Cycling in Castellón - Puerto de Eslida

Puerto de Eslida, Castellón, Spain


Lined with cork trees and replete with endless curves, Port d'Eslida is a very popular climb with Valencian cyclists that offers spectacular views over the surrounding countryside.

Located in the south of the province of Castellón and some 60 km to the north of the city of Valencia, the 6 km climb of Port d'Eslida is a relatively easy climb that acts as a gateway to the beautiful Serra d'Espadà Natural Park, with its medieval heritage, sandstone mountains and dense cork forests.

Port d'Eslida

Easily accessible from the coast, Port d'Eslida is a very popular climb for local cyclists, offering relatively easy slopes and lending itself to inclusion into numerous routes through the area.

Cyclists climbing mountain pass in Castellón, Spain
Cyclists climbing Eslida pass in Castellón

From the village of Chóvar, the 5.5km climb on the southern side of the pass averages out at a little under 5% and, with the exception of certain weekends and holidays, usually has very low levels of traffic. The road is in excellent condition and more than wide enough for cyclists and any traffic they may meet.

The northern side, which starts from the village that gives the pass its name, is a little shorter and, at an average of 6%, a little steeper. More shaded than the southern side, it has a decidely wilder feeling about it.

At the summit of the pass, it's possible to turn off the main road and continue climbing up the much steeper, narrower and rougher 3.5 km road to the antennae located at @950 metres atop el Puntal de l'Ajub. While perfectly rideable, with its final 3 kilometres averaging out at around 10% and sections of up to 17%, this is a notably more difficult climb than that of the pass itself.

Location

Location of the Puerta de Eslida, in the province of Castellón, Valencia, Spain
Location of the Puerto de Eslida, in the province of Castellón, Valencia
The summit of Port d'Eslida is located in the Serra d'Espadà Natural Park, around 60 kilometres north of the city of Valencia, around 35 kilometres south of the city of Castellón and around 30 kilometres inland from the coast.  

The south side of the climb, which we will cover in this article, can be reached easily by car and by bicycle via the CV-230 (Vall d'Uxo-Soneja) road. The nearest train stations are in the village of Soneja and the town of Vall d'Uxo.

The village of Eslida, which lies at the foot of the north side of the climb, can be reached by car via the CV-223 road. The nearest train station is in the town of Nules, some 20 kilometres distant.

The summit of Port d'Eslida lies around 30 kilometres to the north of Port de l'Oronet, in the adjacent Sierra Calderona range, which is detailed in our article here >>

Sierra de Espadán

The Sierra de Espadán range runs approximately 60 km south-east to north-west from the town of Vall d'Uxo to the village of Villamalur and includes the Natural Park of the same name. While mountainous, its highest peaks only measure a little over 1000 metres a.s.l.

Cyclist climbing Puerto de Eslida, Castellon, Spain
The Sierra de Espadán is characterised  by its sandstone mountains. Photo courtesy Jose Collado @joseb3bebike

The range is characterised by its dense forests, abrupt, rocky peaks, and an abundance of Bunter sandstone, a highly-absorbent, brownish red stone that lends the landscape a very particular appearance and is responsible for the high concentration of cork trees and maritime pines that populate the area.

Cork trees following the extracting of their cork in the Serra d'Espadà, Castellón
Cork trees following the extracting of their cork in the Serra d'Espadà, Castellón
As we ride through the Serra d'Espadà, we are met by the sight of numerous cork trees with partially-stripped bark, the result of the harvesting that takes place approximately once every 10 years to obtain cork for industrial processes.

Houses in the village of Ain, Serra d'Espadà, Castellón
Houses in the village of Ain, Serra d'Espadà, Castellón

In addition to the mentioned villages of Chóvar and Eslida, there are a further 17 villages within the boundaries of the natural park, most of which offer somewhere to eat and drink and many of which offer accommodation in some form.

Ultradistance cyclist @sebicicleta cycling in Serra d'Espadà, Castellón. Spain
Ultradistance cyclist @sebicicleta cycling in Serra d'Espadà, Castellón
With its abundance of climbs, relatively traffic-free roads, numerous villages and spectacular scenery, the Serra d'Espadà really is a must-see location for road cyclists visiting Valencia. 

Profile

Profile of the southern ascent of Puerto de Eslida, Castellón, Spain
Profile of the southern ascent of Puerto de Eslida

This article describes the southern ascent of el Port d'Eslida, starting the junction of the CV-230 and CV-219 roads and passing through the village of Chóvar.

As mentioned, the pass can also be climbed from the north, setting off from the village of Eslida on the CV-223 road, with the northern ascent being a little steeper.

While preparing this article I've come to realise that a majority of cyclists actually seem to prefer the northern ascent, whereas personally I've had a soft spot for the southern ascent since day one. In my mind, this is somehow related to my liking Side Two of Tattoo You, although I have no idea why this might be. Try it for yourself and see. 

At a little under 6 kilometres in length, Port d'Eslida  is usually classed as a 3rd-category climb, with an average gradient of around 5% and maximums of around 11% in its middle section.

In general terms, it's not a difficult climb and shouldn't present any real problems to a moderately fit road cyclist.

Starting altitude: @400 metres
Length: @5.5 kilometres
Average gradient: 4.5%
Maximum gradient: 11%
Altitude gain: @250 metres
Maximum altitude: 620 metres*
Difficulty: Easy
 

The Climb

We've taken the start of the climb of Port d'Eslida at the junction of the CV-230 Vall d'Uxo-Soneja and CV-219 roads, with the latter taking us over the pass.

Junction of the CV-230 Vall d'Uxo-Soneja and CV-219 roads in Castellón
Junction of the CV-230 Vall d'Uxo-Soneja and CV-219 roads in Castellón

The junction is around 9.5 km from Soneja and 12.5 km from Vall d'Uxo, from which it is separated by the equally popular climb of el Marianet. The villages of Chóvar and Eslida are clearly indicated at the junction.

Cyclists on the road to Eslida in Castellón

No sooner do we take the CV-219 direction Chóvar than we come across one of the many signs on display in the Valencian Community indicating that the road in question is considered a "Cycling Route" and instructing drivers to leave a minimum gap of 1.5 metres when overtaking

Cyclist approaching the village of Chóvar, Castellón, Spain
Cyclist approaching the village of Chóvar in Castellón
The first 3 kilometres or so to the village of Chóvar are uneventful, with a good, wide and slightly rising road. Once the village comes into sight we get our first view of the climb, with the road switching back and forth across the mountainside ahead.

Curves on Port d'Eslida as the road leaves the village of Chóvar
Curves on Port d'Eslida as the road leaves the village of Chóvar
As soon as we leave the village the gradient increases slightly and becomes more constant, as the road begins to snake up el barranco del Carbón between the trees and exposed sandstone.

Sandstone flanking the road on the climb of Port d'Eslida, Castellón
Sandstone flanking the road on the climb of Port d'Eslida, Castellón

After only a couple of kilometres we already have that feeling of being far away from the mundane and heading upwards and onwards into nature.

The village of Chóvar with Sierra Calderona in the distance seen from Port d'Eslida
The village of Chóvar with Sierra Calderona in the distance seen from Port d'Eslida
Chóvar is already disappearing into the distance below at this point, and we begin to get our first glimpses of Sierra Calderona in the distance.

The curved road of Port d'Eslida, Castellón
Curves on Port d'Eslida, Castellón

Ahead of us we can now clearly see the curved road cut into the side of the sandstone mountain.

It's worth noting that, while there are trees on the southern side, the overhead coverage is not complete and it can get very hot here in the summer. As always, this should be borne in mind when planning to climb Eslida in the summer months.

Cyclists climbing past cork trees on Port d'Eslida, Castellón, Spain
Cyclists climbing past cork trees on Port d'Eslida
While there are variations in the gradient, with some short stretches reaching up to +10% around half way, the climb is pretty regular and can be ridden at a steady rhythm.

View from Port d'Eslida, Castellón, Spain
View from Port d'Eslida
As we get nearer to the summit, we are better able to appreciate the views of the road below as it winds its way around the mountainside between the cork and pine trees. There is something very satisfying about being able to look back down over the road we've just climbed.

On a serious note, the area is subject to an extremely high fire risk during the hotter months of the year, and every precaution must be taken to avoid provoking a blaze.

Road near the summit of Port d'Eslida, Castellón, Spain
There is considerably less tree coverage as we near the summit

The final section of the climb is quite open and takes us past sheer rockfaces and sweeping, horseshoe curves.

Cyclists nearing the summit of Port d'Eslida, Castellón, Spain
Cyclists riding through a horseshoe on Port d'Eslida. Photo courtesy Jose Collado @joseb3bebike
*The summit marker(s) on Port d'Eslida are a little confusing, as the one on the southern ascent isn't actually at the summit, but some 200 metres shy. However, it does indicate the same altitude - 620 metres - as the summit marker on the northern side, which is odd as they are clearly not at the same height. Furthermore, the "real" altitude at the summit is often given as nearer 650 metres.....or 660 metres......or......depending on which source you consult.

Not wanting to add to the confusion, and lacking the means (and any real desire) to actually and accurately measure the thing, I've used the 620 metres a.s.l. indicated on the summit marker as a reference. 

Sign marking the summit of Port d'Eslida, Castellón, Spain
Sign marking the summit of Port d'Eslida. Sort of.

Once we are over the top, the logical and most recommendable option is to take on the immensely enjoyable descent on the northern side down to the village of Eslida and further afield into the Espadà. Careful with the leaves and pine needles that are often found on the way down.

Alternatively, we can turn left at the (true) summit of the pass and continue climbing to el Puntal de l'Aljub, as mentioned earlier.  

Climb to Puntal de l'Aljub, Castellón
Climb to Puntal de l'Aljub, Castellón

While this is an enjoyable 3 kilometre detour, it is a different proposition to that of Port d'Eslidà, following a much narrower and much steeper road, and should only be tackled by those comfortable with the idea of climbing 15-20% slopes.

Once down in the valley in the village of Eslida, it is almost obligatory to stop for something to eat or drink in Bar Restuarante Paquita, the self-proclaimed "Paraíso de los ciclistas" and a mecca for Valencia's cyclists.

Corkscrewn tunnel on the Eslida-Aín CV-223 road, Castellón, Spain
View from atop the corkscrewn tunnel on the Eslida-Aín CV-223 road, Castellón
The road to the neighbouring village of Aín, with its curious corkscrew tunnel, opens the way to various other mountain passes, such as that of Aín itself or la Nevera in Alcudia de Veo, and from there into the furthest wilds of the province of Castellón or, alternatively, back into the province of Valencia.

Further information

Bar Restaurante Paquita, "El paraíso de los ciclistas"

Instagram: @rte_paquita





Michael Dixon

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