Duration: 45 mins each way. Easy walking on paved road, gentle gradients. Very little shade on second half of walk. Take water!
A gem of a walk along the slopes of the Serra Gelada nature reserve with an amazing panorama across the bay to Altea, and round to the towering Peñon d’Ifach rock at Calpe. You finish at the clifftop lighthouse (faro) of Albir, with vertigo-inducing views down to the rocks three hundred feet below.
The Serra Gelada (rough translation, Frozen Mountain) might seem an odd kind of name for a peninsula regularly baked by 30-40˚C temperatures. But it came from fishermen out at sea who saw the cliffs bathed in moonlight and thought they looked rather like ice. Maybe after a nip or two of coñac…
You can’t miss the Serra Gelada peninsula; its massive bulk rears up where the high-rise towers of Benidorm finish. The little town of Albir is about 15 minutes drive from Villajoyosa; head for the car park on Cami Vell del Far; you’ll also find an information point there and toilets/water.
Happily, there’s a paved road all the way, built in the 1960s to serve the lighthouse, complete with a tunnel through a particularly obstructive bit of mountain, so this is a walk you can take at your own pace. Some run it, some cycle it, others gently amble.
The first section takes you through fragrant pine woods which slope steeply down from the peaks above to the sea below. There are plenty of route markers and signs (in English as well as Spanish) telling you more about the flora, fauna and geology of the peninsula.
The more energetic walkers can branch off to the right early on, up the steep paths towards the 1,400ft peak of Alt del Governador and the Camí de la Cantera which takes you back across the Serra Gelada to Benidorm.
But we’re doing the short and easy version to the lighthouse, so press on ahead to the tunnel, and as you emerge from the gloom, the terrain changes. Gone are the shady pine woods; instead there’s a harsher landscape, baked by the sun, with heather, thyme and esparto grass hugging the rocks.
You’ll see the lighthouse perched on its cliff in the distance, but the road is anything but a straight line, hugging the mountainside and winding in and out of the contours. On your left, you’ll come across the signpost “Cala de la Mina”. This path takes you down to the ochre mine, where they extracted a mixture of clay and iron oxide used for making paint. Remember red ochre in the paintbox you had as a kid? That was the stuff they dug out here.
The mine shut down in the early 20th century, but you can still see a line of stone columns running down the ravine; back in the day, this supported the wagon railway that took the ochre down to the shore and out to ships in the bay.
The lighthouse itself is great. Not just the views, which can hardly fail to be spectacular, but also the exhibitions inside (time your walk to coincide with the opening hours; it shuts around lunchtime most of the year, precise times vary depending on the season). Most Spanish lighthouses don’t allow the public in at all, so this is a bit of a treat.
Not so long ago, the buildings where the keepers lived with their families were pretty much derelict; the lighthouse itself was the only thing that worked. But now the rooms have been turned into galleries; grainy family snaps tell the strangely moving stories of the people who manned this lonely outpost until the light was automated in 1960. One tells how the lighthouse keepers even had to build their own bread oven, because before the road was constructed it was impossible to get to Albir and back every day to buy bread.
Outside on the terrace, gaze down 300 feet to the rocks below. If you’re lucky (we weren’t) you can see bottlenose dolphins in the sea; there’s a telescope on the terrace that’s free for visitors to use. Apparently the dolphins are partial to the pickings from the fish farm you’ll see out in the bay; rather like a year-round free lunch.
Next to the lighthouse, you’ll see the stump of the old 16th century watchtower, built to warn coastal communities of Berber or pirate attacks. They were a serious menace back in the day; corsairs even based themselves on the Serra Gelada peninsula and nearby islands.
Then head back the way you came to the car park and enjoy the same fantastic views, but this time in reverse order!
© Guy Pelham 2017