Route – On/Off: Javalambre mountains II – Amanaderos, Fuente de la Miel, Alto de Barracas (95km)

The starting point of this route is, again, Ademuz. However, if you are coming from the Cuenca province it can be started from the village of Torrebaja, and from Teruel it can be started in Villel, both on the N-330 road.

From Ademuz, I take the N-330 heading towards Teruel. A good road if you are heading south, wide and with good tarmac, but heading north it quickly becomes a narrow country road that should be classed as a regional or even local road instead of a main route connecting Alicante with the French border. The 40km between Ademuz and Teruel are a bottleneck that sees heavy traffic of articulated trucks all year round, but environmental concerns about the Turia valley and, more importantly, the fact that this sparsely populated region has very little political weight have kept a better road from being built for decades.

Halfway to Teruel I reach the village of Villel, where an even narrower road with worse tarmac leads to Camarena de la Sierra and the ski slopes of Javalambre. On the way there there are two more small villages and, just before reaching Camarena, the road goes through a narrow gorge where I find a small picnic area and a fountain with cool mountain water pouring out of a lot of taps. After a short stop I reach Camarena, where I leave the main road right after entering the village and take the TE-34 that goes to the lower car park in the ski slopes.

Shortly after leaving the village, a sealed track starts to the right of the road and follows the Camarena river until reaching another picnic area. From this point, the track starts gaining altitude and becomes a dirt track after a couple of kilometres, but it is still good enough to allow the passage of regular cars without problems.

This track ends in the Matahombres fountain, a picnic area with barbecues, a fountain and a pond, a nice spot, but usually rather crowded, particularly in summer, due both to the ease of access in all kinds of vehicles, as I said before, and to the natural beauty of the place, even though the use of the barbecues is forbidden in the hottest months.

img_1420

img_1422

The circular route continues past the picnic area, but having reached this point it is worth taking a detour to the right and follow the ravine to visit the Amanaderos and the Yeguas waterfall. The surface on this track is a bit more broken, and even though it is not difficult to ride on, I would not take a family car on it. If the weather is dry there are no problems, but if it has been raining hard the usually dry ravine might carry water and complicate the crossing of a couple of spots.

Shortly before reaching the end of the track, a road sign of the same kind used at the entrance of towns and villages informs me that I am in the Amanaderos. I park the bike as close as I can to the edge of the track to visit this part of the ravine, where water springs up suddenly from behind the rocks and quickly becomes a steady flow that a few hundred meters down the valley becomes the Yeguas waterfall.

img_1425

After crossing the river, this time with water flowing across the track, I reach a point where the track widens and is possible to park. Beyond this parking area I can see some wood fences that prevent the oblivious tourist from a serious fall down the Yeguas waterfall, the first of a series of waterfalls until the river reaches the Montereta mill, where the valley opens into an area of orchards belonging to the village of Riodeva. It is a very nice trek on foot, but if there is not another vehicle waiting at the end to take you back to the starting point you’ll need to walk six kilometres back up the river to the Yeguas waterfall.

After admiring the waterfall from below, where it forms a pool where you can swim if you are brave enough to dip into the chilly water, I walk back to the motorbike and ride the track back up to the picnic area to continue with the route.

The track gains some altitude from here on and crosses forests of pine trees, still with no difficulty if it is dry. Shortly after, I reach Fuente de la Miel, where there is another picnic area, this one abandoned.

From this point, the track takes me up the mountains until reaching a plain, Alto de Barracas, where it splits in two – both tracks lead to the village of La Puebla de San Miguel, the one on the left directly, the one on the right through Calderón peak and Vicente Tortajada pine, a centenary pine tree in a flora microreserve. I take the route to the right, and after making my way through a couple of tight downhill corners that the recent rain have made a bit tricky, the track goes round the south side of Calderón peak, the highest point of the region, and reaches another crossroads. To the right it goes back to Alto de Barracas round the north side of the peak, and to the right it goes past Gavilán peak, this one accessible by motorbike and 4×4, since there is a firefighting service surveillance tower at the top.

Past this crossroads the road goes down the mountain fast, with some of the steepest segments paved in concrete, until reaching the last crossroads of the route.

The plan was to head back to the road from here, as I am close to La Puebla de San Miguel, only one kilometre and a little down the valley, from where the road back to Ademuz through a couple of hamlets begins, but I see a sign that tells me that the track to the right goes to Mas del Olmo, the first of those two helmets.  Wanting to stay off road for a bit more, I choose this option.

This last segment has no difficulties either, it is a nice track that winds its way through terraces of almond trees cut into the mountain, trying to steal some lands for crops from the jagged mountains, a good reminder of how hard life must have been for our grandparents in this area.

Once I reach Mas del Olmo the only thing left to do is follow the tarmac road back to Ademuz, my starting point.

Map

ruta-javalambre-ii

What to see

Ademuz – With a little over 1,000 inhabitants, this town is the capital of the enclave, built on the mountainside with a maze of narrow streets that confirm the Arab influence that its name hints to. At the top of the mountain stand the ruins of a castle, an old arab fortress called Al-Damus. From the entrance of the town a dirt track goes up the Pico Castro, a peak with excellent views over the town and its surroundings, including the river Turia. The shrine of Nuestra Señora de la Huerta, from the XIV century, is also worth a visit.

The Amanaderos – This is the point where the Rambla de los Amanaderos, the stream that later becomes the Ríodeva river, springs up. In this apparently dry part of the ravine water springs up from several places between the boulders. There is no place to park, but motorbike might be left as close to the edge of the track as possible to allow the passage of other vehicles. Alternatively, this spot can be reached on foot from the car park in the Yeguas waterfall, a short distance down the ravine.

Yeguas waterfall and Ríodeva river trek – This waterfall is the first of the several that, together with a few natural pools, make up an interesting trek down the river until reaching the Montereta mill. If you have another vehicle waiting for you in Ríodeva it is possible to do the whole trek and enjoy the views of the waterfalls and the valley, if not, you’ll have to walk 6km back up from the mill. In any case, it is worth walking the first part to see the waterfalls.

Puebla de San Miguel natural park – Part of the route goes through this park. Here you can find Calderón peak, the highest peak in the Comunidad Valenciana with a height of 1,837 metres. Reaching the top has zero difficulty, it is just a leisurely walk from Alto de Barracas. The park also has several flora microreserves, all of them signposted and with information panels.

Shrine of La Puebla de San Miguel – If we take the route down to this village, the track joins the main road just past this good example of the typical shrine architecture in the region, with a porch over the front entrance.

Where to eat

Casa Domingo, the main hotel in Ademuz, has bar and restaurant service. In Camarena de la Sierra, just after turning into the camino del Balneario, the road that takes us to the start of the off road part of the route, there is the Hotel Esmeralada.

Greek road shrines

I had never had so many near misses as I had on the roads in Greece. As I explained in the story of my trip through the Balkans, Greek drivers are the epitome of all types of bad behaviour on the road – they do not mind their surroundings, use their mobile phones while driving, run stop signs, ignore right of way… and worst of all, they are incompetent drivers. They floor it on straights but can’t keep a decent speed through a corner, they don’t seem to be able to judge speed and distance accurately and they have total disregard for other users.

A testament to the consequences of all of this can be found everywhere in the Greek road network. I crossed the border from Bulgaria in a small crossing and took regional roads on the Greek side, a beautiful route going down the mountains. It was not long before I saw a small shrine by the side of the road, at the exit of a tight corner – it looked like a miniature church on a stand, and had fresh flowers on it. The flowers and the location made me think that it was there to commemorate the victim or victims of a road accident, in the same way that some people leave a bunch of flowers attached to a signpost or an Armco barrier in other countries.

img_1351

But then, a few corners down the road I saw another one. And another one. And another one. Some were quite new and well taken care of, some were older. The varied in size and complexity, some were made of stone, some were made of wood or iron, and all that remained of some were a few pieces of wood or metal hanging from a pole. They were everywhere, there was practically not a corner or crossroads without one on them, and I started to ride more slowly, more carefully, afraid that if each one represented an accident, I was on the deadliest road in the world.

They were a constant presence in my trip throughout the roads of Greece. I later discovered that they are called Kandylakia and do not always represent a road death – they are also built to express gratefulness at having escaped or survived and accident, but even if they are not always associated to a tragic ending, the sheer number of them bears witness to the dangers of driving in that country.

 

Sources:

About.com – Travel in Greece

Hellenic Communication Service

Bob Cromwell – International Travel

Route – On/Off: Javalambre mountains I – Javalambre peak from the south side (162km)

The starting point of this route and others in this area is Ademuz, in the Rincón de Ademuz enclave, a patch of land belonging to Valencia that the turnings of history left on the border line between the provinces of Teruel and Cuenca. I have chosen it because it is the main town in the area and so it is easiest to find places to eat, sleep and refuel (there are only two petrol stations in El Rincón and one of them is here) but also because this is where my base of operations is when I come to explore this area. The route is circular, so you can pick any point as a starting point to suit your approach route.

After filling up the tank of the AT I leave Ademuz heading south along the river Turia on the old national road towards the villages of Casas Altas and Casa Bajas. The road has good tarmac, but it is very narrow, so I have to be careful and keep to my right on the blind corners, which are many, especially past Casas Bajas, where I find an almost 90-degree left corner inside a tunnel with no lighting.

From here on the road becomes slightly wider and I ride up the famous Emes, a series of tight hairpins that require first gear and goes over one of the numerous gorges the river flows through. It is hard to believe that the coach that covers the regular line from Valencia to Ademuz is able to turn these corners. On the other side there are less corners and they are not so tight, and after a stop at a viewpoint to appreciate the landscape, I reach Santa Cruz de Moya.

To the right there is a road that meets the new 330 national road, a much faster route, but with much less interesting views, as it crosses relatively flat crop fields. The road I am in is much better – the river Turia still flows on my right, but further down now, inside a narrow gorge, and a few kilometres later I reach one of the landmarks of the route – the bridge that spans the gorge in one of its narrowest and deepest points. There is nowhere to park, but on a motorbike one can always pull over to one side to admire the view of the river at the bottom.

Past the bridge the road, now called CV 35, climbs up the left bank of the Turia through thick pine forest, a deep contrast from the drier almond tree fields that I left behind barely a few kilometres ago that tells me I am gaining height. This stretch of road, like many others hidden deep in this area, seems frozen in time. You can still find traffic signs that have survived from a time long gone, as well as those old roadside protections made of metal mesh fixed to cement poles, still visible in some corners behind the new steel Armco barriers. I do not know how effective they would be in keeping me from falling into the cliff behind them if I slipped on the gravel or pine needles accumulated in some points, but I am sure I would not have my leg or arm cut off as I would with the newer, shiny metal rails on their modern successors.

The road leaves the forest as it reaches a plain where I find the village of Aras de los Olmos, where I have an uninterrupted view of the mountains of Javalambre for the first time, its peak my final goal today. When I reach Titaguas, a more lively village that benefits from its position on an important crossroads, I leave the main road and head up the CV 345 just outside the village. This road combines narrow bits, albeit with good tarmac, with wider ones that have recently been built and allow me to keep a faster pace and really enjoy the bike. There is barely anyone on this route, and bikers know it.

On my way up to Arcos de las Salinas I come across several groups that have decided to avoid the main roads and motorways on their journey to Alcañiz, where the Aragón Moto GP is taking place the following day. This bit of road is simply marvellous, and I enjoy it as is deserves, stopping only at a viewpoint where the road reaches it highest point before descending to Arcos de las Salinas. As I admire the rugged landscape I spot a low and long construction in front of me, on the opposite side of the narrow valley. Its white paint stands out against the ochre, brown and dark green of its surroundings, and I realise I am looking at a shrine built in the traditional architecture of the region, with a porch at the entrance. From behind it a dirt track stars and disappears out view behind the mountains, only to reappear again further right going down the steep side of the mountain and into the village, or at least I assume it is the same track. I decide to explore, since I am here to do some tracks, and at the entrance of the village I find a turning off to the left of the road and some wooden signs that point to two shrines and some salt mines after which the town is named. There we go.

It had been raining non-stop all previous day and night, which makes me fear that my intentions to ride some tracks today might end in nothing, but the area has a very dry climate and, other than a few puddles in the shaded parts of the track near the river, the ground is dry. After leaving behind the ruins of a first shrine and the salt mines, the track gains altitude fast and I quickly reach the shrine I had seen earlier. It is rather big, with an pen for cattle, probably sheep, attached to its back, which gives it an unusually long structure for these type of buildings. At its front I find a small plaque with a short explanation that accounts for the good conditions of the track leading up here – the town celebrates its local festivity here on the first week of June, and many people come up by car, which has replaced the horses and carts of old. It also says that some pilgrims come on foot, but I would like to know how many still make the effort on these times of convenience and as little effort as possible.

img_1417

There are two tracks leading up the peak of Javalambre for the first part of the ascent. One that starts shortly before the village of Torrijas and climbs faster and another longer one that comes from Manzanera. I take the first one to save myself 15 extra kilometres of tarmac, but if you start this route coming from Teruel on the motorway, it might be a better option.

The first part of the track is in excellent state and I can ride fast until it meets the branch coming from Manzanera. Here the forest becomes thicker and the track turns rockier, with sharper corners until I gain altitude and emerge on the rolling hilltops that make the upper part of the Javalambre range, where the pine trees become low bushes. The landscape is stunning and the track undulates gently over the hills until reaching the peak, at 2,020m above sea level. The route is not difficult except for some parts before the peak where the rain has turned the ground into mushy black mud. I cross this patches with particular care, as I can feel the front of the bike lose grips at some points and I do not want to end up on the ground all alone up here.

The peak is accessible on the bike, and from its top there are magnificient 360º views if the weather is good, as far as the Montes Universales and Sierra de Gúdar. In front of me, a radar station with a huge antenna painted in white and red reminds me of the rocker Tintin took to the Moon.

The fastest way down from here takes you to the radar station access road and then straight down one of the pistes from the Javalambre ski resort, but instead of that I take another dirt road to the right on the col between the radar station and the end of one of the ski lifts and I ride around the Cruz del Negro hill, which hides the base of the resort from view. This allows me to enjoy myself a bit more before going back to tarmac, as this route ends further down than the ski resort parking lot.

Instead of riding down to the village of Camarena on the usual road, which is to ride until meeting the road that comes up from the motorway to Teruel on the El Gavilán col, I turn to the lower car park, from where a very narrow road, nothing more than a sealed forest track, goes straight down to the village amongst pine trees.

The village of Camarena is located downstream from the El Gavilán col, where the water meets the river Camarena, which springs from the mountain I have just left behind, and flows down the valley towards the river Turia. If you are short of time, the road goes straight down that valley and meets the 330 national road halfway between Teruel and Ademuz. If, like me, you want to enjoy the landscape and some more dirt tracks, it is possible to take a small road just outside the village that climbs on the south bank of the river and gets lost in the forest before descending into the parallel valley and the village of Ríodeva, famous for hosting one of the most important sites of Teruel’s Dinópolis complex. This road is made up of that kind of tarmac that disintegrates with time and turns into gravel, which requires all my attention not to veer off to the sides or cross the middle of the road, as it is only clean on the tracks that cars leave.

When reaching Ríodeva it is best to follow the signs to Dinópolis complex, Titania, to avoid riding through the village and getting lost in its mace of narrow streets. Once at the bottom, by the river, I have two options again – stay on the road and go down to meet the 330 national road, or take a dirt track that passes close to the open air mines where the dinosaur fossils were found and I stay on the dirt until a hamlet called Mas del Olmo, from where a road goes directly down to the starting point, Ademuz.

Since I still have time I choose the latter, and after a slightly complicated start through a sector of the mines that seems to be closed down, the track is good until Mas del Olmo, a tiny settlement that is not even a village, but a neighbourhood of Ademuz, which is 12km further down the valley through a nasty narrow and winding road. I am already tired after a long day and this last stints requires all my attention, since there are no protection barriers to prevent a fall down the side of the mountain, most corners are completely blind and I am most likely to find someone coming up the other way because, while we reached Mas del Olmo on a drit track, this road goes further past it to other villages.

At the bottom of the valley there is another hamlet that also belongs to Ademuz, and from there the road continues, more or less flat, to the point where I started the road hours earlier.

Map

ruta-javalambre-i

What to see

Ademuz – With a little over 1,000 inhabitants, this town is the capital of the enclave, built on the mountainside with a maze of narrow streets that confirm the Arab influence that its name hints to. At the top of the mountain stand the ruins of a castle, an old arab fortress called Al-Damus. From the entrance of the town a dirt track goes up the Pico Castro, a peak with excellent views over the town and its surroundings, including the river Turia. The shrine of Nuestra Señora de la Huerta, from the XIV century, is also worth a visit.

Arcos de las Salinas – The shrine of San Salvador and the abandoned salt mines. The access to these is closed to vehicles, but ignore the ‘private proterty’ signs and they can be visited on foot.

Pico Javalambre – The highest peak in the Javalambre mountains at 2,020 metres. On the northwestern side there is a skiing resort bearing the same name – the slopes are accessible by bike in the summer.

Riodeva – Open air silica and kaolin mines. They were the site of the recent discovery of the largest dinosaur fossil uneartherd in Europe, which prompted the opening of Titania, a mueseum belonging to Dinópolis theme park in Teruel.

Where to eat

Casa Domingo, the main hotel in Ademuz, has bar and restaurant service. In Casas Altas we can find Tasca Los Trillos, which offers excellent tapas, and in Ríodeva the restaurant El Salón has excellent reviews for its home made food.