Gravel Culture: Camino del Cid - “Defending the south”

Posted By Gravel Union On 9 June 2021

The Way of El Cid is a long-distance trail that crosses Spain from the north-west to the south-east. Back in May, Timo Rokitta set out to ride the 250kms “La Defense del Sur” section of the route and sent us in this report.

In 2019 we had to end our gravel tour in the footsteps of "El Cid" because of terrible storms in Valencia. In 2020 we could not travel to Spain because of the Covid19 pandemic. But in spring 2021 the time had come - traveling on the Iberian Peninsula was possible again and so we went on our third and last trip in the footsteps of "El Cid" in mid-May.

We chose to ride the last section of the route, which leads south from Valencia. It’s called “La Defense del Sur” (Defending the south) and is peppered with the historical reference points from the story "El Cantar del Cid".

We follow the track, starting at the “El Cid” monument in Valencia, and then head southwards. Huge orange groves accompanied us for the first few kilometers. Gravel trails constantly alternated with small asphalt roads. The places we came across have Arabic-sounding names such as Alzira or Almussafes. Our destination at the end of the first stage was the small town of Xativa, above which was situated an impressive castle with huge walls and defensive towers.

Near Xatifa, the trail climbed very steeply on a dilapidated road before we reached a narrow singletrack running alongside a small river. The historic town of Bocairent, which we then reached, was as if painted onto a mountain and the approach over the bumpy bridge "Darrere la Vila" was an experience in itself!

After Banyeres de Mariola the route was super challenging and we ended up pretty exhausted. We pushed and carried our gravel bikes on a trail across a plateau which was made up of large crushed rocks. Luckily, this section wasn’t too long and we were soon back on more pleasant terrain. We crossed the "Sierra de la Fontanella" on perfect smooth gravel trails, before heading steeply downhill to Biar. This small village was also dominated by an old castle that was well worth seeing. Our route next was along an old railway line, known as a "Via Verdes" in Spain. With a tail wind and on compact dirt roads we soon reached Sax, our overnight detaintion. After a long shower we walked up to the Castillo and enjoyed the sunset, which bathed the barren landscape in a reddish light.

Our last stage headed out of town, initially on a trail beside a railway line, but later on we rode beautiful singletrack above the “Rio Vinalopo”. The track was sometimes very rocky, but we had a lot of riding fun. After a huge golf course, we rode through a "Rambla" (a dried up riverbed). There were huge palm trees there and we felt like we were in North Africa.

After Elda, we made it to a flatter and even more secluded zone. At an old train station, we took a short coffee break in a small Spanish bar. Here we met Viktor & Jose, who were redesigning and upgrading the route of the "Camino del Cid".

The landscape from here southwards got drier and increasingly more remote. Huge lemon groves accompanied us on the way to our final destination in Orihuela. After more than 250 tough kilometers of wonderful gravel riding, through historic old villages and passed ancient castles, we reached our destination on the third day of our journey. Here our journey with the story of "El Cid" finally came to an end. The third part of our gravel adventure felt like a mixture of the USA, Mexico and North Africa. It had been a wonderful trip. We think that every gravel biker should have a trip on a gravel bike in the footsteps of "El Cid" on their “must do” list!