Posted By: Hartung
Trekking holidays are a great way to get away from the routine, get some exercise, fresh air and get back in touch with Nature. However, in northern Europe there exist a couple of drawbacks for a really good trekking holiday. First, the summer the climate is unreliable; a trekking holiday in the Scottish Highlands or Wales almost certainly means getting wet at some point. Also, finding some solitude and peace and quiet almost anywhere in the UK is not easy; during school holidays National Parks can be busier than city centres.
So many look for trekking holidays in southern Europe, particularly those planning to get away during the autumn, winter or spring. Europe offers a wide variety of destinations, some more esoteric than others, but Spain is still the most popular for three reasons: climate, price and quality. With over 60 million annual visitors tourism is Spain’s main industry, although the climate is the principal attraction the Spanish now have an expertise in tourism that is hard to match.
Spain has a lot more to offer to offer than just sea and sun, and in particular its pristine mountainous interior that has been almost completely ignored by both visitors and tourist authorities alike. To a large extent the focus of mass tourism on the coast has shielded the interior from badly planned development and the current economic crisis has continued the trend. This provides a unique opportunity for trekking holidays in tranquil and unspoilt countryside plus chance of seeing a Golden Eagle soaring or a carpet of Bee Orchids fringing the footpath.
So if you are considering a trekking holiday in Spain where do you start? In 1995 Bob Stansfield prefaced his guide Mountain Walks on the Costa Blanca (Cicerone Press) with the observation that “Las Marinas has the potential to rival Mallorca as a winter walking venue”. Walking and trekking holidays in Mallorca have become a well-established business but the mountainous area behind the Costa Blanca has been almost completely ignored. The only time you will see anybody is on the weekends when a few local residents take to the mountains.
So where is this area? The hinterland of the Costa Blanca, known as Las Marinas, includes the Sierras, valleys and small farming villages of the Marina Alta and the Marina Baja districts. Occupying the northern third of Alicante Province, it is defined by the triangle of towns with Oliva to the north, Javea to the east and La Villajoyosa to the south. It is made up of a series of six valleys, Vall de Laguard, Vall d’Ebo, Vall de Pop, Vall de Seto, Vall de Trbena and the Vall de Guadalest that are separated by the Sierras of Aitana, Serrella, Aixort, Alfofra.
What local residents know is that Las Marinas has spectacular trekking trails, a combination of mountain tracks, farm lanes and old Mozarabic paths that have linked the small villages of the interior for over a thousand years. They pass between rugged peaks whose lower slopes are covered with almond and olive trees, through high valleys with cherry and apricot down to the orange, tangerine and nispero (loquat) orchards of the coastal plain. From September to May this almost deserted part of the Costa Blanca offers some of the best winter trekking in Europe. Sunshine predominates and comfortable temperatures that typically range from 12 to 22 degrees Centigrade provide ideal conditions for trekking holidays. The beauty of the landscape and variety of the walks has impressed those who have visited the area and have found it to be an alternative to better-known winter trekking areas like Mallorca, the Canaries or Andalusia. Rainfall does occur, but as intense downpours that usually last from one to three days. Extended periods of continuous rainfall are almost completely unknown so the probability of your trekking holiday being a washout is negligible.
The climate apart, Las Marinas as a trekking destination has traditionally suffered four principal drawbacks: the lack of up to date maps, inconsistent or nonexistent way marking of trails, the absence of public transport to and from the trekking areas and the lack of accommodation outside the coastal resorts. To some extent all of these drawbacks still exist, but today can be overcome with foresight and planning.
There is no comprehensive selection of maps or trail-guides for planning trekking routes through Las Marinas. Maps published more recently are better but do not provide coverage of the whole area and in some cases replicate the mistakes of previous maps, which are inadequate and often years out of date. It is also worth bearing in mind that in general Spanish maps are not up to Ordnance Survey standards in terms of presentation or reliability. Trail guides suffer from the drawback that they attempt to describe something that neither appears on the maps or on the ground. Basing your trekking holiday on the idiosyncrasies of local trail guides and unreliable maps is a recipe for becoming frustrated and possibly getting lost.
More recently GPS technology has leapfrogged ahead and the new generation of Smartphones and handheld GPS navigators means that depending on out of date maps and guides is no longer a problem. Websites, such as WikiLoc.com or Walking-holiday-in-Spain.com, provide GPS routes that have been tested and then uploaded by other trekkers and can be downloaded directly onto the users device. The advantage is that it provides all the relevant walking information like the start and finish points, trekking time, distances, ascents, descents, restaurants, accommodation and points of interest on the route. The main drawback is the absence of a common industry standard; this means a route recorded on one device may not be readable on another To overcome this routes can be converted into GPX format that can be read by most GPS devices.
The lack of public transport means hiring a car, hiring a taxi or using a local walking holiday company to get to the start and from the finish of the trek. Taxis are an option for getting to and from treks but you will need to speak the language to arrange the drop-off and pick-up after you have finished. An alternative solution is to rent a car at the airport when you arrive; the high demand for hire cars during the summer means there is a large of fleet available during the autumn, winter and spring at competitive rates. However, unless you plan to some sightseeing afterwards you will only use the car to get to and from the airport. The main difficulty with hiring a car is then having to navigate unfamiliar roads, signposting in Spain is sporadic at best and problems getting to the start of the trek may be not be the best way to start your holiday. A practical solution is to use a local walking company; they will transfer you to and from the start and finish of the trek sapa and arrange to transfer your baggage from village to village for you as well as arranging accommodation and trail guides.
Many associate the Costa Blanca with mass tourism and the down market image it had from the seventies. Apart from acting as a tourism shield for the interior the coastal resorts have, in general, all moved up-market and towns like Denia, Calpe, Javea, Altea and La Villajoyosa provide a range of accommodation options combined with easy access to the coast.
However, the most interesting development over the last decade is the availability of hotels and casa rurals in small villages in the heart of the Las Marinas trekking area. They offer accommodation for trekking holidays in traditional rural surroundings, with local dishes and the opportunity for visitors to experience real Spain rather than the more international and anonymous coastal resorts. This is exactly the type of accommodation most appropriate for trekking holidays: comfortable and welcoming establishments with Spanish hosts, local cuisine and a personal touch you won’t get in a five star hotel.
There are a variety of choices when it comes to arranging a winter trekking holiday in Las Marinas.
Firstly, trekkers who prefer a higher level of service with local knowledge of the walks, the area, accommodation, meals and transportation then using a local walking company makes sense. All the details are taken care of leaving visitors to enjoy the countryside at their own pace and in the company and get the maximum out of their holidays. These companies can be found via the Internet using search terms like ‘trekking holidays in Spain’ or ‘trekking in Spain’.
Secondly, independent travel is easier than ever. The Internet offers a wide range of travel and accommodation options plus the advent GPS navigation provides a reliable way of finding and staying on the right trail without having to depend on out of date maps and guides.
Finally, there are various tour operators that offer all-in trekking holidays. Flights, board and lodging in the coastal resorts and/ or the interior villages are all included in the package, these can be found via the Internet or through travel agents
However you choose to travel, Las Marinas offers visitors an attractive destination for winter trekking holidays. The climate, the peace and quiet, the exceptional countryside and traditional Spanish culture provide a hard to equal experience of real Spain as well as a great way to relax and enjoy your well deserved break.