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The Mascarat gorge, haunt of highwaymen

Duration: about 45 mins. An easy walk, but the path is stony, with some large boulders to scramble over/around. Plenty of shade in the gorge. Good walking shoes recommended. Directions and map at the end of this post.

As you speed down the Costa Blanca coast road from Calpe towards Alicante, the tunnels and bridges of Mascarat are no more than a ten second blip on your journey. But try heading into the gorge below for some spectacular neck-craning views, and some cool history to match.

For centuries, crossing the Mascarat gorge (el desfiladero de Mascarat) was a bit of a nightmare for anyone trying to travel along the coast.  The canyon was steep and narrow, and worse, it flooded in stormy weather.

The start of the path, heading up from the road bridge on Carrer Freu
The three bridges of the Mascarat gorge – the first was built in 1885 and is now disused, the second double bridge takes the N332 coast road and the third takes the tram

Los Bandoleros – the highwaymen!

It was also a tempting target for highwaymen (los bandoleros) who preyed on travellers and became a real pest in the 18th and 19th centuries. So much so that the pass of el Mascarat is named after these masked bandits (los enmascarados in Spanish).

So much for the history – now for the scenery. You can walk up into the gorge from the village of Mascarat and it’s a short, but spectacular hike. The canyon created by the Barranc Salat takes you right underneath the three bridges arching a couple of hundred feet above your head.

The 60 metre high arch of the old bridge, with the more modern double bridge behind it

The first is the old stone bridge built in 1885 and now disused, rising 60 metres sheer from the valley floor. It must have been an engineering marvel back then.

Next comes the more modern concrete double bridge, opened in the 1960s and still carrying traffic on the N332 coast road between Altea and Calpe. You can hear a constant low rumble of traffic overhead echo-ing in the gorge as you walk beneath. There’s even the odd road sign and spare tyre on the valley floor, dropped from the bridge above.

The road and rail bridges over the Mascarat gorge

The final bridge, looking alarmingly flimsy to my way of thinking, was built in 1915 and still carries the tram/light railway that runs up the coast from Alicante towards Denia. You can see the tram rattling overhead if you time your visit right.

Try not to get spooked by a couple of enormous boulders that have dropped into the canyon from the mountainside above and been trapped in the V-shape of the valley, right above your head. They’ve clearly been there for a quite a while!

The rather flimsy looking tram/light railway bridge, complete with boulders jammed in the gorge.

The path is a bit of a scramble in places. Rocks and large boulders have been dumped into the gorge by the water flooding down from the Sierra de Bernia during heavy rainstorms. It’s worth checking the weather forecast before you go, as barrancos can fill with water alarmingly quickly in stormy weather.

The end of the line – the path is blocked by a wall of rock
So narrow you can touch both sides at the same time!

You can only walk about 800 metres into the gorge before your way is blocked by a sheer wall of rock, which must turn into a waterfall in seriously wet weather.  The canyon is so narrow at this point, you can touch both rocky sides with your hands at the same time.

So turn around and head back out again. You can follow the barranco past the bridge where you started and all the way down to the sea.

Check out some highlights in the video below:

How to get to the Mascarat gorge

Turn off the main N332 coast road between Altea and Calpe where you see the sign for Pueblo Mascarat. Follow the road (Carrer Freu) downhill for about half a kilometre, where you’ll see the info sign by the bridge at the start of the walk.

The start of the walk – cross Carrer Freu and follow the path uphill to the left of the bridge. When you’ve done the trek into the gorge, you can walk downhill from here to the sea at Playa Mascarat

Park up on Carrer Levante a couple of hundred metres further on. and walk back down to the bridge. The walk isn’t signposted, but that doesn’t matter – just follow your nose.

More walks to try

El Morro de Toix, for great clifftop views. It’s just a few minutes drive from Mascarat gorge.

And here are a few more: check out these posts:

© Guy Pelham

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