No trip to Xàtiva is complete without a visit to the nearby Cova Negra, declared a Municipal Nature Park in 2006. Located in a narrow valley that runs along the river Albaida, the park covers 57 hectares of spectacular countryside that is home to a wealth of ecological and heritage assets, including the Cova Negra archaeological site. Declared a Cultural Heritage Site, the cave is fundamental in understanding European prehistory and how the Neanderthals lived.
A ramble through the Cova Negra landscape reveals the contrast between riverside and mountain flora. The river Albaida hosts communities of floating plants and is lined by riverside woods containing mature poplars and elms. Meanwhile, the mountain area is perfumed with the seductive scent of Mediterranean flora, including many aromatic herbs such as pebrella (Thymus piperella), a species of thyme that is endemic to Valencia.
The Cova Negra is particularly rich in bird life, and patient observers may be treated to the sight of Bonelli’s eagles, grey herons, purple herons, kingfishers and peregrine falcons during their stroll. However, the park also hosts a wealth of other fauna.
At the widest bend in the river Albaida lies the archaeological site of Cova Negra, named after the dark colour of its walls and once home to Neanderthals during the Palaeolithic Era. Human remains and paintings have been found inside, and the site is of fundamental importance in understanding Mousterian culture and how the Neanderthals lived. An exact reproduction of a parietal bone (part of the skull) from the era that was unearthed in the cave is exhibited in the Almodí Museum.
The region’s historical gem of hydraulic engineering, the Arcadetes d’Alboi aqueduct strides across the river Albaida on the way to Alboi. Of Gothic construction, although not yet documented, its nine pointed arches and two hundred metres of length stand testament to an earlier era when it supplied water to the city.
Les Arcadetes form part of the canal from Bellús to Xàtiva, a mediaeval watercourse that begins at the spring of Bellús. Listed as a Cultural Heritage Site at the beginning of century, it flows beside the Albaida River for ten kilometres. It is fascinating to seek out the respiralls, vertical, circular structures that connected the canal to the exterior during its underground sections. According to local legend, these were the brainchild of the intelligent daughter of the Muslim king of Xàtiva, and enabled water to flow along the entire route. However, her jealous brothers paid her for her ingenuity with death, an event commemorated by the two springs of crystalline water that then bubbled up at the site.
The Cova Negra park and the surroundings of Xàtiva in general are ideal for enjoying outdoor pursuits. Thanks to the numerous trails and paths that wend through the landscape, this is an unsurpassed area for hiking and mountain biking. Meanwhile, rock climbers will enjoy l’Aventador, a huge rock wall that has long been used for this sport.
> From Xàtiva, take the CV-610, direction Genovés; before the second roundabout leading into the town, turn right towards the village of Alboi. At the entrance, take a sharp left towards “La chopera de Alboi”. The car park, with room for at least 40 vehicles, is located 2 km further down the road on the right bank of the river Albaida.
> From Xàtiva towards Bellús on the N-340; at the Ermita de Bixquert chapel, there is a sign on the left to “Camí del Pont Sec” together with a sign indicating the place itself; from there, follow the signs to a small parking area located on the left bank of the river Albaida. The pedestrian path that runs through the entire park, passing the Cova Negra and ending at the Casa de la Llum, starts here.
Walking from Xàtiva, the PRV-78 to the park takes between an hour and a half and two hours. The route starts beside the Fuente de los 25 Caños (fountain with 25 spouts) and is sign-posted; the path is totally flat and easy, and runs alongside the Xàtiva water supply channel.