Features » Travel
The Charm and History of Guadalest
Contributor / 2007-08-20 16:55:11
Located on the northern edge of the Marina Baixa district of the Alicante province, around 25 kilometres north of Benidorm, is the charming and historical village of Guadalest. Perched on a mountain, some 595 metres above sea-level, the houses and Castell (castle) of Guadalest overlook a wide valley which is bordered by the mountains (sierras) of Aitana, Serrella and Xorta. At the base of the valley is the Guadalest river and the stunning, turquoise coloured Embalse de Guadalest reservoir.
The Castell de Guadalest and the original houses of the village, were built by the Moors during the Arab occupation (8th to 13th Centuries) and were accessible (as they remain today), only by way of a 15 metre long tunnel, carved in solid rock. This would have been an easy place to defend, during the constant conflict between Moors and Christians in those distant times and in fact the Moors held out in Guadalest far longer than in many of the surrounding towns and villages.
Thought to have been originally built during the times of the Moorish leader Al-Azraq, Guadalest developed as an agricultural area, aided by the terracing of the mountain slopes and by irrigation systems put in place by the Arabs.
After the Christian re-conquest, the villages and lands of the valley were bequeathed to Vidal de Sarria and later in the 16th Century, Charles I (Carlos) established the Marquisate of Guadalest, which also comprised the villages of Benimantell, Beniardi and Benifato, the first Marquisate was granted to the Cardonas family.
The last remaining Arabs were expelled in the 17th Century by Phillip III and after the departure of these Moriscos (Moors who had been converted to Christianity) many of the local villages fell into disrepair and were abandoned. Guadalest and other neighbouring villages were further damaged by two earthquakes in 1644 and 1748, much of the Castell de Guadalest was also destroyed during the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714).
Guadalest today is dependent almost entirely on tourism for its economic survival and it is one of the leading attractions in the Costa Blanca region. One of the main stopping-off points for the many popular 'blanket trips' which operate throughout the region, the village with its Castell and unique bell-tower (campanile), has become one of the most visited and photographed landmarks in the area. A winding pathway leads visitors up to the aforementioned tunnel and beyond this lies the original village, parochial church and castle. The castle can only be accessed via the municipal museum, which is located in the former house of the Orduña family (an influential family in Guadalest's history). A steel stairway takes visitors up past the bell-tower to the cemetery and the remains of the castle. From this point it is possible to enjoy some spectacular views of the mountains and valleys and even the sea in the far distance. Past the Orduña house is a row of ancient houses (now mostly converted to gift shops), these lead up to the small plaza where you can see the tiny Town Hall, which was formerly a courthouse and prison. In the plaza visitors can enjoy a meal in one of the restaurants, whilst taking in the magnificent scenery. A peek over the wall of the plaza will present you with a stunning view of the turquoise Embalse de Guadalest (reservoir). The reservoir was formed by the building of a dam (1953-1964), this now provides water for the entire district of Marina Baixa including Benidorm.
Apart from just enjoying the ancient village, fabulous views and charming shops, there are also some interesting museums including two minature museums, where original scale models are on show which are so small that powerful magnifying glasses are needed to view them.
Also worth a visit while in the area is the El Arca animal sanctuary, located just a few hundred yards from Guadalest centre.
Guadalest can be reached via the CV-70 and CV-755 and is signposted from the main coastal roads at Benidorm.