THE Valencian Community has announced its very own ‘Camino de Santiago’ where travellers win stamps of recognition through 24 villages.

But rather than leading towards the bones of St James, Valencia’s ‘Ruta 99’ trail leads travellers towards villages at risk of abandonment.

Each of the 24 villages in the route have fewer than 99 inhabitants and are suffering from Spain’s crushing rural depopulation.

A specialised website (www.ruta99.gva.es) maps out the villages and explains their ‘value and attractions’ including top restaurants, hotels, historical sites and natural areas.

The trial includes the stunning clear-watered Pozo Negro waterfall in Fuentes de Ayodar, the Moorish hanging caves near Carricola, or the town of Matet famous for producing traditional high-quality olive oil called ‘liquid gold’.

Each village’s description also details the restaurant or office where travellers can pick up their pilgrimmage-style stamp.

You get a different award for visiting by motorbike, bicycle or walking the different stages.

The Valencian government have also produced a map (www.ruta99.gva.es/mapa-ruta99) all to help visitors ‘connect with your interior’ and halt the decline of Spain’s rural villages.

The Valencian Community has 180 municipalities at risk of depopulation – 60% of these villages in Castellon have fewer than 200 inhabitants.

The Ruta 99 connects the smallest of these, starting in Castellon’s Els Ports region (Herbes, Palanques, Vallibona, Villores) in Baix Maestrat (Castell de Cabres) in Alto Palancia (Higueras, Matet, Pavias, Sacañet) and in Alto Mijares (Espadilla, Fuente la Reina, Fuentes de Ayodar, Torralba del Pinar, Torrechiva, Vallat, Villamalur, Villanueva de Viver).

In Valencia province the route continues through the Rincon de Ademuz (Puebla de San Miguel) and the Vall d’Albaida (Sempere, Carricola).

Villages in Alicante province include the Comptat region (Benillup, Benimassot, Famorca, Tollos).

Valencian rockband Bajoqueta Rock provided a promotional song and video for the Ruta 99, while photographer Marga Ferrer has created a travelling exhibition called ‘La Mirada Interior’ (the inward view).

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