Duration: around 1.5 hours there and back. Easy walking on paved road, one section is a little steep. Some shade in the early part of the walk, take water. Map at the end of this post.
If you ever need a complete contrast to the high-rise craziness of Benidorm, this walk is perfect. Stroll for just a few minutes out of town, and you leave it all behind. It’s like being in a different world.
The route starts right at the end of Benidorm’s Levante beach and takes you into the Parc Natural de la Serra Gelada (aka Sierra Helada), an imposing headland that rears up into spectacular cliffs hundreds of feet high, which we see at the end of the walk.
Our destination is the Torre de Les Caletes (aka Torre de la Punta de Cavall), a watchtower from the 16th century. It stood guard over this part of the coast, protecting local people from raids by corsairs from North Africa. These tiresome intruders had a nasty habit of capturing anyone who couldn’t run away fast enough and selling them as slaves.
Eventually, the Spanish crown decided to put an end to all this, and built a network of watchtowers to give warning of attack, and summon the local militias. Soldiers on top of the towers would light fires if they saw trouble approaching from out at sea.
So in effect, Torre de Les Caletes formed part of a sixteenth century early warning system. It was visible from the next tower down the coast – Torre de L’Aguiló, overlooking Cala de Finestrat – with Torre de Xarco and Torre del Barranc d’Aigües further south.
So if one tower spotted corsairs approaching, the fires were lit and the whole coast was on the alert within minutes.
To get to the tower, head off along Calle Alcalde Manuel Catalán Chana – a bit of a mouthful – which takes you down to Punta de Pinet, where you get a panoramic views of Benidorm’s skyscraper seafront, and the Islote (little island) de Benidorm in the bay.
Follow the road round as it skirts the little pebble beach of Cala Almadraba until you reach the sign on a large concrete block, saying ‘Parc Natural de la Serra Gelada’. Cars are banned from here on.
If you fancy a nice little detour at this point, head downhill to the Punta L’Escaleta mirador (there’s a sea cave, Cueva del Barbero, just below it), and then continue following the road down to the little cove of Cala Tio Ximo.
But we’re headed for the tower instead, so our route takes us up a steepish hill for a few hundred metres as the road hugs the contours.
The Benidorm Cross
Look up straight ahead to see the Benidorm Cross overlooking the bay. For the full story of how the cross got there, see my post here. The tale is a bizarre mix of bikinis, General Franco and the Catholic church.
After the initial climb, the road levels out into a beautiful easy stroll along the coast. It’s a proper paved road, but there’s no traffic…just peaceful views out over the sparkling blue sea and an occasional “hola” from a fellow walker. Benidorm seems a million miles away.
The best bit of the walk is right at the end. Just as you reach the foot of the tower, look to your left. The towering cliffs of the Sierra Helada are truly spectacular, dropping hundreds of feet sheer into the sea.
Serious hikers can walk along the top of these cliffs all the way to Albir at the other end – route here. The tiny island at the foot of the cliffs is Isla Mitjana, a popular diving spot.
The Sierra Helada (Serra Gelada in the local Valenciano language) literally means Frozen Mountain, an odd term for cliffs regularly baked by temperatures nudging 40 degrees. Apparently it was named by fishermen out at sea, who thought the rock looked like ice in the moonlight.
The tower itself is ruined, and you can’t climb it. It never really recovered from the Napoleonic Wars in the early 1800s, when the British Royal Navy bombarded both this tower and the Torre d’Aguiló on the other side of the bay and destroyed the cannon mounted on them.
The tower was recently restored to stop it deteriorating any further. The 62-metre high cliff on which it stands was reinforced with a protective mesh.
A stony path takes you down to the sea below the tower. It is possible to follow a path at this level all the way back to Cala Tio Ximo, but be careful – it’s a bit of a scramble in places.
If you don’t fancy that, just head back the way you came, and get the same glorious views in reverse order.
The only thing that might spoil your mood is the terrible plan (in my opinion) to build a cable car across this glorious landscape. It would start from Punta de Pinet – where we began our walk – leapfrog over the coves of Cala Almadraba and Ti Ximo and then head straight for the Torre de Les Caletes.
There it would turn through ninety degrees and head up to the top of the unspoilt (till now) cliffs. See a video from the developers promoting the project here.
The Parc Natural de la Serra Gelada is a protected landscape, so nothing can be built on it. In theory. So you’d think that would be the end of the matter.
But in Spain, money talks – planning laws and the environment tend to matter rather less. The good news is, things have gone very quiet recently on this project. But has it gone away altogether? Time will tell.
© Guy Pelham