Hiking & Hermits in El Valle and Carrascoy Regional Park
El Valle and Carrascoy Regional Park is the ‘green lung’ of Murcia. Less than an hour’s drive from the busy beach resorts of Costa Calida, you will find cicadas rather than cocktails in a landscape brimming with opportunities to discover and connect with nature. And perhaps you might also discover yourself! With more than 600 species of plants to enjoy and shady caves to explore, El Valle is a great part of Spain for hiking and contemplating life. In this guest post Fiona Steggles took her family to experience the silence of the 5th century hermits…..
The silence of an El Valle hermit
We peer into a dusty cave in El Valle and Carrascoy Regional Park and I think maybe life as a hermit wouldn’t be so bad. The silence. The shade. No shrieking children splashing in the midday sun.
We are halfway through a two week holiday in Murcia, in South East Spain. I’ve bought the obligatory large inflatable crocodile and played daft games in the pool with it. I’ve forced myself into a burning hot go-kart and been humiliated by teenagers who can drive faster than me. I’ve played tennis, table football, boules and Bananagrams. So far so good but today it’s time for a change.
Jack looks at the map. “We are doing the shorter trail right?”
A spot of family hiking in Murcia
My kids like walking. Well, they like ‘hiking’ with their mates in Scouts. Somehow it’s a different thing when it involves their parents. And of course I’ve dragged Jack away from his laptop, and Joe away from the pool. But after a week I need a break from the Costa Calida August crowds and I’ve forced them all out of bed early and into the hills.
Into the green lung of Parque El Valle and Carrascoy
El Valle and Carrascoy Regional Park is the ‘green lung’ of Murcia, more than 17,000 hectares of woodland, peaceful scrub-land paths and buzzing cicadas. It’s about 45 minutes from the main beach resorts and just six kilometres east from the city of Murcia, but a world away from your normal southern Spain holiday vibe. This place is full of wildlife. It’s thought there are more than 600 species of plants here, and if geology is your thing, there are plenty of different types of rocks to get excited about too. We’re on the lookout for birds and lizards. Apparently snakes, toads, and golden eagles are commonly spotted. There are even wild boar in these hills. We do see a far off eagle-type bird hovering overhead, and some weird looking insects, but I suspect the fauna only really come out for the quietest of hermits.
More than a nature park
And that’s what makes this valley more than just a nature park. There is a history of religious life here. From the 5th century, those in search of spiritual fulfillment came to the hills taking vows of poverty, chastity, obedience and silence. They spent their lives in quiet contemplation, sleeping in caves among the rocks and fasting three times a week. Even as late as the 17th century, there were hermits here, regulated by the Catholic church. Maybe they felt the need for a little peace and quiet. For centuries before the Costas became a summer calling point, Murcia and Cartagena were bustling economic and political centres, often fought over by Muslim and Christian powers.
Calls for contemplation
Today there are references to the religious life throughout the park, sculptures, signs and an occasional church for contemplation. We’ve been warned about the midday heat, and start walking at the ridiculously early time of 7.30 am.
“You call this a holiday Mum?”
“Get up now and we’ll be back at the pool by lunchtime.”
In the end we’re all glad we got up early. We set off on a three hour trail, and within an hour we are dripping sweat and glugging down water. We dive into any church on route gasping for shade. And we spend much longer than normal in the two visitor centres simply to benefit from the air conditioning. By the time we stop for an early lunch at La Fuensanta church, our sandwiches are sweaty lumps of bread and cheese and frankly a bit gross.
It’s worth it though. El Valle is truly peaceful. We see an occasional cyclist and walker and a couple of totally mad runners, but away from the central points, we mostly feel we have the valley to ourselves. There is a children’s play area, a café and there are a couple of interesting films to watch about the flora and fauna in the visitors centre, but the real joy of this place is the feeling of being away from the crowds in a busy summer season.
A hermit challenge
It’s not exactly quiet though. After a couple of hours, the cicadas are in full voice. I wonder how the hermits concentrated on prayer with such a racket going on and imagine one kicking his cave wall in frustration. Was he lonely? Bored of living on what he could grow in the valley? Did he occasionally long for the bright lights of the city and more chatty companions than the toads, lizards and far away birds?
Slowing down further on Camino Del Apostol
All headphones banned for the morning, we chat about hermit quandaries as we wander down Camino Del Apostol, our trainers covered in desert dust. I realise our normal manic holiday pace has slowed right down as we amble along and actually talk to each other. We start to notice the detail in the valley, some sticky yellow stuff oozing out of tree bark, stripy beetles crossing a path, olives in a bush. We talk about Star Wars plots, what books we’re reading, and the best bits of our holiday so far. We have patches of companionable silence and then ask each other what we were thinking. We breathe. By the end of the trail, even 15 year old Jack agrees it’s been a welcome break from the bustle at the beach.
“We could come back?” I say hopefully.
Both kids roll their eyes at me and get in the car. I look back wistfully across the valley but then think how lonely the solitary life must have been, and jump into the car after them.
“Churros at the beach anyone?”
The best place to start is the main Visitor’s Centre which has maps for the different trails around the park. You can download some information in advance in English here. Note that if you are going at the height of summer, and want to avoid the heat, the Visitor Centre won’t be open very early in the morning. We did a recce first, got our maps and then went back early morning a couple of days later. It’s not easy to find either. We originally tried following Sat Nav and ended up driving for an hour around remote olive groves. Surprisingly for a National Park there are very few signs to help you out. We found it in the end by coming off RM302 in Alberca Las Torres and then taking Calle Subida al Valle/Carr del Valle. This map may be helpful. Wear a hat and suncream and take lots of water and snacks with you. There are a few places to buy food and drink but it’s a good hour’s walk between most of them.
For information on how and when to visit the park call Centro de Visitantes El Valle 968-84-75-10 or check this El Valle and Carrascoy Regional Park information page online.
If this post has given you a taste for Spain check out the rest of the Family Adventure Project Spain archives.