It is unlikely that you have been to Orito, even if you live within centimetres of it. It is unlikely, in fact, that you have even heard of it. However, the greatest surprises often come from the most unlikely quarters, and this tiny village that belongs to the municipality of Monforte del Cid, a very well-hidden gem, shows that the best things come in small, and frequently obscure, packages.
Lying in the heart of the Medio Vinalopó borough, Orito did not even get its name until halfway through the sixteenth century when it finally took that of the convent based there.
The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Orito and Saint Pascual was built over the ruins of the Christmas Chapel in 1555. It was around this time that a tiny image of the Virgin of Orito, measuring just 4.2cm, was found in the grounds.
Eight years later, the Franciscan monks descended en masse on the village and decided to settle there, and the head pastor promoted to Friar. He has since been worshipped as Saint Pascual Bailón, hence his contribution to naming the Sanctuary, -and a fiesta in his honour is celebrated every year on May 17.
Orito remains deeply religious and its inhabitants retain a strong faith that becomes evident during their annual fiesta in homage of their founder.
What to see
Orito is a walker’s paradise and a peaceful country retreat where visitors can descend into history and forget all about crowded beaches and packed bars.
Nature lovers and culture fanatics will be in their element, as will anyone who likes to say their prayers in the dark - the cave of Saint Pascual, at the foot of the Águilas mountain range, is one of the most popular local worshipping places.
A pilgrimage makes its way there on May 17 every year, but the cave is used throughout the year to pay respects to the village’s founder. A sculpture of Pascual Bailón created in 1996 and standing at a staggering 6 metres in height and weighing five tonnes takes pride of place near the cave, as does the cross of Santiago - Orito, and more specifically, its famous cave, is directly en route to Santiago de Compostela from Alicante and therefore plays hosts to another, much more widely-known annual pilgrimage.
If exercise is not your idea of fun, the cave can be accessed by car, but the best and safest way to see it, avoiding hairpin bends and sudden gear-changes, is by the same route as the pilgrims through the dense, pine-tree-enclosed footpath. From here, visitors have a spectacular view of the whole of the river Vinalopó valley and the Alicante province coastline.
From the cave, serious hikers can continue in an upwards direction towards a viewpoint - with a handy picnic zone to rest your aching feet - and then through the dry, desert-like Sierra de las Águilas (Range of the Eagles, second photo).
Vertigo sufferers are advised to give it a miss as the highest point of the trail is 600m above sea level, but for those who do, binoculars and a good camera are essential pieces of equipment as the panorama stretches, literally, for miles.
The route takes the walker round in a wide circle, past the Rincón de la Asena, before descending through miles of shady, green pineforest. It is all downhill from there, but with wildlife, birdlife and greenery in abundance and noise a rarity, it is the ideal hideout for those seeking some peace and quiet and an escape from the tropical temperatures and frenetic pace of life on the coast.
Once back in the village itself, cool off in the Fuente Santa - or Holy Spring (main photo). Again, dedicated to Saint Pascual, the spring was first recorded in 1532 and it is thought that this is where the first plans were made to create the village of Orito.
Popular devotion towards the now household name, Pascual Bailón, meant that it was inevitable that the spring would eventually be named after him.
More holy water can be found in the Orito Spa. Not the type of spa where you can book yourself in for a mud massage and manicure, but a mineral spring that is said to have medicinal properties and used to attract visitors from far and wide seeking a solution to their skin problems, stress, aches and pains and sundry other ailments.
Highly recommended for relaxation and rehabilitation, Orito Spa has received a number of prizes and has been recognised in numerous national medical conferences, but sadly, in the middle of the twentieth century, it began to be abandoned and now lies unused and unknown to most, a sad waste of the jewel in the region’s crown, but still a great attraction for visitors to Orito.
Found just off the AP-7 slightly north of Alicante airport by following the turn-off for Monforte del Cid, Orito is closer to civilisation than it appears but remains lost in bygone centuries - a time capsule just waiting to be visited, with unspoilt countryside and a tranquil way of life just begging to be uncovered.
USEFUL TELEPHONE NUMBERS:
Tourist Information -965 621 190
Town Hall (based in Monforte del Cid) - 965 620 025 or 965 620 026
Local Police (in Monforte del Cid) - 965 620 239
Health centre (in Monforte del Cid) - 965 620 503