Routes in Alicante - Serpis Greenway

Serpis Greenway, photo Pau Lagunas / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

The Serpis Greenway follows the route of the former Alcoy-Gandia railway through areas of great natural beauty and historical interest.

The 30-kilometre ride takes us from the Mediterranean coast to inland Alicante through the spectacular scenery of el Raco del Duc.



Serpis Greenway

The Serpis Greenway is located along the border between the provinces of Valencia and Alicante, running approximately 30 kilometres between the towns of Villalonga and Muro de Alcoy.

The route follows part of the route of the Alcoy-Gandia railway line along the course of the River Serpis as it passes through the spectacular landscape of el Raco del Duc, also known by the more sinister name of el barranc de l’infern (“Hell’s gorge”).

The above video, with commentary in Valencian, highlights the exceptional beauty and interest of el Raco del Duc/el barranc de l'Infern section of the Serpis Greenway between the villages of Villalonga and L'Orxa.

With 6 tunnels and 2 of its 7 original metallic bridges remaining, the route is yet to be fully incorporated into the Vías Verdes network, although some sections have been reconditioned.

At the time of writing, work has recently been carried out on the conversion of the line’s original route between Muro de Alcoy and Alcoy, where it will link up with the operational Alcoy Greenway, making for over 40 kilometres of traffic-free greenway, and work has begun on a 15km stretch of the extended variant of the line near Villena, further inland.

A little history

As was somewhat common in other areas of Spain, in the late 19th-century the inland region around the city of Alcoy responded to its vigorous industrial development with the construction of a railway, in this case in collaboration with the British company Alcoy and Gandia Railway and Harbour Co. Ltd. and linking the city to the port of Gandia on the Mediterranean coast.  

Known as the “English railway” (el tren dels anglesos in Valencian), the line was used for transporting coal and other materials to the growing Alcoy industrial sector, and for exporting industrial products such as textile, paper and olive oil via Gandia.

Steam train from Alcoy - Gandia rail way
Steam train from the Alcoy - Gandia railway at the Gandia train station
Vicente Moratal Canales / CC BY-SA

The construction of the railway was subject both to physical and to political constraints: for a considerable stretch the River Serpis passes through mountainous terrain and a narrow gorge known as el barranc de l’infern (“Hell’s gorge”), whilst the local authorities insisted on the creation of stations in Alcoy, Muro de Alcoy, Villalonga and Gandia in a bid to ensure that the new infrastructure improved communications between the coastal and the inland areas. 

Further stations or railway stops were later added in Gandia port, Beniarrés, Cocentaina, Beniarjó, l’Orxa and Gaianes.

Water tank and train on Alcoy-Gandia line 1969
Locomotive refilling at water tank in Lorcha on the Alcoy-Gandia railway, 1969
Espencat / Public domain

The new line was also planned in such a manner as to facilitate its connection to subsidiary lines running along the coast to Cullera, to the north of Gandia, and to Denia (part of which is now a greenway), to the south. There was also a connection to the Yecla line (part of which has been reconverted into the Xixarra Greenway) at Muro de Alcoy.

Frequently subject to episodes of financial turmoil during its operation, the line was the recipient of State subsidies from the 1940s onwards before its eventual closure in 1969.

Serpis Greenway between Villalonga and Muro de Alcoy, Spain
Location of the Serpis Greenway between Villalonga and Muro de Alcoy

Villalonga

We've taken Villalonga as the start of this route, although when in operation the railway ran to the port of Gandia, passing through the villages of Potríes, Beniarjó and Almoines on its way to the coast.

We can still cover this 10-kilometre stretch quite easily by bike, although we will have to use open and sometimes busy roads for the most part, as the original route no longer exists in its entirety. This alternative perhaps isn't the most suitable if you are accompanied by children.

Start of the route

Cyclists at the start of the Serpis Greenway, Valencia, Spain
Cyclists outside the IES Vall de la Safor High School at the start of the Serpis Greenway
Pacopac / CC BY-SA

Once we reach Villalonga, we can pick up the Serpis Greenway at the roundabout where the CV-685 enters the town, next to the IES Vall de la Safor High School. The way isn’t signposted as such, and is only marked as “Via Pista” in Google Maps.

A choice of starting point

After 200 metres we reach a crossroads, with the town’s cemetery on the left and the course of the original railway on the right

Crossroads at the start of the Serpis Greenway, Villalonga, Valencia, Spain
Crossroads in Villalonga with the original route of the railway on the right

If we carry on straight ahead, along the south bank of the River Serpis, we will have to tackle a rather steep climb that tops out, after around 3 kilometres, at a quarry that is often used as a car park and the starting point for the greenway. 


Start of the Via Verde del Serpis in Villalonga, Valencia, Spain
This is our route if we decide to climb to quarry before dropping back down to the River Serpis

The climb up the quarry isn't for the faint-hearted, especially if when riding a loaded bike or accompanied by children. If this is your case, or if you simply don't feel up to the task of taking on sttep climb on your bike, then perhaps the most recommendable option is to drive to the quarry, where there is (unattended) space to leave our car. 

Parking area near Villalonga quarry at the start of the Serpis Greenway
Parking area near Villalonga quarry at the start of the Serpis Greenway
 
Once at the quarry, we turn right and drop (sharply) back down to the level of the River Serpis and pick up our route after some 2 kilometres.

Start of the Serpis Greenway in Villalonga, Valencia, Spain
The route to the start of the Serpis Greenway if we choose to cross the River Serpis by footbridge

Alternatively, if we turn right at the crossroads upon leaving Villalonga, we follow the route of the original railway, again for around 3 kilometres, crossing the River Serpis and following its northern bank to the site of the original railway bridge
 
Nothing to see here... The supports of the original railway bridge across the River Serpis in Villalonga
Nothing to see here... The supports of the original railway bridge across the River Serpis in Villalonga

The bridge is long since gone, and to cross the river at this point we must avail ourselves of a somewhat rudimentary footbridge composed of pipes and concrete. 
 
"Road closed" sign on the Serpis Greenway, Valencia, Spain
The "camino cortado" sign just before the track leading down to the bridge across the River Serpis

We can reach the bridge, which can be seen in the video above, by taking a track on our left just after the "camino cortado" sign on the original route. The track down is a bit of a rocky scramble, but the bridge itself is quite safe, although perhaps a little unnerving, especially for those with vertigo, and once again not really suitable for those with loaded bikes or travelling with children.

Which is the best option to take at the start? 

So we have a choice: starting from Villalonga along the old rail route and scrambling across the river on a somewhat Heath Robinson bridge, or taking the testing climb up to the quarry and starting from there. 
 
Neither option is particularly serious in terms of difficulty but, given the choice and bearing in mind the objective of enjoying the ride along a relatively flat railway route, parking at the quarry and riding down to the original railway from there is by far the least stressful and least complicated way to start, especially if riding a loaded bicycle or travelling with children.
 
The choice, of course, is yours, but “el que avisa no traiciona” as the saying goes.

The Greenway

Cyclists on Serpis Greenway in Spain
Cyclists on the River Serpis Greenway
Pacopac / CC BY-SA

Once we've made our choice and got underway, the two routes meet up amid bancales (terraced fields) and carob trees as the greenway begins its meander up the gorge.
 
Fork in the route at Fàbrica de la Mare de Déu

It is worth noting that no sooner do the two routes join than we come across another fork, with the right-hand option taking us down to the river and the abandoned "Fàbrica de la Mare de Déu" hydroelectric works, whilst the left-hand option takes along the greenway to the first of the 6 tunnels that we will encounter on the route.

Entrance to railway tunnel on the Serpis Greenway
Entrance to the 250 metre Túnel de la Mina Larga

The Túnel de la Mina Larga is around 250 metres long and, with the exception of several large air vents looking out onto the river, is not illuminated. Thus, it is important to carry lights for use in this and the other tunnels, as they can be quite dark inside, and also perhaps something to cover our arms, especially if we are planning on riding the route after dark/early spring/late autumn/winter, as they can be rather cold inside.
 
Stone-walled railway cutting on the River Serpis Greenway, Spain
A stone-walled railway cutting on the River Serpis Greenway

This initial section, which is perhaps the best paved of the route until we reach Lorcha, passes through interesting original stone-walled cuttings, some of which have been restored.

Tunnel above the Assut de Morú diversion dam on the River Serpis, Valencia, Spain
Tunnel above the Assut de Morú diversion dam on the River Serpis

After another kilometre or so we come to one of the area’s characteristic water-management structures: an azud, or a “diversion dam”, to use the rather more prosaic English term.

Azud on River Serpis in Valencia, Spain
Azud, or diversion dam, on the River Serpis
Pacopac / CC BY-SA
Sitting like a crescent moon just under the surface, the dam was used to slow down the river's flow and thus raise the level of the water, the force of which was then be harnessed for use in agricultural or industrial processes.

La Fàbrica de l'Infern

View of Fabdrica de L'infern electricity plant, Lorcha, Spain
Façade of the former "Fàbrica de l'Infern" power plant, Lorcha
Vicente Juan Bonet y Jose Antonio Juan Llorens / CC BY-SA

A further kilometre separates us from la Fàbrica de i'Infern (Hell’s Factory), also known less alarmingly as la Fàbrica de la Llum (the Electric Factory), an abandoned hydroelectric plant dating from 1895 that was used to generate the power needed by the area’s paper manufacturers.  

Despite not yet officially included in the Vías Verdes network, sporadic work is being carried out on different stretches of the greenway, and this thankfully includes the crossing over the River Serpis at the la Fàbrica de la Llum. Long gone the original railway bridge, this crossing was formerly a somewhat rocky mess and mostly impracticable after any significant rainfall. 
 
River crossing over the Serpis at la Fàbrica de la Llum
River crossing at la Fàbrica de la Llum
 
The crossing is now serviced by a new bridge, with paved approaches on both sides, and the area has been equipped with several tables and benches situated in the shade just below the hydroelectric plant.

Curiosities at this point on the route include la Ermita de l'Inmaculada, a chapel build by the plant’s owners for its workers, no doubt in need of special protection against the perils present in such an ungodly-named location. Whilst accessible, the hydroelectric plant, the chapel and the surrounding buildings are in a very poor state of repair and should only be approached with the utmost caution, if at all.
 
The Serpis Greenway following the River Serpis to Lorcha
The Serpis Greenway as it follows the river through el Racó del Duc to Lorcha

The section between la Fàbrica de la Llum and Lorcha is perhaps the most spectacular of the whole route, as we follow the river up the gorge towards the Perputxent Valley.  It is also, however, the stretch with the poorest surface - nothing too bad, just with slightly larger stones that require a little more concentration and a little more effort.

L’Orxa 

Perputxent Castle, seen from Lorcha train station
Perputxent Castle, seen from Lorcha train station

On our way to L’Orxa, some 5 kilometres distant, we will pass an abandoned paper mill and another azud before we arrive at the village’s old train station, located under the gaze of the imposing ruins of the Castillo de Perputxent.
 
Lorcha train station on the River Serpis Greenway, Alicante, Spain
Lorcha train station

A well-condition spot with plenty of parking and near the very hospitable village of L’Orxa, this is often used as a starting or turnaround point for those choosing to complete a shorter stretch of the route.
 
Lorcha itself is a very pleasant village, with various restaurants and a public fountain at its entrance, around 1.5 km from the station.

"Assagador" bridge over the Serpis Greenway near Lorcha
"Assagador" bridge over the Serpis Greenway near Lorcha

Leaving the Racó del Duc gorge and Lorcha station behind we now enter the very different landscape of the lush Perputxent valley, irrigated by the River Serpis and predominantly dedicated to the cultivation of fruit.
 
The lush Perputxent valley, seen from el puerto de Beniarrés
The lush Perputxent valley, seen from el puerto de Beniarrés

The going from now on is generally easier, with most stretches of
the remaining greenway having been been asphalted. The gradient, in general, is easier to tackle also.

Asphalted section of the Serpis Greenway between Lorcha and Beniarrés
Asphalted section of the Serpis Greenway between Lorcha and Beniarrés
 
It is worth remembering that, as of the time of writing, the Serpis Greenway does not officially form part of the Spanish "Vías Verdes" network, and as such the route is technically open to traffic
 
While there exists the slim possibility of seeing the odd motor vehicle on the stretch between Villalonga and Lorcha, the chances of coming across a car increase as we leave Lorcha and head towards Muro de Alcoy. We are not talking about large numbers of vehicles - just perhaps the odd tractor or cars going to and fro between the numerous second homes scattered about the adjacent countryside, but it pays to be vigilant.

Olive trees on Serpis Greenway, Alicante, Spain
Olive trees are abundant along the Serpis Greenway
Francesc Fort / CC BY-SA

To our right rise up the mountains separating the provinces of Alicante and Valencia, whilst to the left the inland agglomerations of mountains so popular among Europe’s amateur and professional cyclists alike.

Beniarrés

The approach to Beniarrés from Lorcha on the Serpis Greenway
The approach to Beniarrés from Lorcha on the Serpis Greenway
 
Just before reaching Beniarrés the greenway emerges onto the CV-701 road, which we must cross before picking up our route again some 20 metres or so further along on the other side. 
 
Junction where the Serpis Greenway crosses the CV-701 road
Junction where the Serpis Greenway crosses the CV-701 road (Greenway continues on the left after the tree)

The greenway isn’t signposted here, and it isn’t the best of solutions so it is worth paying attention, especially if cycling with children.

The entrance to the Beniarrés tunnel on the Serpis Greenway, Alicante
The entrance to the Beniarrés tunnel

Once we’ve safely picked up our route again, the greenway swings around the south side of Beniarrés, passing through an impressive – and very dark – tunnel before emerging near to the town square. There a numerous bars and restaurants in the village, making it an opportune spot to stop and refuel.
 
The route of the original line has been lost amid the expansion of Beniarrés, so once we emerge from the tunnel we must take the CV-705.
 
Point where the Serpis Greenway emerges in Beniarrés
Point where the Serpis Greenway emerges in Beniarrés
 
After passing through Beniarrés, we remain on the CV-705 for around half a kilometre direction Cocentaina/Alcoy, as the route of the original railway line is missing a bridge over a gully.
 
Exit from Beniarrés on CV-705, Alicante, Spain
Exit from Beniarrés on CV-705
 
Our turning on the right taking us back on to the Serpis Greenway isn't signposted, but it’s not too difficult to find.
 
Turning on CV-705 back onto the Serpis Greenway after Beniarrés
Turning on CV-705 back onto the Serpis Greenway after Beniarrés

In a matter of metres, we turn left and find ourselves back onto the greenway direction Gaianes
 
Former Beniarrés railway stop on Serpis Greenway, Alicante
Point where we pick up the Serpis Greenway again, with former Beniarrés railway stop on the right.
 
This 2 kilometre section is unpaved. As a curiosity, we can see the former Beniarrés railway stop to the right of the junction.

The Serpis Greenway direction Gaianes, Alicante
The Serpis Greenway as it heads to Gaianes
 
As a further point of interest, a kilometre and a half to the south of Beniarrés lies the reservoir of the same name, yet another example of the creative use made of the River Serpis.

Perputxent Valley seen from Sierra Mariola, Alicante, Spain
The Beniarrés reservoir and Perputxent Valley seen from Sierra Mariola. In the distance we can see the sea.
bladimiro / CC BY-SA

Gaianes

From here on the route continues to Gaianes where, as in Beniarrés, we are required to do a bit of navigating around the streets before picking up the greenway again and heading off towards Muro de Alcoy
 
Former railway stop in Gaianes, Alicante
Former railway stop in Gaianes

A distinctly worse-for-wear railway stop marks the original passage of the line, now hidden beneath trees and buildings, but just to the left we have the CV-705 once again, which takes us past Gaianes to the spot where we can pick up the route once more.
 
The Serpis Greenway as it leaves Gaianes, Alicante
To the right, the Serpis Greenway as it leaves Gaianes

Again, the greenway isn't signposted at this point, but we can see it clearly to our right from the road as we leaves Gaianes.

Just half a kilometre to the south of Gaianes is la albufera de Gayanes, a freshwater lagoon that is frequented by migratory birds and which has been declared a protected natural area. If we have the time to spare, the spot is well worth a visit.
 
Stretch of the Serpis Greenway near Turballos, Alicante
Stretch of the Serpis Greenway near Turballos, Alicante
Our route from here on is relatively relaxed, atop an asphalt surface and with the Sierra Mariola mountain range before us. As mentioned, second homes abound in this area and as such we have higher chances of coming across motorized traffic.
 
View of the Serpis Greenway near Muro de Alcoy, Alicante
View of the Serpis Greenway near Muro de Alcoy
 
On the way to Muro de Alcoy we cross over the A7 Autovía del Mediterraneo via a new bridge, and when entering Muro we must navigate a rather steep climb out of the River Agres’s (normally) dry riverbed, which would have originally been crossed by a long-since disappeared railway bridge.
 
* When riding the route to take photos for this article, we found that the final stretch to Muro de Alcoy had been closed, with traffic directed to the town via an alternative route. This was in all likelihood due to rockfalls during recent rains, and is not such an unusual occurrence on the Serpis Greenway.

Diversion on Serois Greenway at the entrance to Muro de Alcoy
Diversion at the entrance to Muro de Alcoy

Muro de Alcoy

Disused train station in Muro de Alcoy, Alicante, Spain
The original train station on the Alcoy-Gandia line in Muro de Alcoy
User:Coentor / CC BY-SA
Our destination, Muro de Alcoy, is the largest town we will have come across since Villalonga, and offers the usual range of cafes, bars, restaurants and shops.

If we chosen the town as our turnaround point, we simply set off back the way came to Villalonga, this time down hill.

Alternatively, we can use Muro as starting point from which to investigate the nearby Sierra Mariola and Font Roja Natural Parks, or to continue on greenways to Alcoy, Yecla and beyond.

How to arrive

Villalonga

We've taken the start of our ride as town of Villalonga in the Valencian comarca of la Safor, located in the south of the province.

Map showing the location of Villalonga in Valencia, Spain
Villalonga lies around 10 km inland from Gandia

It lies around 10 kilometres from the centre of Gandia, from where it can be reached by car or bike via the CV-680 road (it is possible to ride some portions of this stretch along agricultural roads and back streets, but this requires a certain detailed knowledge of the area and is a little time-consumimg). As mentioned in the article, this road can be a little busy at times and isn't recommended for children.

Gandia

Gandia itself is 70 kilometres to the south of the city of Valencia, and 110 kilometres to the north of the city of Alicante. It lies on both the N-332 road and the AP-7 toll motorway, which has junctions to the north of Gandia (Junction 60 - Gandia/Xeraco/Xeresa) and in Oliva (Junction 61 - Oliva/Gandia).

Gandia can also be reached by train from Valencia Nord train station. Transporting bicycles on trains always seems to be a sticky matter in Spain, subject to factors that aren't always clear or consistent, so as always you would do best to contact RENFE before trying to board a train with your bike.

Muro de Alcoy

If you decide to ride the Serpis Greenway in the opposite direction, you can reach Muro de Alcoy by car via the inland, toll-free A7. The town lies around 100 kilometres to the south of the city of Valencia, and around 70 kilometres to the north of the city of Alicante.

It can also be reached by train from Valencia Nord station, changing at Xátiva. The service isn't too regular, and the same advice applies regarding boarding with bicycles.

Further riding

Hemming Muro de Alcoy in from the west is the Sierra de Mariola Natural Park, the highest peak of which is the Montcabrer, at 1,389 m.a.s.l., whilst just beyond Alcoy we find the Font Roja Natural Park, of which the Sierra del Menejador is the point at 1,356 m.a.s.l. Both are highly recommended.

Alcoy Greenway

Route of Alcoy-Gandia railway in Cocentaina, Spain
The route of the original Alcoy-Gandia railway near the town of Cocentaina
Vicente Juan Bonet y Jose Antonio Juan Llorens / CC BY-SA

If we decide to explore the area, we can head south out of Muro de Alcoy and carry on to the city of Alcoy, following in large part the route of the original railway. As of writing, work is gradually underway on the reconversion of the railway along this stretch, although no date has been given for its opening as a greenway.

Alcoy - Alicante

From Alcoy we can access the Font Roja Natural Park, or follow the Greenway along the route of the Alcoy-Alicante railway, which never entered into operation despite almost a century of planning and works. The original route can be followed south to La Sagra, from where we can switch between the intended railway, which is now mostly composed of gravel or asphalt agricultural tracks, and service roads, passing through Ibi, Castalla and near to Tibi before arriving after some 20 kilometres at the Maigmó Greenway, the final stretch which has been reconditioned and included in the Vía Verde network.

Via Verde Muro de Alcoy to Alicante, Spain
Approximate route via greenways from Muro de Alcoy to Alicante
 
The end of the Maigmó Greenway lies around 10 kilometres from the city of Alicante.

Xixarra Greenway

Xixarra Greenway near to el Salse, Alicante
Enrique Íñiguez Rodríguez (Qoan) / CC BY-SA

Interestingly, at the time of writing it has been announced that work is to begin on the reconditioning of the original stretch of the Xixarra Greenway in Cieza, in the adjacent region of Murcia. Further plans include the reconidtioning of the stretches of the same railway route around the towns of Jumilla and Yecla, and eventually their connection to the existing reconditioned stretch that runs from Santuario de las Virtudes to Biar, making for a total of 70 or so kilometres of greenway.

The remaining stretch of the route between Biar and Muro de Alcoy, while by no means complete and not included in the Vias Verdes network, is rideable for long stretches, and is mainly surfaced with gravel and asphalt

Old station of Benejama on Xixarra Greenway, Spain
Former station of Benejama on the Xixarra Greenway
Enrique Íñiguez Rodríguez (Qoan) / CC BY-SA

With the exception of some long-disappeared stretches and certain of the towns and villages that lie along the way that would have to be navigated by road, this gives us around 180 kilometres of former railway from the Mediterranean coast to the borders of la Mancha to investigate.

Greenway between Villalonga and Cieza, Spain
Approximate route connecting Villalonga in Valencia with Cieza in Murcia

NB: Please note that this article was created during the lockdown restrictions imposed in response to the COVID-19 crisis. As such, many of the photos originally used have been obtained from Wikicommons, with credit given as appropriate. For the sake of formatting the original credit has been omitted from the first photograph. That credit is: Pau Lagunas / CC BY-SA. It is hoped that we will be able to compliment the article with our own photos once the restrictions on movement are lifted. If you detect any anomaly in the use or crediting of the photos used, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Links

Alcoy Greenway
Route of the Alcoy Greenway, Alicante, Spain
Route of the Alcoy Greenway, Alicante, Spain
©Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Espanoles 

Ibi Greenway

Maigmó Greenway
Route of the Maigmó Greenway, Alicante, Spain
Route of the Maigmó Greenway, Alicante
©Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Espanoles 

Safor Greenway
Route of the Safor Greenway, Valencia, Spain
Route of the Safor Greenway, Valencia
©Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Espanoles 

Serpis Greenway (in Spanish)

Xixarra Greenway
Route of the Xixarra Greenway, Alicante, Spain
Route of the Xixarra Greenway, Alicante
©Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Espanoles 


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