short but surprisingly demanding, this ride delivers continuous interest and plenty of out-and-out fun along the way. The stretch from Fageca to Gorga is completely bonkers: I guarantee you’ve never seen anything like it!


We start by following the road to Millena, turning right at the top and up through the pretty canyon we came down on Route #2. Turn left at the tree-sculpture roundabout and ride straight up through the village, past a lovely old tree and out into the olive groves the other side. This is a handy shortcut that takes you along a narrow camí, down and round a couple of sharp bends and out on the CV 720 just below Balones, cutting out the overlong down-and-up through Gorga.


Now we stay on this road all the way to Fageca, passing Balones, Benimassot and Tollos along the way. The route is always interesting, diving restlessly in and out of barrancs, ignoring the contours and chasing up and down the lumps. Along the way along there are wonderful views across to the mountains above Quatretondeta, with their distinctive rocky needles decorating the steep, rocky escarpment.


At the apparently café-less Fageca we turn right without pause and almost immediately dive downwards through a steep and narrow passage back into the olive groves. From here the road to Quatretondeta and thence to Gorga simply defies description. The fast curves of this swooping, looping section resemble a roller-coaster more than a country lane, and by the end of it I guarantee you’ll have white knuckles and a huge grin on your face. Stage 2 of La Vuelta de España 2019 came through here in the other direction; hence the generally good but now rapidly deteriorating surface.


Once in Gorga turn left towards Benilloba and then, resisting the urge to escape rightwards towards home, go straight on up the long steep hill to Penella with its distinctive tower on the right. The views from here are spectacular and we continue past a brilliantly situated little café called the Venta Nadal (popular with motorbikers), eventually turning right at the 47km point, right again and steeply down the urban hairpins into Alcoy. The old part of the city with its famous modernista buildings is on your left, but we opt for the super-rapid swoop down and over the causeway which brings you back up and past the main Hospital Verge dels Lliris, onto the main road again and finally downhill into Cocentaina.



#2 Mirador del Xap Distance 73km Height gain 1106m Rating ****


The word “mirador” in Spanish means “viewpoint”, and there are loads of them around Cocentaina. The Mirador del Xap is especially impressive, providing a spectacular view across the beautiful Vall de Gallinera to the north from a height of 600m above sea level.


From Cocentaina we take the fast N 340 road to Muro d’Alcoy, turning right at the Cepsa garage and traversing the town through several sets of traffic lights. At the last set we turn left and then follow the undulating CV 705 all the way to Beniarres with its prominent white church on the hill. At Beniarres we turn right and enjoy the lovely gentle run down to the dam with views over the reservoir opening up to the right. Once over the dam the real work begins, with a short but savage 17% ramp up towards Planes and then a long two-part climb on a more manageable gradient to the junction at the top, 300m higher up.


After Margarida there’s another dip down and up alongside an attractive barranc to the village of Alcalà de Jovada, which is famous for being the birthplace of Al-Azraq, a Moorish commander who signed an important treaty with King James I of Aragon in 1245. The Al-Azraq Treaty is better known locally as the 'Tractat del Pouet' ('Treaty of the Little Well') because it was signed beside a small water source just outside the village.


Three kilometres beyond Alcalà, after a delightful series of dips and bends, brake hard for the left turn to Mirador del Xap, which leads down to and across a usually dry ford before a gentle climb up to the high point and the mirador itself just beyond. Shortly before this point we passed a turning on the right, which leads along an excellent, newly surfaced single-track road running parallel to the ridgeline to the well-known viewpoint of the Antenas del Miserat. From here the coastal panorama is exceptional on a clear day, but bring strong legs because the climb kicks up to +20% towards the top.

Back at the Mirador del Xap it’s worth taking a short detour on foot to the mirador itself, because the view across the Vall de Gallinera is magnificent and unforgettable. Doing so is of course difficult/impossible in SPD cleats, even with covers on, but with touring shoes and cleats it’s definitely worthwhile.


With the sightseeing done we continue steeply (3.3km at 9.4%, with ramps of 16%) down to the tiny hamlet of Benitaia, ignoring a couple of turnings along the way, finally relaxing our grip on the brake levers and turning left onto the CV 700 for the steady and much gentler climb up the Vall de Gallinera back to the Margarida pass. This valley is famous for its cherry trees, and the blossom in the springtime makes for a gorgeous spectacle.


Once over the top we retrace our steps down the rapid descent to Planes and stop for coffee at our favourite café opposite the garage at the top of the village. Beyond that café legs don’t matter for once as we drop down through the village and continue the descent into the Barranc d’Almudaina through a series of delightful curves, before the short climb up and over into Benimarfull.


From here we usually follow the main road, swooping down to and under the motorway, over the river and then climbing steeply back past the sleepy hamlet of Benàmer to the roundabout at the bottom of Muro. Take a left here through l’Alqeria d’Asnar and after a last couple of painful ramps we’re home.


#3 Ibi and Onil Distance 70km Height gain 1014m Rating ***


Today we’re heading south-west up and out of Alcoy for a circuit of the Font Roja natural park, touching on the towns of Ibi and Onil and taking in some great descents and impressive vistas along the way.


I

t’s a steep start through the by now familiar urban roads of Alcoy, but this time avoiding El Salt in favour of the pretty suspension bridge at the top of town and the climb up the N340 to Venta Sant Jordi and beyond, to just above the point at which the motorway emerges from its tunnel on the south side of the pass. Another option for getting to this point is via the via verde that begins in Alcoi and crosses an impressive viaduct before winding its leisurely way up the mountain side, before joining the motorway in a parallel tunnel and emerging at roughly the same point. The firm surface makes it a reasonable prospect for road bikes but be wary and respectful of walkers on this popular route.

Once we’re clear of the pass we stay on the old road (CV 806) that runs alongside the A7 motorway all the way to Ibi, with open views of this high valley and some lovely cherry trees among the olive groves to the right. There’s even a botanical garden hidden away to the right at the 22km point: good for a rest day visit at some point, perhaps. Beyond lies Ibi itself, which houses the Valencian Toy Museum and is famous for being Spain’s centre for toy-making.


Once within the town limits we go straight on at the Repsol garage and head for the Ajuntament building, opposite which we turn right onto the CV 801 towards the Ibi pass. After a gentle start past a couple of intriguing trailheads there’s a rather pleasant 4km climb to the top, with the views across the Ibi valley gradually unfolding behind and to your right. A few hundred metres before the top we turn left, and here’s where the real fun begins.


In this region of winding roads and mostly technical descents, this one is an exception. Relatively straight and pretty much brake-less, this one plunges for 7km all the way down into Onil on a wide, and smooth road. It’s remarkably quiet too, so take a moment between whoops of joy to admire the views to the south west across to Castalla, with its impressive and recently refurbished castillo standing proudly above the town.

At the T junction at the bottom you’ll want to pause for a moment (café options in Onil to your left) before turning right onto the main CV 803 and starting the long drag up to the top of Onil pass (1015m). This is quite a long one at just over 5km, but the gradient is steady, the surface is smooth and the views down into the Barranco del Lobo (“Ravine of the Wolf”) on the right are always interesting. Along the way you pass the Casa Tapena on your right, which has an interesting house and gardens including forest walks, a picnic area, and a hedge maze rather like the one at Longleat in Wiltshire, England, albeit a tad smaller.


The views from the top of the Onil pass are magnificent and the road beyond is sheer delight, descending unhurriedly through a series of gentle valleys past vast olive groves and open meadows. Once you meet the CV 795 coming up out of Banyeres you turn right and the downhill fun continues more or less all the way home, as you follow this wide road past the Ermita de Polop Alt on your right, the Montesol urbanizacion on your left and then steeply down into Alcoy via the old road past El Salt.


From here turn left at the Repsol garage and take the via verde bike path that skirts the north edge of the town and soon lands you back in Cocentaina.


#4 Vall d’Ebo & Castells Dist 83km Height gain 1400m Rating *****


This ride out to Vall d’Ebo and back through Castells de Castells has to be one of my all-time favourites. Up on the high plateau past Alcalà de Jovada there are some truly delightful stretches of road, and the 9km section after Vall d’Ebo is absolutely stunning.


From Cocentaina we head north and down through L’Alqueria d’Asnar, and then right at the roundabout, up and under the motorway to Benimarfull. After the fast and rather sweet descent to the Barranc d’Almudaina y Planes the long (9km) and steady climb to Margarida begins, with some welcome respite at Planes and Catamarruch. After Alcalà de Jovada we continue as for the Mirador del Xap but this time we ignore the left turn and continue straight on to Vall d’Ebo.


This stretch of road is simply amazing, winding and leaping its way through beautiful countryside for 10 km, mostly downhill but with at least one leg-stinging ramp for good measure. If you look over to the left at the 27km point you’ll see the prominent landmark of La Foradada (The Holed Rock), a magnificent natural rock archway set atop the ridge. Further on is the Cova del Rull, a huge and impressive set of limestone caverns that was discovered in 1919 by José Vicente Mengual (aka Uncle Rull) when he went hunting with his dog, which followed a rabbit down a hole.


After a very steep drop down into the picturesque village of Vall d’Ebo we turn first right across the river (signposted to Castells de Castells) and follow a narrower road past a swimming pool and campsite to exit the village. From here the road kicks up very steeply at first and then it’s a long Category 3 climb up through increasingly remote and rugged landscape to the Alto de Tarrenyes, 200m above the village.


The descent from here to the CV 720 is the piece de resistance of the ride: it follows the winding line of the Barranco de Malafi for 5 km down through glorious countryside and past the World Heritage site of Pla de Petracos, which holds one of the most outstanding examples of neolithic cave painting in Europe. Besides, it’s one of the most enjoyable stretches of cycling imaginable and it’s well worth savouring every moment.


The contrast with the main road is quite stark as we turn right onto the CV 720 and drag our way up to Castell de Castells, which is a pretty town, a hugely popular stop-off for motorcyclists and a mountain biking mecca in its own right. Stop to fill up at the font next to the bridge at the end of the village before turning right up the hill in the direction of home.

Quite steep at first, this hill soon relents and it’s a surprisingly easy ride up to the tiny aldea of Famorca. Here it’s worth making the extra effort to find the centre of the village, where there’s a charming café serving food and drink in the deep shade of a huge, ancient tree.

Afterwards we continue up the hill on café legs through Fageca and straight on up to the highest point of the day at 782m above sea level. Which means that from here it’s (mostly) downhill through the blissfully peaceful valley of the Riu Vallesea, past the villages of Tollos, Benimassot (font and café) and finally Balones. Just beyond the latter, at the 71km point, watch out for the unlikely-looking entrance to a small cami on the right, which is the start of a handy shortcut through to Millena (see Route #1), avoiding the potentially tedious down-and-up-again through Gorga.


And, at last, from Millena it’s a lovely long run down to Cocentaina on the CV 706, with great views of the castillo to awaken dreams of cold beer.


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