Coll de Rates

Coll de Rates, Alicante, Spain

An extremely popular climb

We know that we are by no means the first to say it, but it nevertheless remains true: while it may not be the hardest, nor the steepest, climb in Alicante, the north side of Coll de Rates is most surely the best-known and most-popular climb in the province, attracting cyclists from all over the world throughout the entire year.


Cyclist climbing Coll de Rates from Parcent
Coll de Rates is a perennial favourite of cyclists from all over the world

Its enduring popularity is not too hard to understand when we consider the climb's full context: it is easy to reach from just about all the Costa Blanca resorts and can be fitted into an endless number of routes that include other nearby climbs. Furthermore, it usually enjoys low levels of traffic, has a  testing but assumable, regular gradient and offers excellent views over the villages in the valley below and over the Mediterranean Sea. If we include its role as a favourite training climb for professional and amateur racing cyclists from all over the world, it's clear to see why recreational cyclists continue to flock to Coll de Rates in ever-growing numbers.

Cyclist climbing south side of Coll de Rates from Callosa d'en Sarria
The south side of Coll de Rates is a more irregular climb

Perhaps not quite as popular or well-known, the climb to Coll de Rates from the south, which starts in the village of Callosa d'en Sarrià, is considerably longer than the northern approach, has several sections that are steeper than those we can find on the north side, yet has an overall lower gradient and is a far more irregular climb.

Location

Map showing location of Coll de Rates, Alicante, Spain
Location of Coll de Rates, province of Alicante

La Marina Alta / la Marina Baja

This famous climb straddles the border between two of Alicante's comarcas: la Marina Alta, the capital of which is the town of Denia, and la Marina Baja, of which Villajoyosa is the capital. It lies around 80 kilometres to the north of the city of Alicante, and around 120 kilometres south of the regional capital of Valencia.

North side of Coll de Rates overlooking Vall de Pop
North side of Coll de Rates overlooking Vall de Pop and the Mediterranean Sea

The nearest village to the base of the north side of the climb is Parcent, which can be accessed by car on the E-15/AP7 highway, exiting at Benissa when driving from the south, and at Denia when driving from the north. The start of this side of the climb is usually taken as the junction where the CV-715 Oliva-Benidorm local road leaves the village.

The southern approach to Coll de Rates from Callosa d'en Sarrià
The southern approach to Coll de Rates from Callosa d'en Sarrià

When approaching from the south, the first village on the climb is Callosa d'en Sarrià, which lies on the CV-755 Altea-Guadalest road. In this case, the climb starts at the junction of the CV-715 in the centre of the village, direction Bolulla / Tàrbena.

If we plan to travel to the area by bike, the climb is within easy distance of many of the other popular bike climbs in the area, and can be reached without problems from the village of Jalón and the coastal towns of Denia, Javea, Calpe and Benidorm.

North Side

Parcent

Surrounded by mountains on all sides, Parcent is one of the eight villages that make up el Vall del Pop, in the Alicante comarca of la Marina Alta, once dedicated almost exclusively to the production of almonds and grapes, the latter being dried to make raisins.

The village of Parcent from Coll de Rates
The village of Parcent from Coll de Rates

As is common throughout the surrounding area, this once humble, predominantly agrarian village has seen its population more or less double in number over the last 30 years as its traditional economic activities have been slowly displaced by the services, tourism and real estate sectors, with the latter accounting for the spectacular rise in the number of houses now present in this and the neighbouring municipalities. Indeed, it is estimated that around 35% of the village's residents are originally from other countries within the European Union.

Long gone the days in which the village enjoyed a reputation as "ungovernable" in the press due to the somewhat enthusiastic manner in which the locals resolved their political differences, when seemingly half the streets were shod with compacted earth and the only place open in which a parched cyclist could quench their thirst was often in the bar of the local agricultural cooperative, today Parcent is an affluent, multinational village with an impressive array of services. Whilst, as in the rest of the area, local raisin production eventually lost its battle against cheaper Californian imports, the grape-growing tradition continues in the form of wineries (bodegas), several of which offer wine-tasting and guided visits.

As an aside, the public square known as "los Jardines de Parcent", in central Valencia, was built atop the site of the former Palace of the Count of Parcent. Known for hosting Joseph Bonaparte, elder brother of Napoleon Bonaparte and King of Naples and Sicily, and later Spain, there is little left of the palace today other than its impressive main entrance.

Profile

Length: 6.5 kilometres
Average gradient: 5%
Maximum gradient: 8.5%
Altitude gain: 350 metres
Maximum altitude: 630 metres
Difficulty: medium

Profile of Coll de Rates, Alicante, Valencia, Spain
Profile of Coll de Rates climb, Vall de Pop, Alicante

350 metres of vertical climbing

The CV-715 Oliva-Benidorm road sets off south from Parcent in the form of a long, flat straight, heading directly out to the foot of Coll de Rates, which sits squarely before us on the horizon.

Coll de Rates from Parcent
The north side of Coll de Rates from Parcent

Starting from this point and up to the famous "Coll de Rates" sign, the climb measures a little under 7 kilometres. Once past the summit, the road dips and rises for around a further 7 kilometres, taking us to the village of Tárbena, from where we can either start down the south side of the climb to Callosa d'en Sarrià, or turn right on the CV-752 and continue climbing to the 780-metre summit of Port de Sa Creueta and on to the village of Castell de Castells.

View over the village of Jalón from Coll de Rates, Alicante, Spain
View over Vall de Pop from Coll de Rates, Alicante

The average gradient on the climb is around 5%, with various sections around 8% and the odd short ramp at @12%. Upon reaching the summit, situated at 630 metres above sea level, we'll have covered around 350 metres of vertical climbing.

Summit marker on Coll de Rates, Alicante
Summit marker on Coll de Rates, Alicante

In general, the climb is at its toughest on its upper slopes, with the first half on the whole making for gentler going. However, at no point is the climb so hard that we are unable to enjoy the great views over the villages of Vall de Pop and the distant Mediterranean Sea.

Plus, there's a restaurant at the top, which is always a welcome feature.

Coll de Rates restaurant, Alicante
Coll de Rates restaurant, Alicante

The climb

Map of Coll de Rates climb from Parcent
Climb of Coll de Rates from Parcent

Start from CV-715

Approach to Coll de Rates from Parcent
The straight leading to Coll de Rates from Parcent

We've taken the start of our climb as the junction of the CV-715 Oliva-Benidorm and the CV-720 Gorga-Pedreguer local roads, just on the western edge of the village of Parcent and at the very foot of the Coll de Rates itself, which lies just to the south. The initial long, flat straight is signposted Tarbena/La Nucia/Benidorm.

Left-hand curve at the base of Coll de Rates
The first curve takes us into the trees

After a half a kilometre or so the road swings round to the left and we enter the cover of the trees, following the foothills of the Coll as we start to gently climb.

Initial ramps on north side of Coll de Rates
The initial ramps are gentle and shaded

The gradient here at the beginning of the climb is rarely greater than 5% and the road is wide and well-surfaced, making the going very pleasant.

2-kilometre mark on northern ascent of Coll de Rates, Alicante
The cover provided by the trees starts to thin out around the 2-kilometre mark

Around the 2 kilometre mark we enter a series of s-bends just as the trees fall away, opening up the first views of the Vall de Pop below to our left and the summit of Coll de Rates ahead. To our right we can just make out the road as it scales the flank of the mountain.

S-bends on northern ascent of Coll de Rates, Alicante
The climb ahead starts to come into view

As the trees are replaced by shrubs, bushes and aromatic plants, we can see the remains of the stone-walled terraces that were formerly used for the cultivation of dryland crops, such as olives, grapes and almonds, among others. We'll find little evidence of the continued use of such farming methods on the climb to the summit today but, as throughout the rest of the region, the mere contemplation of the remains of the local agricultural activity gives us glimpse into how terribly difficult and exhausting the working of these lands must have been.

Shortly before the 3-kilometre mark, and with the villages of Alcalalí and Jalón now visible in the valley, we make a 180º turn in direction on the first of the climb's hairpins, leaving us now with the mountain rising on our left and the village of Parcent down to our right.

Cyclist riding first right-hand hairpin on northern climb of Coll de Rates
The first right-hand hairpin on northern ascent of Coll de Rates

With the exception of the odd, 10%-ish short spike, the gradient here remains in vicinity of 5%.

During the winter months, which is when many cyclists visit the area and the climb for off-season training, this unshaded area with its gentle slopes can be tackled at any time of the day without problems. However, as we have mentioned in other posts about climbs in Valencia, late-spring/summer/early-autumn is a different matter, and exposed areas such as this, and hence the climb in general, shouldn't really be tackled during the hottest hours of the day.

Group of cyclists climbing Coll de Rates, Alicante, from Parcent
The lack of trees on some stretches means riding without shade

Perhaps you will be alright if you do decide to take on the climb at 2 o'clock in the afternoon in the middle of July (you'll almost certainly have the road to yourself, so there is that), but the heat can make the ride unpleasant in the extreme, and even dangerous, and there really is no need to take the risk. The climb has been there for millennia and there is no sign of it going anywhere in the near future, so we'd highly recommend seeking out the cooler moments of the day if you find yourself in the area with your bike in the summer.

Cyclists climbing to the summit of Coll de Rates from Parcent
It is advisable to take into account the heat when climbing Coll de Rates

Back to the climbing, and we now face a series of curves that lead us past the communications antennae that serve the villages down below and mark the end of the approximate first half of the climb.

Communication antennae on Coll de Rates
Communication antennae on Coll de Rates marking the approximate end of the first section

Around the 4-kilometre mark the road bears to the left and heads directly towards the mountain ridge while the gradient rises up a few notches to around 8%, where it will stay, on and off, for the next 2 kilometres.

Road to Coll de Rates, Alicante
The road heads directly to the mountain range for the second section of the climb

By means of an anecdote, it was around this point that Irish former professional, classics specialist and all-round flahute Sean Kelly hit and, by all accounts, killed a wild boar when descending the climb on his bike in 2016. Which really is something when you think about it.

It's possible that many visitors to the area aren't so familiar with boars, but they are quite common in rural Valencia, and they are generally quite bulky and heavy. How heavy? It's not unusual for them to weigh around 80 kg or more. Each.

Apparently the Irishman escaped unharmed, “walking away without a scratch”.

S-bends on the climb of Coll de Rates
There is a series of s-bends leading to the penultimate hairpin

Please note that this information isn't included here as a warning to be on the look out for wild boar as you're on the climb, as you are unlikely to come across them during the daytime, but rather, and given the circumstances, it may be prudent to give Sean Kelly an ample berth should you cross paths with him while he is descending the Coll. Just in case.

Curves on the climb of Coll de Rates from Parcent
There is a little more tree coverage just before the final section

There's a little more tree coverage in places at this point, nothing too exuberant but capable of providing a little shade as we wind through a serious of "s"-bends prior to the penultimate hairpin, which leaves us once again with the mountain to our right, the valley below to our right and the final kilometre and a half or so drag up the top.

Penultimate hairpin bend on climb of Coll de Rates from Parcent
Penultimate switchback on the ascent of Coll de Rates from Parcent

For many cyclists, this second, final section of the climb from Parcent, in the form of a diagonal slash that cuts its way upward towards the summit along the mountain's flank, is arguably the most emblematic section of road to be found on the Costa Blanca.

Final stretch of Coll de Rates along mountainside
The Penya Talai at the summit comes into view on the final stretch

The road hugs the mountain tightly here along this final stretch, weaving gently around the contoured terrain as the peak overlooking the pass, la Penya Talai, bobs in and out of our view ahead.

View of the road to the summit of Coll de Rates, Alicante
Road to the summit of Coll de Rates, with la Penya Talaia and the Coll de Rates restaurante visible

The summit lies almost straight in front of us now, and the views over the villages below, la Marina Alta and out to the sea are simply excellent, with the ubiquitous peak of the Montgó jutting out on the horizon.

Viewpoint on northern climb of Coll de Rates looking over el Vall de Pop
The viewpoint on northern ascent of Coll de Rates looks out over el Vall de Pop and the Mediterranean Sea

If you're not Strava-hunting, there's a viewpoint on the left-hand side of the road overlooking the valley that's well-worth the stop, just before the road hooks round to the right at the climb's final hairpin and we tackle the last 200 metres or so to the summit.


Last switchback on northern climb of Coll de Rates
Final hairpin on northern ascent of Coll de Rates

The final stretch of the climb doesn't offer much of a view as such, as the valley now lies behind us and there are peaks on both sides and in front of us.

Final stretch of northern ascent of Coll de Rates
The final stretch leading to the summit of Coll de Rates from the north

Once at the top, there is no summit marker on the road as such, at least not in the tradltional sense, as the "Coll de Rates" sign lies off to the right on the road leading to the restaurant and the climb to Tossal dels Diners. It is located next to the sign for the restaurant itself, which has almost become synonymous with the top of the climb and has appeared in innumerable photographs since its appearance several years ago.

Assuming that we have discounted the option of turning around and going straight back down the climb to Parcent, once we reach the summit we have various options, including: to continue on to the village of Tárbena and further adventures, to stop at the Coll de Rates restaurant and take in the splendid views, or to carry on past the restaurant up the knee-trembling climb to Tossal dels Diners.

Tossal dels Diners

Road to Tossal dels Diners, Coll de Rates, Alicante
Road to Tossal dels Diners, Coll de Rates

Continuing along the road past the restaurant, we have the 3-kilometre climb to the Fire Prevention Lookout Tower at the summit of Tossal dels Diners, situated at more than 900 m.a.s.l.

It's not a climb for the faint-hearted, with an average gradient of around 10% and peaks of over 15%, and there is a short stretch of choppy, stone-strewn track to be negotiated. However, the views from the summit over the valley below and the surrounding mountains are simply spectacular. The only way down from here on a road bike is the way we came up, taking us back to the restaurant and the summit of Coll de Rates. 

South Side

Callosa d'en Sarrià

Home to around @7500 people, Callosa d'en Sarrià is located some 10 kilometres inland from the coast on the CV-755 Altea-Guadalest road. Mainly dedicated to agriculture and tourism, the town is Spain's leading producer of loquats, and is known for the Fonts de l'Algar waterfalls and natural pools located approximately 3 kilometres from the town centre on the river of the same name. A very popular spot in the summer, we'll pass the turn-off to the pools soon after starting the climb.

Beyond the waterfalls and at the foot of the Bèrnia mountain range lie the remains of Bèrnia Fort, built in 1562 on the orders of King Philip II of Spain as a means of defence against the coastal raids carried out by Ottoman seafarers. It takes perhaps an hour and a half/two hours of walking to reach the fort, so it's not something you'd want to be tackling in cleats while carrying your road bike, but it's certainly worth a visit if you find the time, not least for the excellent views over the Mediterranean and the surrounding mountains.

The characteristic Valencian spoken in the area, and indeed the orthography of the town's name itself, has been heavily influenced ¡by the language of the inhabitants of Mallorca that were encouraged to occupy the area as part of the efforts to repopulate the Marina Alta and the Marina Baixa comarcas, among others, following the Expulsion of the Moriscos decreed by King Philip III of Spain in 1609. But that's another story for another time.

Profile

Length: 19 kilometres
Average gradient: 2.2%
Maximum gradient: 12%
Altitude gain: 400 metres
Maximum altitude: 630 metres
Difficulty: medium

Profile of climb to Coll de Rates from Callosa d'en Sarrià
Profile of Coll de Rates from Callosa d'en Sarrià

400 metres of vertical climbing

The CV-715 heads up the south side of Coll de Rates from the centre of the town of Callosa d'en Sarrià, starting from an altitude of @230 m.a.s.l.

At 19 kilometres in length, this approach to the summit is considerably longer than that on the north side, and while the average gradient of 2.2% is also notably lower than the climb from Parcent, it doesn't really tell the full story of the climb.

Starting with an initial few kilometres of descents and rolling terrain, the climbing doesn't really begin until some 5 kilometres in, from which point on we face ramps of between @5% to @10% up the village of Tàrbena, located at 560 m.a.s.l. From there on, we follow the CV-715 for some 7 kilometres as it rises and dips to the summit which, at @630 m.a.s.l., isn't that much higher than Tàrbena.

As we say, given the essentially neutral first 5 kilometres in terms of overall altitude gain and the mere @70 metres or so of altitude gain in the last 7 kilometres, the bulk of the ascent is concentrated between kilometres 5 and 12, during which we climb a little over @300 metres at gradients of between @5% to 10%.

All in all, the southern side of climb is no so steep overall as the northern side, but it is longer, the overall altitude gain is greater, and it does have a couple of more pronounced stretches, specifically around the 8-kilometre mark.

Does this make it harder? The answer to that question, in most cases, lies in your legs....

The climb

Climb of Coll de Rates from Callosa d'en Sarrià
Climb of Coll de Rates from Callosa d'en Sarrià

Start from Callosa d'en Sarrià

Following the indications to Bolulla and Tàrbena, the CV-715 Oliva-Benidorm road leaves Callosa d'en Sarrià direction Coll de Rates from the central Plaça de Quatre Carreteres.

Plaça de Quatre Carreteres en Callosa d'en Sarrià, the start of the climb from the south
Plaça de Quatre Carreteres en Callosa d'en Sarrià, the start of the climb from the south

Within a couple of hundred of metres we're out of the town and descending quickly through the open countryside, passing by the enormous, industrial-scale greenhouses used for growing loquats and medlars and with the Sierra de Bernia mountain ridge in front of us.

Greenhouses and Sierra de Bernia, Callosa d'en Sarrià
Greenhouses and Sierra de Bernia, Callosa d'en Sarrià

The road surface is very good here, as indeed it is all the way up the climb, as the road itself climbs and dips past the turn-off to Fuentes de Algar on its way to the village of Bolulla, which is where the climbing can be said to really start.

The village of Bolulla on the climb of Coll de Rates
The village of Bolulla is the point where the gradient kicks up

With the village on our left, the road ramps up a few notches as it winds between the foothills of Alicante's inland mountains which, although green to some extent, aren't home to enough trees to provide any significant shade during the hottest hours of the day.

Curves on the climb to Tàrbena
The harder climbing begins with a series of curves shortly after the village of Bolulla

Perhaps half a kilometre after Bolulla, we take on a series of curves and switchbacks that announce the hardest part of this southern ascension of Coll de Rates, including a stretch of @10%.

Trees on the CV-715 on the climb to Tàrbena
Trees on the CV-715 on the climb to Tàrbena

The trees that we do encounter on our way up mostly coincide with the toughest stretches of the climb, as the road crosses from one side a barranco (ravine) to the other.

Group of cyclists climbing Coll de Rates from Callosa d'en Sarrià
Group of cyclists climbing Coll de Rates from Callosa d'en Sarrià

Whilst still among the trees we come to two spectacular, short hairpins that hike the road up abruptly and take it out onto the terraced mountain flanks dedicated to the production of almonds and olives, where we are once more at the mercy of the sun.

Switchbacks on the climb of Coll de Rates from Callosa d'en Sarrià
Hairpins on the climb of Coll de Rates from Callosa d'en Sarrià

Over time, familiarity can't help but lead one to become accustomed to the sight of mountainsides shorn of high trees, making it is easy to forget that many of the roads and landscapes that are so popular in inland Alicante with cyclists from all over the world were once carpeted with Mediterranean forests, long-since felled as the land was claimed for agricultural use.

The village of Tàrbena seen from the climb of Coll de Rates
The village of Tàrbena seen from the climb of Coll de Rates

Once we are out into the open, and with the mountainside rising up to our right, we will soon see the village of Tàrbena above us to our left.

Bends on the climb of Coll de rates, Alicante
Bends on the unshaded road up to Tàrbena

The village will weave in and out of sight for the next kilometre or so as we make our way around a series of bends and curves, with the gradient averaging around @5%.

It's not long before we're onto the last, left-hand hairpin and the final, meandering haul up to Tàrbena, with the road rising up again to around @10% at places near the top, and with some excellent views back down the climb and out to the sea on our left.

Village of Tàrbena in la Marina Alta Alicante
View of the village of Tàrbena from La Panavista

As is common with many villages in the area, Tàrbena itself has grown noticeably in recent years, and would seem to be enjoying prosperous times. Unfortunately, its most famous restaurant, the unique Casa Pinet, changed location to the nearby village of Alcalalí a couple of years ago after flying the red flag in favour of Spanish Republicans, the Valencian language and local culinary specialities for more than 40 years, seemingly caught in the crossfire of municipal shenanigans. However, there are plenty of other options for those wishing to eat, and indeed stay, in the village.

Road signs in the village of Tàrbena, Alicante
The summit of Coll de Rates lies some 7 kilometres from Tàrbena

Once we've passed Tàrbena, the remainder of the route to the summit of Coll de Rates from this side follows the CV-715 direction Orba/Pego for a further 7 kilometres, rising a total of @70 metres as it winds its way along the mountainside.

CV-715 from Tàrbena to the summit of Coll de Rates
CV-715 from Tàrbena to the summit of Coll de Rates

Again, it's a rather exposed road, with the mountain to our left and virtually no shade of any description before we get to the summit, but it is quite easy going and only kicks up somewhat towards the end.

CV-715 road on south side of Coll de Rates, Alicante
The road kicks up somewhat in the final approach to the summit

We know we are getting close to the summit of the Coll, or saddle, when the distinctive form of Penya Talai juts out on the horizon just to the right of the pass itself.

Penya Talai at the summit of Coll de Rates, Alicante
Penya Talai lies to the right of the summit of Coll de Rates when approaching from the south

Once we've reached the summit from the southern side, we have the options of continuing the climb to Tossal dels Diners, as described above, or descending to Parcent.

La Panavista Tàrbena



La Panavista Cycling Accommodation, Tàrbena, Alicante, Spain
La Panavista, Tàrbena, Alicante

When preparing this article on Coll de Rates, we had the extreme good fortune and pleasure to stay at La Panavista, a wonderful traditional-style Spanish villa sitting on the hillside above the village of Tàrbena.

Swimming pool at la Panavista, Tàrbena, Alicante
Swimming pool at la Panavista, Tàrbena, Alicante

Set on a large plot offering magnificent views of the surrounding countrysde and the Mediterranean Sea, the villa is ideally located as a base from which to explore the province of Alicante by bike. You can find details of the house here.

View of the Sierra de Bernia mountains from la Panavista, Tàrbena
Sierra de Bierna seen from la Panavista



Cycling accommodation in Alicante, Spain




Further information


Tourist information Denia
Tourist information Villajoyosa
Tourist information El Vall de Pop
Tourist information Tàrbena
Ca's Pelut Restaurant, Tàrbena

Wineries


Bodegas Parcent
Bodegas Gutiérrez de la Vega

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