Hiking in Valle de Ricote, MurciaFriday, February 10, 2017 Hiking and Walking by James Taylor
Walking Murcia‘Buenos Dias James and Zach! How are you?’ Alejandro’s eyes are shining as his face cracks into a broad smile, as is usual for when he uses English my housemate and I have slowly been teaching him in class. He jumps out of the driver’s seat and slides open the back door to his mini-van, revealing the rest of our hiking companions, more students of ours. They have promised to show us one of the best-kept secrets in Murcia, Valle de Ricote.
The Road to Ricote Town
We pile into the car and head off in the direction of the small town Ricote. The soundtrack of loud Spanish pop music blares from the car radio. We converse in Spanglish about our destination, which is roughly an hour long drive North West of Murcia City. Nestled at the end of the Valle de Ricote, the town of Ricote is surrounded by vineyards, fruit orchards and chalky mountains.
The whole valley is lush with fertility, thanks to the River Segura running through it. Towns like Archena, Ulea and Ojos sit on the river. Ancient Moorish water mills help fruit orchards prosper in the middle of the dust riddled south of Spain. Ricote is a jumble of Moorish houses crowded around a central church on the hills of the mountain. It is the only town in the valley that doesn’t sit directly on the river.
After parking the car, Alejandro leads us through the quiet, cobbled streets of the town, towards the main square. A small white church stands at one end of the plaza, Iglesia de San Sebastian, dating back to the 18th Century. Flowers and plants adorn the streets, injecting some colour into the sandstone houses. We pass old men sitting drinking beers in cafes, and kids playing football in the park. The streets lazily wind up towards the back of the town, and soon we are walking a small path cutting between two houses, leading us out of town and towards the mountains.
Hiking in Valle de Ricote
Rocks crunch beneath our boots as we tread the path, curving upwards on the mountainside surrounded by spindly trees. The whole route will take us through the mountains surrounding Ricote, before looping us back to the town through the leafy citrus orchards that lie to the west of it. After 45 minutes of winding through the sandy landscape, we eventually emerge out into the open on the other side of the pass. The path turns left, but we take a moment to climb out onto the cliff to admire the countryside.
As the view reveals itself, I realise we have already climbed higher than I thought. The dusty, dry landscape is dotted with trees, and far to the right is another town on the river called Blanca, also surrounded by vineyards and fruit orchards. Mountains covered in a blue haze stretch into the distance, below us a steep drop off the edge. The drop is covered in trees and leads towards a labyrinth of ravines below, before stretching out into farmland in the valley beyond. It is beautiful, rugged, and remote. This area, unlike other areas of Spain, has flown under the radar when it comes to tourism.
We continue onwards, with Alejandro explaining the love of hiking and rock climbing that a lot of Murcians have. The region is full of hidden spots for outdoor activities, and on weekends Murcians will stream out of the cities and towns to experience the great nature on show.
Valle de Ricote Views
We follow a path up through the forest and come across a closed hotel which used to be a school. We sit on steps next to an old basketball court covered in debris to have our lunch, bocadillos with ham and cheese. A little away below the old hotel we come across an old water mill. The system, in place from Moorish times, still irrigates the fields surrounding the town and around the whole valley. Almond trees surround the mill, and we pick a bagful to take home with us.
Now only the lush green of the orchard lies between Valle de Ricote and us, and we peacefully meander through the maze of paths that run through it. I’m not sure how Alejandro remembers the way, but he doesn’t lead us astray through the leafy tunnels of citrus. On our way, we collect some lemons that have fallen over the path and greet the dogs from behind fences guarding the farm houses.
Emerging from the orchard, the town of Ricote lies across the road. Alejandro has one more local secret to share with us. Taking us to a restaurant called ‘El Sordo’, we swill red wine and feast on olives, a variety of nuts, and the local delicacy: pig’s ears. My own face cracks into a smile at the relaxed way we finish our day out hiking. And I think I’ve truly discovered the secrets of Murcia in El Valle de Ricote.