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Walking up to the Amadorio dam, Villajoyosa

What a difference a wet winter makes. The embalse de Amadorio almost full in April 2017

An easy walk inland from the little hamlet of La Ermita, up to the imposing dam on the Rio Amadorio, catching a few curiosities on the way. Uphill, but not steep. Beautiful mountain views from the dam. One hour each way. Map at the end of this post. Jump directly to the section on the dam here

La Ermita is a tranquil little village clustered around the church of San Antonio Abad, a kilometre or two inland from the main town of Villajoyosa.

Fortify yourself with a drink or ice cream in the bar sandwiched between the church and the old school, and head off down Partida La Ermita to start the walk.

The main square with church of San Antonio Abad

Typical church roof with blue and white tiles

La Cruz de Piedra

Just before you hit the main road, you’ll see a stone cross, the Cruz de Piedra, originally Roman. It marked a crossroads on the Roman road heading from the coast up into the mountains. 

This was the Camí del Peix (the Fish Road), so named because fish from the port of Villajoyosa were loaded onto mule trains for the steep 50 kilometre trek to Alcoy up in the mountains. Industrial goods came down in the opposite direction for export from La Vila to the rest of the world.

Pilgrims on one of the Caminos de Santiago would also have travelled this way; they landed at Villajoyosa and walked more than 1,000 km across Spain to the shrine of St James at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. 

The start of the Camino de Santiago in Villajoyosa. Just 1,128 kilometres to go. It’s also the start of the Camí de Peix (Fish Road) to Alcoy

The legend of la Roca Encantada

From the Cruz de Piedra, go straight across the main road and follow the narrow lane as it curves round to the right for a couple of hundred metres until you see a giant boulder jutting out into the road; the Roca Encantada (you guessed it; the Enchanted Rock).

La Roca Encantada (the enchanted rock). 

The valley of the Amadorio, La Vila’s river, from the Roca Encantada

According to local legend, on the eve of the Fiesta de San Juan, the rock opens up and an elderly woman dressed in white steps out. She’s wearing a hat with coloured ribbons. If you take one before she disappears back into the rock, true love will be yours.

But if you choose the black ribbon…well, don’t make any long-term plans. You won’t be around long enough to enjoy them. The eve of San Juan is June 23 if you were thinking of trying your luck.

Reverse your steps and then almost as you hit the main road once again (check the map at the end of this post here), turn sharp left and walk alongside the traffic for 200 metres or so.

Then bear left up a single-track lane, past an olive grove, with the distinctive peak of the Puig Campana looming off to your right, until you reach the remarkable Olivera Grossa.

Olivera Grossa,. At an astonishing 1,400 years old, it’s the oldest olive tree in Alicante province.

Still producing leaves after 1,400 years!

The tangled trunk bears witness to the immense age of the Olivera Grossa. 

La Olivera Grossa

This is no ordinary olive tree; its trunk and branches are twisted with age and contorted into fantastic shapes. The Olivera Grossa has been around for an astonishing 1,400 years – nobody’s quite sure – and it’s still doing pretty well.

Think about it; this tree was growing strongly BEFORE the Moors first arrived in Spain from North Africa in 711 AD. 

The watchtowers

Look over your shoulder to the left across the fields and you’ll see a tower with a roof on it. This is the Torre de Baix (the Low Tower), one of the watchtowers put up in the 16th century to warn against corsair attacks on the coast.

If Villajoyosa was attacked, fires would be lit on the towers to summon defenders. Villagers would take refuge in the towers if they didn’t have time to flee to the safety of the town.  

Torre de Dalt, an 16th century watchtower, now sadly neglected

 

Torre de Baix (the Low Tower) lies across the fields from the Olivera Grossa. The roof is a modern addition.

Continue a hundred metres or so up the road and you’ll see another tower to your right, the Torre Dalt (the High Tower). Sadly, the tower and its neighbouring farmhouse are slowly crumbling away.

The Romans were here too!

They found a Roman villa somewhere along this road, which leads to the hamlet of Xauxelles (the Valenciano name looks unpronounceable, but it’s slightly easier when written as Chauchelles in Spanish).

The local priest, an amateur archaeologist, did some excavating back in the 1940s and found some remarkable stuff, which you can see in Villajoyosa museum or in the MARQ museum in Alicante (for more info, see my blog posts here and here).

A fragment of mosaic from the villa de Xauxelles, now in La Vila museum. Built in the 3rd century AD, it was apparently fitted out with luxurious private baths

A fragment of stucco from Villa de Xauxelles in the MARQ archaeology museum in Alicante.

It was probably the home of a very upmarket Roman citizen, possibly a senator with the imposing name of Lucio Lucrecio Servilio Galo Semproniano, and boasted lavishly decorated baths. 

Archaeologists would dearly love to get back in for another good look at the site, but apparently it’s on private property, so that’s that….at least for now.

Cross the motorway

Our problem now is how to get across the Alicante-Valencia motorway, which blocks our path. The quickest way, if not the most scenic, is to follow the lane through Xauxelles until you hit the main Villajoyosa-Orxeta road. Turn left and cross the motorway bridge.

Then it’s ten minutes roadside walking. There’s a protected lane for pedestrians and cyclists on the right hand side. Turn left where you see the signs for Rugby La Vila and Embalse de Amadorio – the Amadorio reservoir.

A dead straight road takes you past Villajoyosa rugby stadium. Yes, in this football-crazy country, they play rugby! La Vila actually has one of the best teams in Spain. Take in a match on a Sunday or have a look at my blog here.

El Pantano del Amadorio – the Amadorio dam

Keep right ahead for 15 minutes or so and the dam comes into view. Branch left through a short tunnel (no cars, pedestrians only) and out onto the road that runs across the top of the dam.

Views are great both ways; across the reservoir and up into the mountains beyond, or down to Villajoyosa and the sea (click through the slide show below)

The dam was built in 1957 to regulate the water supply on Villajoyosa’s river, the Amadorio. It’s around 200 feet high; easy to believe if you peer gingerly over the edge to the stream below.

Rainfall is pretty irregular here, so the water level in the lake varies wildly. Last year (2021) it was more than half empty but after heavy spring rains in spring 2022, it was almost full once again.

The dam even has its own website. You can check the water level and see for yourself how it goes up and down from year to year.

Drought in November 2016. Look at the water level and the amount of dry land visible behind the dam. Now compare it with the next picture

 

What a difference a wet winter makes! The dam almost full after winter storms, January 2020

The road through the tunnel at the far end of the dam will take you around the lake towards the village of Orxeta. You can get a bus back to La Vila from here.

If you don’t have the energy for that hike, reverse your steps back across the dam, through the tunnel and head up the dirt road to your left. You’ll find a car park, with a picnic site and children’s playground among the pine trees. The two huge towers nearby are silos where they made the concrete that built the dam.

Head up to the picnic area above the dam for beautiful views across the reservoir.

The view from the dam down to the coast at Villajoyosa

Looking up into the mountains from El Pantano de Amadorio

Snow on the mountains above the Amadorio dam, April 2022, with the globe of the radar station visible on top.

There are some beautiful views across the reservoir from the car park, up into the Sierra Aitana mountains and across to the peak of Puig Campana on your right.

On a clear day, you can just see the distant white globe of the military radar station commanding the ridge above the village of Sella.

Sunset over the lake behind the Amadorio dam. Frogs croaking, swallows hunting – magical!

The Amadorio dam replaced a 350-year-old dam upstream in the mountains at Relleu, a short drive inland from here. It’s a great walk and this year (2022) they’ve opened a walkway inside the gorge below the dam, so the views are spectacular. Check out my post here.

Go fishing at the Amadorio dam

I’m no fisherman, but according to this website, there are some sizeable carp in the lake, You can usually see them circling lazily if you look over the dam wall  You do need a permit, which you can buy in Orxeta. This website tells you where to get it, and has more information on the kind of fish you can catch.

The dam walk

Try some of these other walks around La Vila:

And check out my guide to La Vila’s 13 beaches and coves here.

© Guy Pelham 

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