Distance, 26.6 km
Elevation gain, 337 m
Elevation loss, 100 m
We leave Novelda at 07:30. It doesn’t take long to get out of the town and we are immediately on a riverside track. Not quite as idyllic as it sounds, the river was just a trickle and we passed by light industrial areas and close to a railway line, but it was a vast improvement on yesterday’s stage.
And soon the surroundings improve and we can hear birdsong and see lots of bunnies hopping across the track and all is well with my camino world.
Immediately we leave town the outline of the Santurio de Santa María Magdalena can be seen on the skyline. We have seen images of the church in tourist flyers and it looks very Gaudi-esque. It’s situated high on a hilltop. I don’t really understand why these places of worship are situated in such inaccessible places, but I guess they are meant to test the strength of faith. As we got closer we realised that it wouldn’t be too much of a diversion to go take a look. We found a route from the camino path to the road that lead to the sanctuario and then a winding track that climbed over rough ground to the church. I found a good hiding place at the bottom to leave my pack and set off unencumbered.
What a gem! Built of local stone with pebble decorations and two soaring towers in the style of the Sagrada Familia. And to add to our delight we found it unexpectedly open. Inside were arches carved from marble, a marble organ, beautiful paintings and many colourful stained glass windows. It was well worth the effort
The landscape here is very beige. Beige earth, beige slopes to the mountain ranges. There are many vineyards, some well established and some under construction. All planted with military precision and mostly enclosed in nylon netting – I’ve not seen that before. The vines are grown on long trunks about a metre or more off the ground. Señora in the bar where we are currently drinking a glass of wine tells me these grapes are for eating, not for wine. They are not a very attractive addition to the landscape but I expect that is the last thing on the farmers’ minds. There isn’t much other agriculture going on in this barren and arid area. A few almond orchards and the odd olive grove, but no cereal crops and no animals.
My legs are a little stiff this morning and my movement isn’t very fluid. But I’m enjoying the stillness of the day – no wind and rather mild, but still cloudy.
We are on this track for around 11 km and then take the road on the long approach to the town of Elda that we reach a few kms later and stop for a hot drink (hot chocolate made with soy milk for me) and tostada con tomate.
Elda is another sprawling town with high rise apartment blocks and a very orderly promenade through the centre of town, but there are very few people around. A bit strange for mid-day.
We leave town through a park alongside a dry river channel. We went a bit wrong when crossing the river. If you are planning to walk this route go over the bridge and immediately down on other side of channel. We were off road until we reached our destination town of Sax, overlooked by a castle perched highon a cliff.
There is no albergue in Sax. Paco recommended the hotel Fuente de la Cura at 25 euros each for a twin room. A lot above our desired budget. We tried the Hostal Los Almendros which my info quoted at 30 euros for a shared room. The place did not look very salubrious and is situated on the edge of town. We declined the hosts offer of a shared room for 40 euros, preferring to pay a bit more for a lot more comfort. The host argued with me that his offer was far superior to the hotel – he got quite het up. I cut him off and we left. As we were approaching the hotel this guy pulled up in his car and continued his argument. What?! He must have been very desperate. The hotel is lovely and we are very pleased with our decision even if it means we can’t eat for a few days!
It started raining! How dare it. I quickly removed my our boots from the balcony, grabbed my shiny new umbrella and the rest is history. Climb to the castle cancelled, trip to the bar instigated!
We did eventually climb up to the castle, and although it was locked, we were glad we had made the effort.