Agres – A Spanish Mountain Village Shared Through Family History
We love visiting a place with people who are from there. So when good friends and fellow expats Rosa and Kip invited us to visit the hometown of Rosa’s father here in Spain, we jumped at the opportunity. Actually, they first told us that where they were taking us was a surprise but having heard the wonderful story of her father, we had a feeling that it was the mountain town of Agres that we were heading to.
But first, to really appreciate the beautiful and charming village of Agres, you really should learn the story of Rosa and her family. Throughout the generations, it has remained a special place, no matter where in the world their journeys have taken them. Learning about it through their history there made it even more memorable for us, and can do the same for you. Here’s their story in Rosa’s own words. Then read further learn more about Agres.
A Family Story
Above Image – Rosa and Kip Mar at one of several historical fountains in Agres.
First I have to say that the story of Agres is all about my dad.
I was born in Valencia, Spain in 1956. My dad, a Neuroscientist, was offered a research grant at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He moved to the US in 1958 and left my mother and me behind for what was supposed to be a year. After the year, he was offered a position in California working for Nasa. He sent for my mom and me.
We traveled by ship along with my grandmother and arrived in the US. Shortly after, my dad drove us in a 1959 Cadillac across the US to our new home in California. We had officially migrated from Spain to America.
Over the Generations
Above Image – With Rosa and Kip in ‘La Barqueta’, carrying on their family tradition.
Over the next 30 years, my parents had my brother and I eventually got married and had kids. All the while I made yearly or every other year trips back to Denia, Spain which is where my dad’s family was living. My grandfather had a pharmacy there and my aunts and uncles had summer homes there.
It would be a big family reunion during the summer months in Denia. Along with spending time there, we would visit the town where my dad was born, Agres. My grandparents still had a home there. My dad would take us up into the Sierra Mariola to a hidden little place he used to play at as a child and named by the kids La Barqueta (the little boat).
Going up to this spot became a family tradition on every visit and each time we would have a photo taken. First of me and my family, then of Kip and I, followed with our first child, which soon became two children, then a girlfriend, and then a son in law. Eventually, we could no longer fit in the little boat… until sadly, it was just Kip and me again.
But we soon discovered a new way to keep the tradition going. Any friends or family who make the visit to Agres with us, end up in La Barqueta! I would love to put a book together of all my barqueta pictures through the years.
Agres and Olives
Above Image – From Agres you can see terraces and terraces of olive trees.
Agres has olive trees! My parents had olive groves in Agres which my brother and I now reap the benefits of. Every year we pick up our containers of extra virgin olive oil from the family who tends the trees for us.
My grandmother and her sister continued going to the family home in Agres throughout the years to escape the summer heat in Denia. After their passing, the home was in such bad shape that the family decided to sell it. A woman bought it and reformed it completely. As I walk by the home on each visit, I feel a sense of sadness for the loss of our family home.
Agres and My Father
Above Image – One of the signs of the street in Agres named after Rosa’s father.
In the early 1980s, my dad retired from NASA and my family, including my brother, moved to Denia. My brother went on to study pharmacy and took over our grandfather’s pharmacy in Denia. I stayed behind with Kip and our 2 children, but I always said that I had the best of both worlds. I still got to spend marvelous summers in Spain and got to share my culture with my children.
My father continued his scientific research in Spain and became known as the Nasa scientist who came back to his home country. He appeared in newspapers, magazines, and TV. He wrote several books, published countless scientific studies, and received scientific awards.
His hometown of Agres named one of its most beautiful streets after him. He passed away four years ago and is now back in Agres, among the Sierra Mariola, one of the most beautiful and peaceful places in Spain.
Agres is so special to me and my family. We delight in bringing others to see its beauty as it sits nestled in the Sierra Mariola.
Agres is a tiny pueblo (town) in the Community of Valencia and is located just over an hour’s drive inland from where we live in Denia. It sits at the edge of a large valley, sloping upwards along the forested mountain slopes of the Sierra Mariola. The town’s traditional Spanish style streets and homes, church and bars, make their way upward, getting steeper and steeper in the direction of an old Franciscan monastery.
Olive trees are everywhere, as well as fruit and nut trees typical of the area, such as almonds, nisperos, lemons, and more. It’s an ideal place for hiking, the Sierra Mariola being a natural park and with many trails that also take you to see historical ruins and majestic views.
What to Do in Agres
Walking through the town is beautiful and the best way to enjoy its distinct sites.
Make sure to head up the most scenic street, Calle del Cientifico Jaime Miquel Calatayud (named after Rosa’s father). Along the steep edge of the town, it’s one of the best ways to go see the Monastery and enjoy beautiful views in between the traditional buildings.
The Route of the Fountains
Throughout Agres are various fountains of flowing water and colorfully hand-painted tiles. Like many mountain villages in Spain, they still provide pure mountain water that is drinkable and delicious. The largest and main fuente (fountain) is part of the llavador, where the people used to wash their clothes. Make sure to stop into the tourist office across from the church to pick up a map of the route of the fountains so you can see them all.
Above Image – The ‘llavador’, where the locals used to wash their clothes.
Just below the llavador is a verdant, green park filled with trees and a cascading little waterfall. Complete with a flowing stream and picnic tables, it’s the perfect area to have a picnic and take shelter from the hot sun in the summer.
The Monastery of Agres
Above Image – The monastery of Agres. Also referred to as the ‘convento’ or the castle of Agres.
The medieval monastery of Agres overlooks the town below, sitting among the trees and rocks. A wide outdoor staircase across from the llavador fountain leads you up to the small road which takes you to the monastery entrance. Inside is the Santuario, a church dedicated to the Mare de Déu de Agres (mother of God of Agres).
The beloved legend of the Mare de déu de Agres goes all the way back to 1484 when the basilica of Santa Maria in Alicante suffered a fire and the statue of the Mare de Déu was seen to disappear into the sky. The next day, the statue was found near Agres by a disabled shepherd who was miraculously cured.
Since then, the statue has been kept in the monastery and became a pilgrimage destination. Each year on September 1st, the village celebrates this and reenacts the discovery of the statue with processions and speeches that are handed down through the families from father to son.
Inside the church is also a room of wax figures of what looks like doll parts, from heads to arms and legs, but then also organs like hearts and livers. But before you get creeped out, remember that the statue of Mare de Déu healed the disabled shepherd boy who found it. Since then, people have believed that the statue (or essentially the saint) performs miracles, thus to this day, people who are sick bring here a wax replicate of what part of their body needs to be healed.
The other room is a prayer area just within the church entrance and that is built right into the natural rock. The top is open to the sky some and you feel like you’re in a cave. Candles can be lit and offered here below a tiled mosaic of the Saint of Agres herself.
The Cava Aquejada
There is also the Cava Arquejada (also referred to as the Cava Gran d’Agres), an ancient 16th-century neveras, or snow cave. It was was where snow would be compacted and stored to make ice. Amazingly enough, it was last used in 1926.
It is one of several that were in the area and still has six arched spines that originally formed the roof. You can also hike there, which is a bit steep and takes about 2.5 hours but has some of the best views in the area.
Where to Eat in Agres
Above Image – At Restaurante Mariola we enjoyed a traditional dessert of all local ingredients, which was dipping walnuts with honey and sipping on local ‘mistela’. It was so simple, yet so good!
And of course, after all this walking around, enjoy the delicious local cuisine. Specializing in the Spanish-loved embutidos (cured meats) and game meats, eating here is a true experience of rural Spain.
We had a fantastic lunch at the Restaurante Mariola, which is located in the Pension Mariola. Located in the center of town, it has an authentic atmosphere inside and great views of the valley.
Above Image – Inside the charming Restaurante El Convento.
Then there’s also the Restaurante El Convent, which is just beside the monastery. The delicious aroma of their grilled meats cooking can be smelled throughout the day. They have an incredible terrace under the pine trees and looking out over the town and valley below, and their gorgeous inside dining area feels like you’ve gone back in time.
A Spanish Village Made Special by Its People
For such a small town, Agres holds a lot of charm and beauty that continues to be treasured. It’s a place to enjoy nature, the peace and quiet of the Sierra Mariola, and the history of the area. Most of all, it’s a place made special by its people, who appreciate the generations who have called it home.
Written by Rosa & Kip Mar
American Expats in Denia, Spain
Born in Valencia, Spain, Rosa lived in the Bay Area of California since she was two years old and then last year moved to Denia, Spain. With a degree in Psychology she’s worked as a sales representative for various companies part-time while raising their two children, and later as an employment counselor for the County of Santa Clara, CA. She enjoys living the good life, making things, exploring, and reading.
Kip is a native Californian who lived in Silicon Valley until retirement and moving to Denia, Spain last year. He has a degree and career in Business Management for multinational corporations. He enjoys tennis and long walks.
Married now for 40+ years, they have two children who are living on the west coast of the USA.