An unusual town on a small hill on the Vega Baja del Segura
Bigastro is a small town on the flat land of the Vega Baja del Segura, and is hemmed in on almost all sides by the far larger municipality of Orihuela (the only other boundary is shared with Jacarilla to the east). It currently has a population of a little over 6,000, including a significant expat community with well over 200 UK nationals.
In some ways Bigastro is unique within the Vega Baja. For example, despite its location on the fertile flood plain of the River Segura, for many centuries the inhabitants depended for their livelihoods on the cultivation of linen and hemp and the production of items made from these products. It was not until the mid-19th century that these activities ceased fairly abruptly and the locals turned instead to fruit and vegetable farming and to the cultivation of non-irrigated crops, and nowadays the “huerta” is as green and productive as anywhere in the south of the province of Alicante.
In addition, in the 20th century a fair amount of light industry prospered.
Bigastro is also unusual in its location, as it is built on a small hill in the middle of the flood plain rather than on the lower ground by the river. This means that visitors can enjoy a panoramic view over the Vega Baja as a reward for climbing the steps up to the top of the hill, a feature which earns the town a share of the much-used nickname “Mirador de la Vega” (viewing point over the Vega).
In terms of the natural environment, many visitors are also attracted by the La Pedrera park and recreational area, which adjoins the reservoir of the same name just over the municipal boundary in Orihuela.
The peculiarities of Bigastro continue with the church which is dedicated to Nuestra Señora de Belén, and which sports a small green dome rather than the blue tiles which are generally favoured in other nearby towns. The bell-tower of the church is also built to an unusual design, and inside is one of the masterpieces by Murcia-based 18th-century sculptor Francisco Salzillo: this is the figure of San Joaquín, the town’s patron saint, who is often referred to by the locals as “El Abuelo” (the grandfather).
This figure is prominent in the lively local fiestas which are held in August and which feature a Carnival-style parade on the 15th of the month, while other annual celebrations include those of the Santa Cruz and San Isidro in May. In all of these fiestas Bigastro maintains a strong musical tradition of which the town and its residents are proud.
Another attraction, of course, is the local gastronomy, which in general terms is shared with the other municipalities of the Vega Baja. Rice dishes are common, especially with rabbit, and so too is the stew with meatballs known as cocido con pelotas, while naturally enough the produce of the local farmland also guarantees the presence in the traditional dishes of plenty of fruit and vegetables. However, as in other fields, Bigastro is just a little bit different, and one of the typical ingredients in the local cooking is “camarrojas”, a kind of wild chicory which is especially good for the liver and the digestive system.
Bigastro might in some ways be just another Vega Baja town, dependent to a large degree on agriculture and sharing many of the traditions of its nearest neighbours, but its history and geography have given it a slightly different feel, and for this reason it seems right that it has not been swallowed up by its larger neighbour, Orihuela!