I've said it before, and I will continue to say it for a long to come, Spain is an open-air museum, and the best exhibit I've found (so far) is the small town of Bocairent.
Located a stone's throw away from the northwestern edge of the captivating Serria de Mariola and about a 23-mile (37km) ride from Xativa, the perfect day ride, any day.
The living rock is encapsulated by mountains on every side, seemingly hidden from the public until you are within the town's vicinity.
I can picture how this place looked over thousands of years of human settlement. An oasis of refuge, abundant in all the right things, water, sun, snow, and fertile soil. The Moors have lived in Bukayran (Arabic pronunciation) for hundreds of years and most definitely influenced those who came after them.
As someone who is fascinated by the history of Al-Andalus, the period of the Islamic ruling of the peninsula, my jaw drops every time I see a historical relic of nations of the past. The plaque you see in the picture below dates back to 1154, which shows an engraving that reads "بكيران" the Arabic spelling of Bukayran"Bocairent."
I was very intrigued by that and went down a rabbit hole, trying to uncover the forgotten past (mostly forgotten on purpose). However, I wasn't able to uncover much. To be honest, it was a little tricky finding deep historical facts, aside from what you'll find on tourist flyers and websites.
However, I did find half a page dedicated to Bocairent's history in an Arabic history book (found here). The book brought some new-to-me revelations about the magical town of "بكيران."
Shakeeb Arsalaan, the historian, describes "The Fort of Bocayran", as a mighty and prosperous town-like fort with a renowned market and rows of high-rise buildings next to each other. Known for manufacturing the best white robes (traditional dress) money can buy
"The robes are as white and soft as the finest paper, that last for decades to come, the pinnacle of fine garments"
Seems like Bocairent has been captivating many before me and most likely will continue to do so.
The only way to get to Bocairent from Xativa (most direct) is over the mountains southwest of town to La Vall de Albaida. Once in the valley, you continue on the western edge towards Ontinyent, a busy and vibrant industrial city. Southwest of Ontinyent is a deep winding ravine road cutting through the Serra de l'Ombria. With tall cliffs of limestone and an old railroad system hugging the side of the mountain, barely visible to the naked eye since it blends in so well with the mountainside.
It's almost all uphill to Bocairent from the time you cross over the mountains by Xativa, with the occasional rollers. As you zigzag up the mountain away from civilization, you'll feel like you're in the middle of nowhere. Until you start seeing the sixteenth-century church with its imposing bell tower, and if you time it right, you'll hear the bells echo down the ravine as you climb.
I could see how Bocairent was so isolated compared to other towns and villages around it. The town is basically suspended on top of a hill, with a deep gully formed by the Clariano River that separates Bocairent on the southern side from Serria de Mariola. The river not only protected the town in old times, but it is also one of the most critical lifelines for Bocairent.
As the industrial and agricultural town it used to be, Arabs relied on the river's force for its hydraulic benefits. They used it to pressurize the complex irrigation system and operate the many different mills that exist to this day.
No wonder the old inhabitants were producing high-quality textiles known across the Islamic world; they were ahead of their time. The mills were later retrofitted with steam-driven machinery used by Spaniards to propel themselves into a modern manufacturing era.
Once you're in the vicinity of Bocairent, you only have one way of getting into town: using one of many bridges there. In fact, there are 10 different bridges, the oldest of them being the Darrere la Vila (pictured above & the first photo), described in 1563 by the historian Martí de Viciana as the largest and most elevated bridge in the kingdom.
In my opinion, it's the best way to get into town. You don't always get the chance to ride on a medieval bridge with standing out cobbles over a river that impacted this area so favorably.
Although it might not seem like it in the photo above, the whole bridge and the road leading into town are slopped to direct the rain to one side. It is the little things that make up the complete picture. There's much about this magical place that stands out. As if it was inspired by Middle-earth instead of the other way around.
Over thousands of years, humans lived on & in the rock where Bocairent sits. Although I haven't seen what an inside of a house looks like, according to online resources, many homes extend into the rock, offering a stable temperature throughout the year, just as the moors did before them.
At first glance, everything seems to be built on top of each other, which might be the case for most of the buildings constructed on the slopes. Unfortunately, I didn't do as good a job documenting what I saw since I couldn't stop nerding out on everything. The streets, the houses, the masonry, the cats, the fountains, and the views. But here's a cross-section that I hope will drive the point home.
Bocairent is small, a lot smaller than I thought since it's all built on top of each other. Most of the current buildings are built on top of older ones. In fact, even the main church at the center of town is built on top of the remains of the Moorish castle that used to stand there.
You see, that's why I keep referencing the "open-air museum" feel about Spain, and Bocairent is the perfect place for that.
If you happen to visit Valencia, I will most likely recommend this ride as a must-do. Starting and ending in Xativa is also the best way to experience it, assuming most visitors are headed to Valencia.
This ride hits all the right notes. You've got mountains to climb, history to ponder, and fantastic food throughout the route. I've ridden this a handful of times, and I get excited for the next time I'll pass by Bocairent.