Benidorm- Sun, sea and…hills!

 When you think of Benidorm I would think the first thing that would come into your head would not be hillwalking. Johnny Vegas, beer, sunshine perhaps, but not hillwalking. Which is a pity as the area is surrounded by some impressive mountains, including the most noticeable, Puig Campana, with it’s distinctive slot. There are numerous legends regarding this neatly cut window in the silhouette, most seeming to tie it to the rock which lies in the bay just off Benidorm, one that is reproduced on local signs is that of Roldan, whose lover was cursed, fated to die when the last rays of the sun had gone. In a vain attempt to save her he slashed a chunk from the mountain to allow the sun through, but was unsuccesful. Puig Campana rises to a height of 1406m, higher than Ben Nevis, but unlike Fort William doesn’t consist entirely of shops selling fleece jackets.

I was staying in Albir, near Benidorm, but having no hillwalking gear with me there was no chance of climbing Puig Campana. However overlooking Albir is Sierra Helada, the “Ice Mountain”. At 438m above sea level it’s no giant, and no specialist gear is required. I was visiting Albir Lighthouse, a stunning building perched high above the sea, in the Sierra Helada national park, when I noticed a track leading uphill from the main track, signposted in Spanish. I couldn’t understand all of it but it gave me the idea of trying to follow it, and seeing whether it would take me to the top of the hill, where a large transmitter sits. At the other end of the mountain is Benidorm, and the Benidorm Cross, visible from the beach, and home to a geocache which I had hoped to visit. If I could get to the mast I could then judge whether to head along the coast to the cross, and on down to Benidorm. Google Earth also helped me recce the route, now all I needed was a few hours to spare. 

The opportunity arose late one afternoon when the sky had clouded over slightly, reducing the temperature to a more comfortable level. From Albir I followed the road uphill through a cacophany of cicadas, to a car park marking the entrance of the Parc Natural Sierra Helada, through the trees, to a picnic spot.

Picnic spot, the sign marking the start of the Yellow Route can just be seen ahead.

Just beyond this is a signpost marking the start of the trail from which I managed to figure that the journey should take between 4 and 4 ½ hours. I figured I could do it in less time than that, but just how much I would find out later. 

Cicadas

The track up.

The track was, like much of the country here, dusty and rocky. I was wearing open sandals and found them to be ideal in these warm conditions. They are a very practical item of footwear, but of limited use in Scotland with much lower temperatures. I would enjoy the novelty of it while it lasted.

Local waymarking is excellent

Here and there I noticed the international signposting of the hillwalker in evidence: cairns. Nothing large, but enough to supplement the local method of path marking, splashes of paint on trees or rocks.

Painted waymarking indicating the track goes right here.

I’ve always been supportive of the idea of marking paths, even though this isn’t popular here. Even experienced navigators need a hand now and again, and I can’t understand why people who trek abroad and praise the waymarking on the continent then return home with the attitude that “of course it shouldn’t be allowed here…” 

Albir, Altea and the Sierra de Bernia

The path initially twisted and turned a little, climbing up through pine woods, the ground littered with needles and twigs. Were it not for the sunshine and sandals it could almost be like home. The path then breaks on to the ridge leading up towards the mast, following a line of electricity pylons. Behind me lay Albir and Altea, against the stunning backdrop of the Sierra de Bernia, and the curving coast ending with the sheer cliffs of the Penon de Ifach.

Who says there’s no place like home?
Waymarking showing that this path is not part of the route.

 

Rock pools

As I neared the top I could see shapes in the rock, similar to those I have seen next to pools in the highlands or on beaches, an indication that these rocks were once underwater. This coast received its distinctive angular shape when the African continent shifted northwards, pushing this rock over a thousand feet clear of the sea, and when the path skirts the edge of the drop to the mast you get the chance to see just how high that is.

 

Almost there!

 

Albir Lighthouse
Albir Lighthouse

Way below is Albir Lighthouse, itself situated on the cliff edge hundreds of feet above the waves. The mast and its accompanying buildings sit virtually on top of the cliff at a height of 438m, and I had to skirt along the edge to reach the trig point. From my hotel to the summit had only taken an hour, at a reasonable pace. Granted I wasn’t carrying any heavy bags, but I was pleased that I had managed so well in the heat.

My first foreign trig point!

I now had the choice, back the way I had came or carry on towards Benidorm. There wasn’t a great distance to cover, perhaps around 4km. I could see some of the route ahead of me, and my choice was made easier by the fact that a service road runs along the crest. The only problem I had was that the GPS showed I had little over an hour to do it in before sunset. Confident I could manage I headed along the road, passing a milepost as I went, losing quite a bit of height as I went. Below me I could see the roads and a water plant in the hills reassured me of my location, having noted it on the satellite photos I had looked at previously. Then, as the track dropped sharply away I left it, following a prominent path, clearly signposted. The track is really easy to follow, with occasional paint splashes confirming you are on the right trail. Occasionally the path would close very close to the cliff edge, the stony beach 1000ft vertically below. Where the path creeps to close to the edge, or where there is the possibility of accidentally diverting yourself over the edge I saw red crosses painted, a warning to keep back. Drops are sheer and sudden. 

The scrambliest part of the route

The crest rises and falls like huge waves, at one point requiring a bit of hands on to descend, although nothing too severe. I climbed and descended, while the sun only did the latter, and I was becoming a bit concerned. I spent much of the route jogging, and found it easy to get a good rhythm going. My eyes were continually drawn to the GPS, counting down the distance to the cross at Benidorm.

Albir and Sierra de Bernia at sunset.

Looking back the way I had came I saw the mountains turning gold in the evening sun, and I knew I wouldn’t have much time to spare. I dropped out of the sun, into welcome shade as I climbed up the next slope, this time finding dead end paths blocked by fallen trees and brush, helping keep me on the right path.

The Benidorm Cross

Sunset over Benidorm

The sky on fire over Benidorm

Under a kilometre to go, around 10 minutes walking, and I could relax. Benidorm lazed in the jaw dropping sunset below me, and the Cross crept in to view above the town, and the sound of voices drifted across the hillside. A line of cairns led me down as the last of the light slipped away. With a bit of difficulty I bagged my geocache, but the real prize was the walk and the sunset. Within fifteen minutes I had left the hillside behind me and was surrounded by lights and noise, settling in to a taxi for the short ride back, the walk having taken just over two hours. If you find yourself in Benidorm with a few hours to spare, you could do worse than ditch the sun lounger and climb Sierra Helada. 

 

Directions:

To get to Albir take the No10 bus (Altea) and get off at Albir. Cost currently around 1.45 one way, or around 10 in a taxi. 

From Av de l’Albir, turn up onto Cami de la Cantera and immediately turn left onto Carrer d’Andromeda (which runs along the back of Av de l’Albir), past the Norwegian pub and uphill onto Camino Vell del Far. Follow the road as it winds uphill to the car park at the entrance to the Parc Natural Sierra Helada. 

More information on this route (Yellow Route) and others at www.visitbenidorm.es

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