For our trip to Valencia, I got a giant guidebook to Spain out of the Cambridge library. It had a tiny little text box in the section on Valencia stating that the town of Navajas, about 60 miles outside Valencia, had a picturesque little central plaza called Plaza D’Olmo (Elm Plaza). From the plaza, the guidebook promised, there were four scenic walking trails in the countryside that were clearly signed. I thought that sounded just perfect, so Ian and I rented a car, maneuvered it through roundabouts and onto the open road, and motored toward a place that only warranted four lines of guidebook.
So Ian and I rocked up to Navajas, pulled into a campsite for an early lunch (because you EAT WHEN YOU CAN in countries with siestas. Wait too long and the joke is on you, sucka), and then drove through a beautiful town (it was a sort of Adirondack camp for the well-heeled Valencianos of a bygone era, and the houses were crazy). We found the plaza no problem, but the tourism office closed ten minutes before we got there, and there were no hiking routes to be seen. We circled the eponymous elm four or five times looking sadder and sadder before appealing to the locals, who spoke zero English. One of them called his brother, who passed Ian onto the local English guy, who was just in the middle of giving us directions when the mobile phone ran out of credit. So then two people marched us about a quarter of a mile down the road to the city hall, where someone dug around in a file cabinet and came up with huge stacks of English language brochures that had apparently not been required for years. They presented us with English and Spanish versions of everything, pointed us out the door and sent us on our way.
We ended up hiking for about 4 hours through olive and almond orchards, across an old reservoir, along a stream and past have a dozen historic fountains. It was perfect.
When we circled back to the Plaza D’Olmo at about 5:30, Ian (who in theory speaks Spanish) tried to order “un beer, por favor.” The woman looked at him with an appropriately withering expression and said “un cerveza?” He looked so sad and tired it was hard not to take pity on him (I had just marched him through 14 km of breathtakingly lovely Spanish countryside in 28 C heat).
I was so pleased with the day. When I was in Switzerland, I realised how much I love being outside – the time I spent hiking up a mountain in Locarno was the high point of the trip, and I hoped to recapture a bit of that in Spain. And I would say that the hike plus the cultural experience plus the navigating-Spanish-roundabouts-and-not-dying totally exceeded my expectations.