Updated: Mar 14
The autonomous region of Murcia conjures up different images for different people. If friends
back in the UK have heard of it they inevitably think first of the beaches. Friends in different
regions of Spain usually associate it with dry, desert-like scenery. Of course, Murcia has both of
those things, but there is also so much more worth exploring – both geographically and
The first surprise is the Valle de Ricote, a little known oasis of green made up of several small
towns and villages along a stretch of the Segura river in an otherwise arid landscape.
The Segura cuts through the Sierra de Ricote mountains and provides the water for the crops
grown here year-round. But behind the abundance of orange, lemon, peach, plum trees there
is a story. That story is the collective effort by humans down the ages to make the most out of
a precious natural resource, water.
There is evidence of human settlements in the Valle de Ricote as early as Neolithic times. Then
came the Iberians and after that the Romans, who began the process of harnessing the water
from the river. But it is thanks to the 800-year presence of the Moors and their descendants
the Mudejars and Moriscos, that man was able to extend the arable land way beyond the
banks of the river.
Arriving in Spain in the year 711 across the straights of Gibraltar, the first documentation of a
Moorish settlement in Ricote dates from the ninth century. Coming from the desert, the sight
of the river Segura flowing through the valley must have looked very much like the Islamic
descripción of paradise.
Experts in scarce water management, the Moors quickly set about improving and extending
the elements still in place from Roman times and transplanting their own irrigation techniques
from the desert. The result is a series of waterwheels (norias) along the river which using just
natural hydraulic power, lift up the water diverted from the river into irrigation channels
(acequias) on higher ground. Some of these acequias are up to 100 metres above the riverbed
and run for thousands of metres both over and underground. The flow and direction of the
water is controlled by a series of gates set at different points within the acequias. The
irrigation technique itself is known locally as “a manta”, literally “blanket” irrigation.
When it’s time to water the trees and other crops the gates in the acequia are opened and the
plot in question is covered with a “blanket” of water. One added benefit to this system is the
microclimate created by the water evaporating from the open acequias into the hot air.
The small town of Abarán, at the north of the Valle de Ricote, has no less than 4 Norias along its
stretch of the river. It's an easy walk of around 4 km to take in all four. You can park in the area
around the Parque de la Noria Grande. Here you’ll find the biggest of the water wheels with a
diameter of nearly 12 metres. It dates from 1805 and is acclaimed to be the largest still in use
today in Europe. The footpaths to follow the Ruta de las Norias are well signposted as you
walk through the park toward the river. Turn right and you’ll find yourself following the river
and the water channel through abundant allotments. Seeing the neat rows of vegetables
always takes me back to my childhood as I’m reminded of Peter Rabbit. I smile at how cunning
Señor Mcgregors use a combination of fencing, reeds from the river and even metal bed
frames to keep the wildlife out.
The Noria de Don García is smaller than the Noria Grande, but it is also still in use and has to
be in the prettiest setting of all four. To see the other 2 norias you’ll need to double back on
yourself and although you are on the same path, you’ll find yourself surprised by different
views of the river and surrounding mountains.
The Noria del Candelon and La Ñorica are both situated on the opposite bank of the river.
There’s a footbridge just past the park and from there more signs pointing you in the right
direction. The smaller Ñorica (in Murcia we add ica and ico to the end of a word to make it
smaller and also out of affection) is currently not in use, while the larger Candelon is still going.
Incredibly, the upkeep of these working testaments to the past is the responsibility of the
families who farm the land. For over a thousand years, the descendants of the moors and the
communities who followed have maintained and renewed this ancient feat of hydraulic
engineering. This unique, unbroken connection to our living history and the natural riverside
setting makes Abarán and its Norias a great place for an enjoyable paseo.
Hello, I’m Lisa. I’ve been a tour guide in Europe and Spain for over two decades and I’m also an accidental farmer! I moved here from England 24 years ago to live in the huerta of Murcia where my
Dad’s side of the family is from.
I love connecting with new people, join me for travel related stories and ideas @adventuresofatourguide on Facebook or Instagram.
I also run a live virtual tour of my own orchard in the Valle de Ricote, designed to be experienced
exclusively with your own friends or family from wherever you are.
You’ll see stunning views of the river Segura, learn how the traditional architecture of the huerta stays cool even during Murcia’s long hot summers, and we’ll finish the walk in the plum orchard where we can take a closer look at how the ancient irrigation system works.
For more info or to book go to: