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17·AUG·2015

Yecla - A Taste of Murcian History

Nestled in Murcia's far northern nook, around an hour’s car hire drive from Alicante, this picturesque wine-growing town is off the map for most foreign tourists but draws Spanish holidaymakers seeking natural splendour. Yecla is on the edge of mid-level mountain ranges with evidence of prehistoric human activity, so it's ideal for walking trips, and the town also retains an alluring Moorish flavour to this day.

Heritage and cuisine

Plaza Mayor is the obvious first port of call on a tour through the town. It has an ensemble of baroque and renaissance buildings, with beautiful old arcades. The town hall is the centrepiece and dates to the 1500s. The Church of the Assumption is recognised by its impressive gothic tower, and was desecrated during the Spanish Civil War. Close by, the main symbol of Yecla can be seen at the Basilica de la Purísima, famed for its tiled dome with a design of diagonal blue and white stripes. This building is neoclassical and work began in the late-18th century.

Iglesia de Yecla

Evidence of Yecla's Moorish past is easy to find if you know where to look. Even the name of the town derives from the Arabic "Yakka", which was the name of the medieval fortress that bordered the town. You can visit the ruins of Hisn Yakka, which is set on a surprisingly steep slope. A thousand years ago this was a whole walled town, or Medina, with defences encircling homes and streets.  The land was terraced, and the walls of one house retained the next in line. You can still see the alleys and outlines of the homes, but particularly interesting are the historic sewer and drinking water systems.

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Further evidence of Yecla's oriental lineage lingers in its cuisine. It is certain that the popular local dish, gachasmighas, arrived in Spain with the Moors as it contains ingredients present in a great deal of Arabic cooking. Gachasmigas is oil, garlic, flour and water mixed together and fried. It looks a little like an omelette, chorizo or blood sausage are often added, and the dish goes well with local wine.

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Should you be interested in discovering Yecla's viticulture, which is protected by a denomination of origin, having designated your non-drinking driver, you can follow a wine route that takes in five different bodegas and offers tours of vineyards, tasting sessions and visits to wine presses. The wines here are known for using the red monastrell grape variety, which responds well to the dry climate and hot summers. This creates strong, assertive wines that go very well with Yecla's other local dish, gazpacho. This isn't the room temperature vegetable soup, but rather a warming combination of snails, rabbit, pepper, mushrooms and tomato over a bread-like base.

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Nature

At milder times of year, Yecla is a fabulous spot for walks, especially if you're intrigued by the historic sites that can be reached from the town. Among these are the canto de la visera shelters, a network of bronze age cave refuges. These are five thousand years old, and feature rock carvings.  Monte Arabi is also fascinating, boasting prehistoric rock paintings in several caves and on a ravine. They depict animals, humans, idols and more abstract geometric shapes.

Monte Arabi is also seen as a natural enclave that stands in contrast to some of the landscapes around it. Here there's thick pine forest dominated by Aleppo pines, but also joined by holm oaks, kermes oaks and juniper. The woodland provides a home for a host of animal species, including wild boar, eagles, owls, wild cats, foxes and several lizard species.

Southeast of Yecla is the Sierra Salinas, which boasts the highest summit in the area - Capilla del Fraile, with a height of 1,238 metres. Come to this range for arresting upland scenery, with sheer cliffs, deep, dark gorges and craggy peaks, many of which can be admired along specially-designed walkways. 

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Lastly, the going is easier on the steppe to the north of the town. This is a stark landscape of old farming communities, vineyards and large cereal fields. In some places nature, in the form of scrub and woodland, has been allowed to take over. Here bustards, kestrels, larks, owls and ortegas are regularly sighted.

You can reach Yecla within an hour of the Drivalia car rental depot at Alicante Airport (ALC).