There can’t be many villages where the entrance is a tunnel cut through solid rock. But Guadalest is perched on a limestone crag high above the Costa Blanca and that really is the only way in.
Like most of the mountain villages in this part of the world, El Castell de Guadalest was fortified by the Moors. They knew a good defensive position when they saw one. Essentially, the village clings to a massive rocky outcrop that absolutely dominates the river valley.
So the Moors built their Castillo de la Alcozaiba right at the top in the 11th century. You can still climb up to its ruined peak today – though the Christians renamed it Castell de Sant Josep.
The castle never really recovered from a massive earthquake that hit this part of the world in 1644, devastating the village and knocking down most of the fortifications.
Things didn’t get any better in the following century when a mine was exploded under the castle walls during the War of the Spanish Succession. Things have quietened down a bit since though!
To get into the historic village, you walk up through the Portal de Sant Josep – that’s the tunnel cut through the rock. Look up to see Guadalest’s iconic white-painted belltower perched dizzily above it.
Walk along the cobbled main street (in the old town, it’s only street!) to the little square and take in the spectacular views. Look across to the Sierra de Serrella on the other side of the valley and down to the reservoir hundreds of metres below.
To get up to the top of the castle – where everyone wants to go for the best views – you need to head first to the Casa Orduña, right next to the village entrance. It’s €4 to get in, but there’s a pleasant amble through the mansion of the lords of Guadalest, the Orduña family, furnished in 19th century style.
Then you come out of the side of the building and up the metal staircase to the top of the rocky ridge a few metres from that iconic belltower. The views from here down to the sea are terrific.
Then you join the calvario – a cobbled path marked by blue and white-painted shrines which mark the stations of the cross – and up to the ruins of the castle itself.
Again, the views over the Guadalest valley are quite something. Even the doziest medieval soldier on guard duty would have seen an enemy coming from a very, very long way off.
For some unexplained reason, they like really small stuff in Guadalest. On your way back to the car, check out the Microgigantic Museum where you can marvel at a bullring constructed on the head of a pin. My personal favourite – a flea wearing clothes and riding a bicycle.
There’s also (deep breath!) a dolls house museum, a salt and pepper shaker museum, a historic vehicles museum (which comes well recommended if you like motorbikes), a medieval history museum specialising in instruments of torture, and an ethnography museum. At least there’s something to see if it rains!
If you don’t fancy the museums, then stop off and buy some local honey at the stall opposite the micromuseum. It’s really good.
The Guadalest dam
Before you leave Guadalest, it’s really worth taking the short drive down to the dam (el pantano) below the village, the one you saw from the main square. The views across the emerald-green lake are beautiful.
If you’re feeling energetic, you can walk down from the village too, but the path, via the piscina municipal, is steep. Especially on the return journey!
The dam was built in the 1960s to provide water for the thirsty tourist towns along the coast. When it’s full, it holds back a hefty 13 billion litres of water. You can keep an eye on the water level via the dam website here.
You can drive across the top of the dam and follow the road right around the reservoir, but it’s narrow and very winding. You can also do the route on foot. I’ve not done that myself, because I’ve heard it’s quite a long hike without much shade and you’re not always that close to the lake.
It’s better to do the much shorter walk from the parking area next to the dam along the lakeside towards the village of Beniardà.
More mountain views
If you fancy a longer drive with more dramatic mountain scenery, leave Guadalest and head up the valley through Confrides to Benasau.
Then follow the dramatic winding climb up to the 1,000 metre high Puerto/Port de Tudons pass, a favourite with hard-core cyclists, the kind of people who think nothing of a quick 50km before lunch.
Pull over at the top for some impressive views and enjoy the silence of the mountains. Then follow the Amadorio valley back down to the coast through Sella and Orxeta, finishing up at our town Villajoyosa/La Vila Joiosa.
Check out more beautiful Spanish pueblos here:
- Albarracín near Teruel – the prettiest village in Spain?
- The amazing Moorish caves of Bocairent near Alcoy.
© Guy Pelham