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    El Comtat, Inland Costa Blanca

Cocentaina is situated in the Inland Costa Blanca region, about 70kms from Alicante airport. It is the county town of El Comtat, which itself is in the province of Alicante and the autonomous region of the Comunidad Valencia.

The immediate area is principally agricultural, with olives, almonds, cherries and various other crops. We also pass through areas with citrus fruits and a local speciality, nisperos.

Spain is famous for its fiestas, and Cocentaina is no different. In January we have the 3 Kings festival, in March Els Nanos, in which locals make figures similar to the Guy Fawkes in the UK, which usually poke fun at politicians and local dignitaries. Easter is very important, with many processions taking place, and in April the miracle of the painting of the Virgin Mary, which was said to have shed 27 tears of blood in 1528. August sees the Moors and Christians, when parades take place over several weeks, culminating in a great battle to win control of the town. The Christians always win! In late October the oldest fair in Spain takes over the town, attracting 500,000 visitors to a town with a population of just 11,000! People travel from far and wide to buy products as diverse as cheese and tractors.

The area is quite simply, cycling heaven.  Almost all of the roads we use are wonderfully surfaced and very lightly trafficked by motor vehicles. We also use former railway lines for some of our easier holidays. We use what looks on the map like a very small area but each valley is different and our rides will take you through very varied terrain.  A lot of cyclists stay on the coast and then come inland for the day but very few get as far as Cocentaina. Some of the rides go tantalisingly near to the coast to give beautiful sea views but then turn round. It is however possible to go all the way to the sea if you are fast riders and set that as your target for the day, remembering that you have to climb back to come home.

Being based in a town means that you have all its facilities at hand - banks, several supermarkets, including a large Carrefour on the edge of town and even a Decathlon. There are numerous bars open all day with pavement seating and very reasonable prices. Cocentaina has distinct old quarters, some dating back centuries when the Christians, the Moors and the Jews all lived separately but part of the same town.

There is a castle overlooking the town which can be visited (walking) and the palace holds a museum which has interesting exhibits. A walk around the town itself can also be very interesting as it reveals its history with the help of signs guiding you around the old quarters.

Just a few minutes cycling takes you out of town and on to very pleasant roads. It is the cycling that makes it so special though. There are climbs almost every day on our more challenging routes. Some long and gently graded and some with the odd sharp sting-in-the-tail. Of course, you are also rewarded with fabulous descents, some of which enable you to swoop down through wonderful scenery for kilometre after kilometre. We also have easier routes, some using former railway lines. None of the rides are ever very far away from civilisation but they won't necessarily feel like that as the roads are so quiet and some of the valleys have a wildness about them. Most of the villages you will go through, or skirt around, have at least one bar and usually a water fountain too.

Prices for drinks and meals are all very reasonable as this really isn't a tourist area, yet. If you are looking for Flamenco dancers, bingo and discos then this is not the area for you, but if you want to see what real rural Spain is like then it is. The people are, in general, very friendly and welcoming. They speak as much Valenciano as Castillian Spanish among themselves but will happily switch so you can understand them if you have a little Spanish.

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