Marina Baixa Walks: Sella to Relleu on GR330

Introduction

This is an easy distance suitable for a morning or an afternoon’s walk.  It is only 5.4 kilometres but the first half involves a long climb with one quite steep section at the top of the Sierra de Aguilar to a height of 603 metres above sea level.  There are spectacular views of the mountains in all directions and the coast to the south east and south west. 

Essential pointers are highlighted in bold type.Supplementary points of topographical and historical interest are given in smaller italic type to show they are not necessary for guidance.  There are two suggested alternative start points:

Start Point 1A: Sella village square

Parking in the village is not recommended but there is extensive car parking space available next to the cemetery just outside village. Start in the centre of Sella in the main village square outside the church of Santa Ana.  There are two bars serving food. Drinking water can be obtained from the fountain. 

Do not follow the way-marking indicated on a map on the wall opposite the Bar Casino, as this is for a different walking route (the PR-CV198).  Go down the gently-stepped Carrer Major then turn R at the end into Calle Da. Catalina whichcontinues sloping down to an alley on the L leading into the main road, which you need to cross with care (!) as there can be fast traffic and cyclists descending from the road from the Tudons Pass.  At sign for Ruta de l’Aigua go down steps and steep concrete path to Sella bridge.  Do not use the main road bridge as it is narrow, with a dangerously low parapet and a traffic hazard for pedestrians. Following the green way-marker for the SL-CV112 local walking route, cross the river descending a footpath to the old bridge then follow the instructions from Start Point 1B:

Start Point 1B: south side of Sella bridge

There is plenty of parking space, often used by weekend walkers. Follow the red & white way-marker for the GR330 in Relleu direction, uphill on a narrow tarmac road.

Stage 1

At a junction with a flowing water channel, a path leads steeply uphill to R but the way-marking indicates this is not the route and you should continue ahead on the tarmac road.  If you are unfamiliar with way-marking, the painted white-over-red cross here tells you this is not the route! The parallel white/red bands indicate the correct route:go straight on

In fact, the path on the R – going steeply uphill – used to be the main route for this walk and it is a shorter climb, but maybe the change was due to the old route going across the private garden of the house you can see up there and objections were raised.  No matter how well you may know a route, it is usually best to play safe and follow the current way-marking.  This route is a very good example of a perfectly way-marked walking route, ideal for beginners to way-marking; with two exceptions where you could go wrong! Look out for them in Stage 3 of this guide.

There are good views looking back at Sella (photo opportunity) as the tarmac road takes you past an orange grove and gardens, uphill turning R at the large house, with ruined house on your L, and up the long gentle climb through terraces of almond trees. 

Interpreting the landscape: the Islamic-period terracing and water channelling.

This is a good moment to observe close up, and also looking back across the valley, the Islamic-period terracing of these hills around Sella.  The system is extensive and used every available square metre of the hills to create agricultural land for fruit trees and – in former times – also wheat and corn which would be ground into flour at the water mills in the river Sella valley below (not visible from here), where there is one mill in private ownership that still contains all its working machinery and the site of a Roman mill quite close to the village.  Islamic terracing – mostly now unworked and containing dead almond trees – can be seen all along the route of this walk to Relleu.

It is impossible to gain a full sense of the landscape here with its terracing and water engineering without having some regard for the people who lived here for centuries and brought their engineering skills to bear on the landscape and its agricultural potential. Spaniards refer to the Islamic people by the term ‘moros’ (or ‘Moors’) and we can easily be misled by the dismissive term ‘Moors’ into forgetting this was a sophisticated civilization of populations that migrated to the Iberian peninsular from 711 AD and contributed to its development for nine hundred years, bringing the philosophy and science of the Greeks to Europe at a time when European development had been put on hold after the decline of the Roman Empire. Most people are familiar with the Christian reconquest (often popularly associated with El Cid in the kingdom of Castile) but the Islamic settlements of Sella and Relleu – the villages we visit on this walk – continued to live under Christian rule after the 13th century conquest of this area by king Jaume I of Aragon

The Islamic peoples were eventually expelled from Spain in 1609, causing some local uprisings and revolt.  These hills were a place of refuge for many who continued to resist the expulsion.  For a long time after, these villages were largely deserted and the land was sadly un-worked for generations.  There is a very poignant description by a visitor to Orxeta in 1633, years after the expulsion of the entire Muslim population, and there were barely a dozen residents in a few habitable dwellings.  The fields and orchards of the fertile valley fed by the rivers that flow through Sella and Relleu were un-worked because there were no people left to farm the land.

Stage 2

This tarmac road climbs above the present terracing system into a forested area where we leave the tarmac road turning R at the sign-post for the GR330 indicating “Relleu 3 Km”  and the path now continues gently climbing until you come to a very steep section.  (You will notice the way-marking changes to parallel white/red/yellow and in some places just white/yellow bands but do not be concerned by this: there are often walking routes that overlap and you can observe the double-marking on this route for most of the way to Relleu.)

Near the summit of the climb there are superb views looking back towards the Puig Campana, Castellets ridge, and Benidorm with its island, and the Sierra de Orxeta.  There is a handy flat rock to sit down on, or use as a low table for drinks and snacks, or a lunch stop.  Looking down you can see more examples of long-unworked Islamic terracing and a newly-converted small chalet with a tower.  This was used as a hunters’ lodge but in recent years was put on the property market and has been converted into a weekend/holiday retreat with probably the best view in Marina Baixa!

Stage 3

The pass is at 603 metres above sea level and from here the route takes you downhill all the way to Relleu.  You now have views to the south-west and the main mountain you can see in the distance is the Cabeq d’Or (or Cabeza de Oro) which overlooks Alicante.  After descending steeply about 100 metres there is a way-marking hazard.  Recent earthworks have removed the painted way-marking but a temporary hand-painted wooden sign Relleu ß was placed there (which might easily disappear in high wind or rain!) 

So at this point observe the wide track leading slightly uphill to a chalet or hunters’ lodge: this is not the route.  The route is a very narrow track which follows a stone wall, below the wider track and parallel to it.  Following it gently downhill for 50 metres you will be reassured to see the painted way-marking continues with yellow/whiteand then white/red/yellowbands at regular intervals, as well as a hand-painted wooden signpost “Relleu – Sella”.  In fact, you could not have a better way-marked route if there were marshals at the side of the track telling you that you’re on the right path!

But look out for the second way-marking hazard as you continue descending, and as Relleu comes into sight in the distance.  Look out for a single pine tree ahead of you on the R side of the path, and just before you reach it there is white/red way-marking painted on rocks at ground level which could be easily missed!  The little track that goes R here also has a yellow/white marker on R of track immediately after you turn into it.

This track is well-marked all the way into Relleu, with one place that needs attention: a fork in the path where you need to go to R (there is way-marking here but not immediately obvious.)  What does become obvious however is the increasing hazard of dog waste.  At the end of this path you reach the main road where there is a handy place for dog walkers to park, and it is clear that they simply regard this path as a dog toilet, so take care! When you reach the main road go L (there is no visible way-marker) until you reach a junction: turn R at sign “Parc Bombers” and white/red way-marking on road-sign post.  Follow road past the Cementeri Municipal and you enter the village on the Carrer Sant Jaume.

You may also observe a yellow roadside arrow and these two things both indicate that you are also on the Camino de Santiago here, a branch of the Camino de Levante which you can follow from here to Torre de les Maçanes and all the way to Compostela.

Follow the road downhill into Relleu village which is a bigger settlement than Sella with a greater number of services (shops, bars, restaurants, museum, etc.)

Shortly after the church tower comes into sight, look up at the wall on your right at the road junction.  There is a tiled picture of Santiago Matamoros (“Saint James the Moorslayer”.)  The Apostle is shown riding a white charger into the battle of Clavijo – a mythical encounter in 852 AD which is unhistorical – in which he supposedly rode out of the sky and slaughtered hundreds of the Muslim enemy army.  If we remember the earlier note about the expulsion of the local Islamic populations, that occurred eight centuries later, and puts into some perspective the length of the confrontation between Christian and Muslim populations.

Turn L at the end of the road and you come to the central square, the Plaça del Sagrat Cor de Jesús and the church of Sant Jaume (XVII century), which is rarely open to view.  You are now in the centre of Relleu which has numerous bars and restaurants, and there is a small museum which is worth visiting, but only opens Saturday mornings, (downhill in the old town hall building in the street opposite the church.)  

Like Sella, Relleu is in constant renewal and you will observe many old dwellings being refurbished or rebuilt.   You can still purchase small houses for a modest price.  There have also been two disastrous urban developments on the fringes of the town, resulting in an ugly expanse of derelict houses and flats which give the entry into the village from the north-eastern end a poor first impression of the village, the centre of which is a charming relief from the awful concrete mess that has been created on its outskirts, sadly with the complicity of the Relleu town hall planners!

Outside the village on the opposite (south-west) side is the ruins of the Islamic castle,  later used as an Christian military outpost when Relleu became a frontier town between the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile, after the treaty of Almizra in 1244 when all the conquered Islamic territory here was divided under two Christian kings. 

Another feature of Relleu,  to the south and an hour’s walk from the village, is the 17th century dam on the river Amadorio.  (Not to be confused with the 1948 dam in the the modern period that creates the Amadorio reservoir, which is lower downstream by Orxeta.) It is a feat of military engineering in its time and one of the little-known historic wonders of the Marina Baixa: the first high dam built in Europe.  All local information and leaflets can be found in Relleu town hall.

© G. Thomas Weaver, 2021

This is the first of my modest series of Marina Baixa walk guides.  Bob Stansfield’s old guide Costa Blanca Walks (Cicerone, 2001) is out-of-date after twenty years – with changes to routes and way-marking as then described.  My guides will in no way equal his sterling work in describing local walking routes, but some people may find them useful.  Please share freely but not re-publish without permission.