Back in the day, getting around on the Costa Blanca wasn’t easy. The coastal strip is hemmed in by jagged mountains that run right down to the sea, and before dynamite and heavy machinery came along to blast a way through, travelling by road was a bit of a nightmare.
For centuries, the only land routes out were via the endless winding roads over mountain passes or through narrow gorges. But on the plus side, it means we inherit some spectacular drives with amazing views – and none more so than Coll de Rates.
These days, Coll de Rates is best known among hard-core cyclists – people who just love a lung-bursting climb to a lonely summit – but if you’re happy to switch two wheels for four, you can drive up there for some truly amazing mountain scenery.
Start at sea level at Altea, a beautiful white-painted hilltop town well worth a visit in its own right. Jump to the map at the end of this post here.
Then head inland on CV-755 – if you have time, stop off at the Fonts de l’Algar, a picturesque sequence of waterfalls and rock pools where you can swim or stroll or take a picnic. In a parched landscape, finding deliciously cool, fresh water in summer is a bit of a treat. Try going out of high season when it’s not so crowded and parking (always a bit of a nightmare here) is a lot easier.
Then head up into the hills on CV-715, aiming for Tàrbena, originally a Moorish village high on the flanks of the Sierra Bernia. Today it’s a peaceful pueblo that’s a centre for hiking the mountains that surround it. But its history wasn’t always so tranquil.
In the early 17th century, the entire Moorish population was forced to leave Spain, even though they were Moriscos (Muslims who had converted to Christianity, at least in name). By one estimate, a third of the entire population of Valencia province (275,000 people) were told to get out by King Felipe III. Ethnic cleansing on a grand scale.
Tàrbena was repopulated by 17 families brought over from Mallorca, who kept some of their island traditions over the centuries – which is why the village is known for Mallorcan specialities like sobrasada (a kind of spreadable chorizo). There used to be a little factory in Tàrbena making sobrasada and other embutidos, but sadly it’s no longer in business. Try sobrasada con miel (with local honey) if you stop for a bite to eat – it’s a great combination!
From the 17th – 19th centuries, these mountain passes were notorious for gangs of bandoleros – bandits, or highwaymen. Things got so bad that the pass through the gorge between Altea and Calpe was named El Mascarat, thanks to the masked bandits (los enmascarados) infesting the area.
Tàrbena boasted a bandolero with a bit of a Robin Hood reputation –José Martorell Llorca (1868-1909), alias ‘Pinet’. He and his gang preyed on rich travellers and the Guardia Civil just couldn’t catch him.
In the end, Pinet was lured into giving himself up by the Governor of Alicante, who promised him a pardon in exchange. Fat chance – Pinet spent the next few years doing time. But he became a folk hero in his lifetime.
Coll de Rates
Back to the mountain trail – from Tàrbena, it’s just 15 minutes on the CV-715 to the Coll de Rates and some truly jaw-dropping vistas over into the Vall de Pop, the next-door valley.
Gaze down on the little white-painted pueblos of Parcent and Alaclalí far below and look across to the Sierra Bernia on your right. You can see all the way down to the blue Mediterranean at Jávea (Xàbia) 20 kilometres away and then up the coast to Dénia and Gandia. – the panorama is just superb.
Ask yourself – is this the best mountain view on the Costa Blanca? It gets my vote, especially if you time your visit just as the sun is starting to dip and the shadows are lengthening across the valley. Absolutely gorgeous!
Then head down the hairpin bends on the other side towards Parcent. Make a circuit by heading for Jalón (Xaló) and then back along the coast road (N332 or the A-7 motorway) towards your starting point at Altea. Your route will take you back through the pass of El Mascarat, one-time haunt of the bandoleros.
How to get there:
For more mountain views, try these posts:
© Guy Pelham