Europe is well charted territory so it’s always exciting when travelling to come across a place that feels ‘undiscovered’. Bicorp was one of those places. We’d decided we wanted to move inland as we passed Valencia heading north and Camperstop Europe suggested there was a cheap place to stop over at Bicorp. We looked it up and saw that there were possibly some cave paintings and reckoned it would work out.
A little while later as we drove up the side of a wooded mountain through a series of hairpin bends, I knew we’d done the right thing. Woods and greenery had not been a feature of our Spanish explorations up until that point. Dry, brown and somewhat barren had been the general trend and the experience of suddenly being deep in green was thrilling.
I continued to be thrilled by Bicorp and its surrounding area. Although the town itself isn’t quaintly beautiful, there was something about it that gave me butterflies. It sits on a little rise of land surrounded on three sides by a ravine, making a sort of moat around the town. To get to it from the camperstop we had to walk down a little walkway, across a bridge and up a steep street which at the bottom had a communal sitting area, with three chairs constantly propped up for whoever wanted to sit and while away a moment or four. The bridge crossed high over a pool in the river, filled with huge carp, flashing silver fish, frogs, ducks and moorhens. Every trip over that bridge was filled with wonder as we peered down into the life of the pool below, the air around us filled with swallows swooping and swerving like heat-seeking missiles.
No one in the town spoke English but everyone was as friendly and helpful as could be. We saw the same people wandering through the streets every day, and every day they chattered away to us in Valenciana, smiling broadly. There were no fancy restaurants or coffee shops but a couple of scruffy looking bars that could provide meals of mysterious origin if asked. We sat at one of these places on our first evening, puzzling over the lumps of chewy seafood we’d been served by our affable hostess, as she nodded and grinned toothlessly over us as we ate. From our table we watched the locals. All of them seemed to be smiling, they greeted each other with hugs and kisses, old people, young people and children talking and laughing together. Even teenagers, roaring through the tiny streets on their motorbikes were smiled at, as if everyone remembered or understood what it was was to be young. I didn’t see a single disapproving head shake.
Bicorp has an aura of happiness that is almost impossible to describe. On the Sunday morning I took the boys into town for shopping, the sound of children practising instruments came wafting down from windows everywhere. We passed by a game being played on a street in which players wrap their hands up in tape then whack a ball at terrifying speed down the court. The townspeople watched and cheered as these huge men fired ball after ball down at each other. Later, when back at the van, we realised that we were parked next to an indoor court where the game, that we learned was called Trinquete (here’s a little clip of the game), that had seemingly started in the street was now being concluded in front of an even bigger, noisier audience.
We saw mountain bikes parked up in town or being ridden out to the hills and we heard from a distance the sounds of a brass band concert happening one evening with the children I’d heard earlier showing off the results of all that practise. Somehow this unassuming town of some six hundred people had managed to provide its residents with all the ingredients for a good life: sport and exercise, community and communality, music and shared experiences. There was something in the air and it was compelling.
As if all this everyday goodness wasn’t enough, there was a rich history to the area which added another layer to the place. Buried in the narrow streets of Bicorp was one of the best little museums I’ve ever visited, making the story of the town’s past feel very much connected to its present. Any museum that manages to make this connection feel real and accessible is a wonderful thing and this little gem of a place does it beautifully. There were simple displays with photographs of the place as it is now, overlaid with illustrations of what would have been happening there in times gone by. There was olive growing, bee keeping, clothes-washing at the communal laundry, trinquete, cheese making and some others that time has unfortunately erased from my memory. Underneath each panel were examples of the equipment used, telling the story of this place in object, photograph, word and drawing. As there are some cave paintings of ancient honey gatherers in the area too, we watched a wordless animation depicting a prehistoric couple making paint, painting their designs onto cave walls, gathering honey from high up a cliff using a primitive pulley system and making bows and arrows. Throughout, the man and woman worked in complete equality and mutual assistance, apparently completely matched in strength and ingenuity.
I’m now aware that this post is too long and there are too many pictures but I can’t finish without also mentioning the fantastic restaurant, Los Botijos, and campsite that sits about five kilometres out of town, buried amongst the hills and forests. We drove out, braving more hairpin bends and terrifying drops to find further magic in the form of delicious, rustic food in the middle of nowhere. Except that it wasn’t, as after our walk through unspoilt nature, past some of the clearest rivers and pools I’ve ever seen, we returned to the restaurant to find it filled with all the residents of Bicorp, come out for their afternoon social! We ate traditional gazpacho (more like a pasta stew), and plates of barbecued, ethically reared meat accompanied by juicy red wine.
If it hadn’t been for the camperstop on the edge of town, we never would have come here. As well as being next to one of the town’s three bars, the play park and the sport’s stadium, which all ensured a steady stream of people and interest. Every day, if we were lucky, a flock of rainbow-coloured pigeons would fly in perfect formation over our heads.
Told you this place was special.