Orihuela. Ciudad del Poeta Miguel Hernández

Orihuela. Ciudad del Poeta Miguel Hernández

No other poet has been able to describe the Vega Baja del Segura region's landscapes as well as Miguel Hernández. Born in Orihuela, he probably came across the Vuelta's passage through his town, which may have been a source of inspiration to him. Orihuela has held four stage finales for the Spanish tour. The last one, in 2011, ended with the Australian, Christopher Sutton, taking home the stage victory.

Vista general de Orihuela © Costa Blanca

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82,700 inhabitants
Alicante Province

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Continents lost and found

Orihuela / Cumbre del Sol. El Poble Nou de Benitatxell

This stage takes place along the Alicante coastline, with no significant changes in altitude. Almost the entire route takes place on Quaternary sediments of fluvial and coastal origins (grey in the diagram), though some elevations that coincide with calcareous slopes formed by Cretaceous (green) and Tertiary (orange and yellow) materials stand out. The numerous salt marshes and small lagoons we pass are very attractive and mark the transition area between the river and coastal environments, influenced by the proximity of the Mediterranean Sea.

At the start of the stage is one of the route's main geological attractions, the lagoons of the La Matta Natural Park (Torrevieja). Located in the Lower Segura Basin, they are formed on a system of folds. These lagoons draw attention due to their colours: the Torrevieja Lagoon is pink due to the effect of its salts, and the La Mata Lagoon is green due the algae found there. However, above all, they are important because they are Europe's most important Natural Sea Salt Marshes and have been used since Roman times.

Between Guardamar del Segura and Santa Pola is one of the best Levante dune ridges. Many dune systems have been urbanised and those that are preserved are a priceless treasure, because these dunes are sand stockpiles, compensating for and restoring the sand that beaches lose during winter storms. Few Mediterranean beaches preserve their dunes like this. If we think dunes are interesting, we will be surprised to learn that Santa Pola is a city that sits on a large coral reef that formed around 6 million years ago. During the Miocene Period, when the sea level was a little higher than it is today because the large ice caps had not formed yet, it was an atoll (ring-shaped island) that was created naturally by corals and stromatolites. Thousands of years later, when the coral died, the sediments filled up the centre of the atoll, eventually becoming exposed when the sea level went down.

In front of Santa Pola is the Island of Tabarca, the largest island of the Autonomous Community of Valencia, and the only one that is inhabited. This island is very important for geologists as it is one of the few remains of what is referred to as the “Mesomediterranean Continent” that, trapped between Africa and Eurasia, collided with the Eurasian Plate around 12 million years ago (Miocene) and resulted in the formation of the Baetic Mountain Range. It is one of the few places in the world where the myth of the submerged countries comes true.

Between Altet and Balsares we find the Clot de Galvany Natural Park. This park stands out for its diverse ecosystems (wetlands, salt fields, hills, mounts, dunes and beaches). Specifically, the wetland is located in the Balsares-Clot de Galvany depression, formed by a basin that does not flow out into the sea (Endorheic), and suffers water fluctuations all year round, with flooding periods as an indication of autumn-winter and droughts in the summer.

Other geological attractions along the route are the Calpe Tombolo and the Peñón de Ifach. This rock, with a height of 332 metres, was an ancient limestone island that became connected to the continent via sand barriers (tombolo) that were the result of coastal dynamics. Its vertical walls, that stand out from the surrounding sea, contain numerous karst caves where enormous swift and seagull populations live.

The stage's finish-line is located in the summit of the Cumbre del Sol, made of limestone rocks, of marine origin, formed 125-100 million years ago (Cretaceous).

Torrevieja Lagoon © Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Spain (CC BY-SA 3.0 ES)Peñon Ifach © Daria NepriakhinaTabarca Island Materials © Claudia Bañón / CC BY-SA 3.0Guardarmar dunes © Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Unprecedented departure
82,700 inhabitants
Alicante Province

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