If you haven’t been to Benidorm before, then chances are your cousin or your neighbour has. And if they haven’t told you about the tiny town of Guadalest then I will. It’s easy to write off as a tourist trap, especially when you arrive at the large car park in the centre of the modern part. But if you only have the time and/or the money to make one excursion out of Benidorm, this has to be the one. The real secret is in timing your trip. If you are not visiting in an off peak holiday period, then do try and pry yourself out of bed early one morning. It’s well worth the effort.
I last went there during the Christmas break, on a spur-of-the-moment trip we’d found to Benidorm with Jet2holidays. We left not so early in the morning, and managed to escape the crowds that took the edge off my previous visit one July. Hire a car for a day or two and Guadalest also makes a great first stop on a trip into the mountains.
It’s less than 20 miles along the main road to Alcoy, and one of the joys of driving there was being able to pull off into a well-placed lay-by for a few minutes. The view through the pine trees took in the tiny hilltop town in one direction, and in the other huge feathery banks of cloud floating back through the mountains towards the sea.
With all the souvenir shops and bars and restaurants near the car park, on arriving you might start to think you’re in for a mini version of Benidorm itself. But keep following the signs to the Castle and the pedestrian-only alley leads you out on to the side of the hill, past rows of lanky palm trees and flowering shrubs to the main gate to the old town. And what a gate it is – one worthy of Alice wandering into Wonderland – as you step over the threshold of a solid wooden door embedded right in the middle of a huge rock into a tiny world of its own.
As the cobbled street winds round to your left you are immediately confronted by the 18th century Baroque church and beyond that a small plaza. Walk across to the open right hand side and you can look way down to the bright blue waters of the town’s small reservoir, with the outline of the high peaks behind clearly reflected in it.
To get up to the highest point of Guadalest you can pay to go through the old family house that stands on the site of the original castle, taking in its mostly modern art collection as you climb up the stairs. Or if you prefer you can head for the cemetery gate at the end of the square, and walk up through a miniscule graveyard where the ‘residents’ really couldn’t get much closer to their ‘Maker’. There are views everywhere around the old town, over the terraced hillsides with their almond trees that source the honey and hard turron nougat that the region is famous for and way up the slopes of the surrounding mountains. But the classic one from the top is looking back at the squat whitewashed bell tower sat firmly on the top of another pedestal rock, high above the gate where you walked in.
Of the various small museums dotted around the town, my favourite is the ethnological museum virtually opposite the church where you can see many of the tools used by local farmers and tradesmen over the centuries. Others house historical motorbikes and a miniature collection, including minute paintings on rice seeds – plenty to keep you busy if you want to make a day of a trip to the town.
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