My first impression of Sella is that of a quiet village silently blended amidst the almond terraces in the foothills of the Aitana mountains of Valencia; just a twenty-minute drive from the holiday madness of Benidorm.
As I pay the taxi-man my eyes take in the round peaks, ridges and sheer limestone cliffs that surround this mountain retreat. The sun is warm, the air is fresh.
The metalling clangs of the church bell accompanies my voyage from the car park through the narrow, streets and up the paved steps amidst the higgledy-piggledy dwellings; some very old and some much more recent. Although this is no ordinary place, there is something deeply humbling about it, something warm and understated. There is no overpowering church or ‘glitzy’ square, no tourist shops or upmarket cafes. Things are as they are; nothing is ‘dressed up’; nothing that is, beside the brightly coloured paper-chained Barracas, locally known as ‘party houses’. They are shut tight now but will, in time, be filled with the joy and laughter of the friends and families who pay a monthly fee for their upkeep.
Their very existence is merit to the fabric of this community where people and traditions are held dear; a community that still cares. Maybe this is why the villagers call Sella ‘paraiso’. Modernity lies on the coast beyond these mountainous foothills.
My house, when I find it, is a labyrinth of rooms, brightly and tastefully adorned and occasionally decorated with the smooth, grey angular shapes of the mountain rock which spill-over into the building that has been molded around its flanks. Mountain and people closely entwined, it is impossible to live here without an inherent connection to them.
From my balcony I look over desert-sand rooftops and the orange-yellow painted walls that mirror the hues of the nature that surrounds them; the limestone mountains and the citrus fruit orchards that are grown on the terraces.
Unlike many other places in Spain, the history of the place is neither promoted nor is it obvious. And yet around these arterial streets, there are the ghosts of the communities that once lived here. One wonders what became of them, the Romans and the Moors who ruled Valencia for over 400 years who built the mountain terraces and whose castle once governed the top of this hillside. These are rather silent echoes, unsung by the local community and unheard by the uninitiated visitor for whom there are many layers to discover.