“Where’s the castle?” asked the woman as she arrived, breathless, at the top of the turret of Alcozaiba – the iconic bell tower of the Castell de Guadalest.
“It’s not here. There are just some more steps and then nothing,” replied her husband.
And they’re not alone. All around us I can hear people asking how and where they get into the castle.
It’s the oddest thing. First there’s this huge rock; then there are turrets and crenellated ramparts; small, dark rooms connected by long gloomy corridors and secret passages hidden behind cupboard doors, but no-one can see the castle. It’s a classic case of not being able to see the wood for the trees.
Erected by the Moors in the 12th century, the fortress of Guadalest was designed to gain maximum advantage from its environment. Situated on a pinnacle 600 metres above sea level, surrounded by the highest mountains in the area and gateway to strategic strongholds in the Moorish empire, the Castle of San Jose was constructed into the granite walls of the pinnacle and the village was built within those walls. Access was gained through a tunnel carved into the rock which pretty much made the castle impregnable and which today seems to create no end of confusion for the thousands of visitors who daily make the ascent into the fortified town.
For five centuries the stronghold stood, until the one enemy it could never defend itself from, caused its ruination in 1644 when an earthquake destroyed the castle and part of the town. What nature left intact, the War of Spanish Succession destroyed in 1708. Today the ruins of the Castle of San Jose and the town it protected stand as one of Spain’s busiest tourist attractions, due in no small part to their proximity to Benidorm which makes the site such a popular day trip destination.
Entering the town through a four and a half metre tunnel gouged through the rock, you run the gauntlet of video and photograph touts as you climb the cobbled streets where the 180 or so residents of the town have converted every available frontage into a souvenir shop or a museum.
Aim to arrive before or after the main tours of the day and you’ll find a tranquil plaza with pavement cafés serving good, home made tapas and a church square with wondrous views over the hypnotic depths of the Guadalest Resevoir which lies in its fertile basin, surrounded and guarded by its Sierras. Get the timing wrong and you’ll find the same cafés and stunning views but you’ll be elbow to elbow with day trippers.
Pay the paltry fee to enter the Orduña House, built after the earthquake of 1644, and you can explore its rich 18th and 19th century furnished rooms and gain access to the restored tower which is all that remains of the 11th century fortress of Alcozaiba. The climb to the tower is well worth the sweat on a hot July afternoon as views unfold over the faded Arabic roof tiles of white and sandstone houses to the teal waters of the valley below.
When you reach the summit and the stairs run out, don’t look around you bewildered and wonder where the castle is – you’re in the castle.
Buzztrips Info File:
Guadalest lies just 24km outside Benidorm and a daily local bus (Line 20) takes you there in just over an hour for €1.30 each way. Buzztrips travelled to Guadalest on a Marco Polo jeep excursion as the guests of Fundación Turismo de Benidorm.
Andrea (Andy) Montgomery is a freelance travel writer and co-owner of Buzz Trips and The Real Tenerife series of travel websites. Published in The Telegraph, The Independent, Wexas Traveller, Thomas Cook Travel Magazine, EasyJet Traveller Magazine, you can read her latest content on Google+