Defending the SouthValencia - Alicante
‘La Defensa del Sur’ (Defending the South) by MTB: a historical and literary route along the inland defence line
- Route: From Valencia to Orihuela.
- Provinces: Valencia, Alicante.
- Kilometres: Approx. 250 km.
- Days recommended: 4 days (3 nights)
- Difficulty: Low - medium.
Information you can download on this page
- MTB tracks in GPX, KMZ and TRK format.
- The MTB route guide: contains technical and practical information, a description of the route, maps, gradients, difficulty, bicycle repair shops, stamping points and relevant milestones, etc.
- List of accommodation.
- List of points for obtaining and stamping the Letter of safe conduct.
- List of tourist information offices.
- Tourist brochure (this can be obtained at any of the tourist information offices on the route).Only available in Spanish.
Remember that you can obtain more information about each route at the tourist information offices on the Way of El Cid, including brochures and the Letter of safe conduct.
The Plot: a historical and literary route along the inland defence line
Unlike the previous routes, along the southern defence line – La Defensa del Sur – history takes precedence over literature. The author of The Poem of the Cid was unable to come up with arguments strong enough to merge into a single plot the two periods of exile to which, according to history, El Cid was condemned by Alphonse VI. The first was in Castile, in 1081, and the second, far harsher and more significant, in 1088, during the time El Cid spent in Alicante. This route retraces this historic episode, together with a number of others related to the threat from the south of the Almoravid dynasty.
Great is the rejoicing there/ when mio Cid took Valencia and entered the city / Men who had been on foot made it into the city on horseback / and as for the gold and silver, who could count it? The conquest of Valencia by El Cid was the culmination of a dream yet also the origin of serious concerns surrounding the need to defend the city, which would withstand the Almoravid onslaught until 1102, the year when Jimena – El Cid had died three years previously – left the city.
According to the Poem, El Cid finally managed to enter Valencia after a long and drawn-out siege. The King of Seville attempted to regain the city but was defeated in a battle fought out in the Huerta de Valencia region. It is then that El Cid was pardoned by Alphonse VI; his wife and daughters travelled to Valencia and El Cid would show them the extent of his domains from the fortress tower. The Almoravid King Yusuf would later march on the city with 50,000, but they were also repelled. Following this victory, El Cid married his daughters to the Infantes of Carrión. Two years later, King Bucar laid siege to Valencia, setting up a camp with 50,000 tents. He was defeated and slain by El Cid, who seized his sword, known as Tizona, worth a thousand gold coins. Finally, after recovering his honour and being proclaimed a great lord and warrior, El Cid died in Valencia.
Although this is the story narrated in the Poem, history has a very different tale to tell. Generally-speaking, most of the towns in the south of Valencia sided with the powerful Almoravids, who had set up their military base in Murcia. There is historical evidence that during the siege of Valencia, an Almoravid army camped in Almussafes but were forced to retreat following torrential flooding. In 1093 El Cid attacked the city of Alzira, which had refused to support him. He ordered the harvesting of the local crops which were then taken to his general headquarters in El Puig and in 1097 a contingent of his men were defeated in Alzira by an Almoravid expedition.
During the later years of Rodrigo’s life, even Xàtiva, which had initially yielded to the might and power of El Cid, became the spearhead for the Almoravid offensive against Valencia. Indeed, the Poem of The Cid relates that it was there that the Moorish King of Seville sought shelter there whilst fleeing from Rodrigo.
The second reason for this route is historical, and starts some 25 km from Xàtiva, in Ontinyent. In November 1088 El Cid travelled from Xàtiva to Ontinyent to await the arrival of King Alphonse VI, who was on his way to assist Aledo. The king asked Rodrigo to wait for him in Villena, but he chose Ontinyent instead because there he could be sure of sufficient provisions for his men. The meeting between the two forces never took place, and El Cid set up camp in Elche where he spent the Christmas period. It was there that he heard the news that Alphonse VI had declared him a traitor, once again casting him into exile. In the midst of enemy territory he vowed never again to serve any master, and to act only in accordance with his own free will.
The route ends in Orihuela. The connection with Orihuela dates back to 1090. After defeating the Catalonian Count Berenguer Ramón II at the Battle of Tévar, El Cid set up a vast protectorate of the Moorish kingdom of Al Hayib, which included the territories of Lerida, Tortosa and Denia. According to Ben Alcamo, by 1091 this protectorate extended from Tortosa to Orihuela.
La Defensa del Sur is a route of sharp contrasts: from well-developed stretches made up mainly of farm tracks and vías verdes – reconditioned railway tracks – to trails leading through the more mountainous areas. On leaving Valencia and its surroundings, travellers will come across two of this region’s greatest landmarks: La Albufera and the Huerta de Valencia.
La Albufera is a coastal lagoon of shallow waters – with an average depth of just one metre, set amidst rice fields and enclosed from the sea by a sand bank created by the sea currents. It has been exploited by Man since ancient times and today is home to a considerable number of animal and plant species: from water birds to fish in danger of extinction, such as the Spanish and Valencia toothcarp.
The second of the most striking features of this area is the ‘Huerta de Valencia’ – literally ‘the Orchard of Valencia’-: a unique natural, social and economic space that is deeply rooted in the region’s history. Back in the 11th century, the virtues of Valencia’s vegetable and fruit orchards, so highly prized by the Moors, were sung by the poet Ibn Jafaya, who was born in Alzira. Indeed, the Moorish defence walls of this town, remind us of its origins. Alzira is one of the eight towns along the route that have been declared historic and/or artistic sites. The next is Xàtiva, which boasts a magnificent historic and artistic heritage, the highlight of which is its castle. Together with Sax Castle, it is one of the most magnificent sights to be admired on this route.
From Ontinyent we start the climb up to Bocairent amidst a Mediterranean mountain landscape lined by sheer precipices and the Pou Clar well, where we recommend a refreshing dip – and the Mariola Mountain Range. The climb passes through spectacular scenery but includes a number of challenging stretches that will force cyclists off their bicycles. However, their efforts will be amply rewarded on reaching Bocairent, a city carved out of stone and one of the greatest surprises this route conceals.
The Way of El Cid enters the province of Alicante via Banyeres de Mariola. Its castle is the first on a defence line dating back to the days of the Almohads and which passes through Biar, Villena, Sax, and Petrer before finally reaching Elche. The line boasts a wealth of medieval heritage including the Palmeral or Palm Grove, a World Heritage Site. From Elche we make our way down to Bajo Vinalopó. The arid landscape forms a stark backdrop for the fertile farming lands and palm groves dotted along the way. This is a densely populated area that ends in what has come to symbolise the southern extreme of El Cid’s domains: the monumental town of Orihuela.
Although rice is the hallmark of Valencia’s cuisine, with a wide range of varieties and a host of different dishes prepared in multiple ways (paella, a banda - cooked in stock -, creamed, in squid ink, in desserts, etc.), this is also a land characterised by its gastronomic intensity and diversity. For instance, Valencia’s vegetable and fruit orchards have been renowned since the days of the Moors, resulting in a long list of mouth-watering dishes, such as pericana – an intensely flavoured sauce made from poor cod, olive oil and sun-dried peppers – and fish, freshly caught off the coast. After all, this is the Mediterranean.
Travellers will also have the chance to taste a different kind of cuisine, characteristic of this land, such as the guisos de los marjales or eel stews, or the puchero valenciano which, unlike the stews and casseroles of Castile, is lighter and contains less fat. The inland and mountain areas of Alicante are the perfect choice for enjoying a dish traditionally eaten by shepherds and that when properly prepared is absolutely delicious: Alicante gazpacho, made with meat, normally hare or partridge seasoned with local herbs and served with flour flat bread.
When it comes to sweets and desserts, and without forgetting the famous citrus fruits and horchatas – tiger nut milk drinks – it must be remembered that these lands are home to turrón nougat. Alicante’s nougat is famed throughout the world, but both Valencia and Alicante produce delicious almond nougats made from traditional recipes.
- The stretch in the province of Valencia is signposted as GR 160 (white and red lines) and is currently in the pre-authorisation phase. In the province of Alicante, and until the GR signs are installed, plaques have been installed and markings painted along the length of the route (two red lines). These markings are not a replacement for the official signs, and therefore we recommend travelling with the route guide. At all events, much of the route in Alicante follows existing trails (The Way of Saint James in Levante, Via Augusta, the Poet’s Route and short-distance local tracks, etc.) and therefore travellers should not experience any difficulties in finding their way with the route guide.
- BTT - MTB signposting: BTT detours (leading off the hiking route) are signposted in accordance with the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA) regulations. At the start of BTT stage there is a panel indicating the detours available for each day (if practicable) and also, at the start of each detour, a second explanatory panel.
- It is important to remember that in comparison with other routes included on the Way of El Cid, much of La Defensa del Sur runs along tarmac country roads, many winding their way between the vegetable and fruit orchards. The stretch between Ontinyent and Bocairent includes mountains paths where cyclists will have to get off their bicycles. We trust they will find the magnificent views a worthy reward for their efforts!
Tips and recommendations
- Due to the mild temperatures, this route is a great choice for those wishing to go hiking in the early months of the year. However, although the average maximum temperature is around 20º C, in the upper mountain regions the minimum temperature can drop to below 5º C.
- Length of the stages: it is best for each one to decide their own stages according to their strengths and personal preferences. Some people place the emphasis on doing exercise, others on the cultural side of the route and others on the simple pleasure of taking in the countryside and locations. The stages we suggest are a combination of all three and have been designed for average tourists cycling under stable weather conditions to enjoy the route without too much stress.
- If you are on your own, make sure you charge your mobile phone before setting off and remember to read the other tips we give you here.
- Travel safely and unhurriedly: take the tracks and route guide with you. The route is signposted and we do maintenance on the signs every year; however, signs can also disappear (by accident, the weather, vandalism) and, in that case, the track and route guide become very important. The route guide also indicates the levels of difficulty of each section and it is a good idea to check it out before starting each stage. The main problem as far as getting lost is concerned comes in the villages: although we have placed signposts in many of them, we have not covered all of them and, even in those with signposts, you might not see the marks and not find the exit easily. Of course, it is best to take the tracks and route guide with you, since they contain the indications you need to follow the route.
- Food and spares. It is very important to take water with you. In most of the villages, there are drinking fountains: remember to refill your water bottles before setting off again. The same applies for spare parts: remember to take a repair kit with you and the more complete it is, the greater your peace of mind will be.
- Don't forget your helmet: it is compulsory for adults to wear helmets on roads outside cities and for under 16s it is compulsory at all times.
- Get your Letter of safe conduct. The Letter of Safe Conduct is a personalised 'passport' you can have stamped at many towns and villages on the Way of El Cid. You can use it to get discounts of at least 10% in more than 200 places of accommodation and benefit from special offers. It is free and you can apply for it at any of the more than 70 tourist information offices on the route or at the Way of El Cid Consortium.
- Your literary guide. You might think it's unnecessary weight, but for many it is essential: don't forget to take with you a copy of the Poem of The Cid; you will be able to recreate some of its passages on site.
- And, of course, respect the signs you come across: damaging, knocking down or changing a sign means that those behind you might get lost.
Rev. JGG 02.08.16