Saturday, 1 September 2012

Vallibona Vallivana

After yesterday's wind and rain last night was the coolest since I've been here, and the day started under an overcast sky. The beach nearest home was completely empty when I drove past mid-morning, without a single hardy survivor in sight. It's not just the change in weather, however, end of the holiday season is upon us, and schools re-start in the coming week, if they haven't already.

After doing some shopping and cleaning I drove west across country to visit the hill town of Rossell that  sits beneath the limestone massif of the Benifassà mountains. After a brief look around, I followed the road toward Vallibona along a steep sided valley through which the riverbed of the upper reaches of the  riu Cervol runs. It's a single track road which climbs up and runs along contours hundreds of metres above the valley floor. Thankfully its surface is in an excellent state of repair, which is just as well given the dizzying panoramas and steep drops presented at many points along the route. The valley appears to have few occupied properties, but extensive terraced olive groves lining the valley's steep slopes looked well cared for. I imagine this is a productive area for olive growing. Having a decent road must help with harvesting.
The speed limit was just 30kph, and for the most part it was impossible to drive any faster. In the hour it took me to drive the 24 km from Rossell to Vallibona only two cars passed me. The village sits on a promontory above the river, and the road descends steeply in the last kilometre to enter it. The views of it from all sides are spectacularly beautiful. The present population is less than a hundred, a tenth of what it was a century ago, and goodness knows what it was in the middle ages, when it was important enough to have its own charter. There was one signpost in the village square indicating the way to Morella, and this pointed the only way out, other than the way I came.

The road descended steeply to the level of the Cervol riverbed, and then criss-crossed it several times on very low bridges or fords before starting the long slow climb up the south side of the valley, an ascent of about 800m (by my reckoning) to a plateau beyond the ridge, covered with small stunted pine trees that resembled bushes, with grazing long horned cattle serenading the wind with their cowbells. It was just like being up at 1100m in the Swiss Jura. There were even considerate road signs warning of the possibilty of icy conditions, but there was no grass, just brown earth and low shrubs. Fascinating. The N232 main road from Morella to Vinaros was visible from the plateau, just a couple of kilometres away, providing a much easier quicker return route home. It is also a very beautiful journey. 

There's just so much to see and investigate in the mountains as well as the plain in this region. Half way down the descent to the plain is a place called Vallivana. It has a rather decrepit looking Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary, with an inn next door (closed), a new looking forestry centre opposite, and several derelict buildings. An information panel about the site and the surrounding region, and suggests it is a work in progress by describing it as 'our future patrimony'. A few kilometres further uphill I'd noticed a small roadside building with an information board announcing that it was a place of refuge for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostella. Underlying the new modern highway is an historic route many centuries old, and so many stories to tell.


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