I’ve been to Spain a few times now and I’ve loved each and every trip – each has shown a completely different side to this fascinating country that offers so much more than I first thought. There’s city break perfection in Málaga, winter sports in the Catalonian Pyrenees and the lush landscapes of ‘green’ Spain in Cantabria.
This time around, I met up with some of fellow bloggers from the Bristol Bloggers and Influencers group to check out Castellón – not an area that is hugely well known by British tourists at present, I expect this will change as Ryanair have recently launched direct flights to Castellon airport from both Bristol and Stansted.
Castellon turned out to be an area full of culture, history, good food, green hills and sandy beaches. Our tour was a short taster of everything the region has to offer, so here are some of my favourite parts, letting you see why I think you definitely should consider Castellón for your next trip to Spain.
Peniscola old town and castle
If you’re a history fan like me, you’ll love Peñiscola’s old town. Entering through one of the three gates that pierce the defensive walls, it’s a pleasant walk through the 27 streets and 527 buildings that make up the old town. Joined to the mainland by only a narrow strip of land (giving Peñiscola, which means ‘almost island’ its name) the town’s numerous freshwater springs made it strategically important throughout Spanish history.
The buildings are beautiful – many of them are striking white with their doorways and windows painted a vibrant contrasting colour. Wrought iron balconies are covered in intricate tilework with the attention to detail even extending to the underside. Many of the buildings now contain shops selling knick knacks and trinkets, or cosy cafés and restaurants, the majority of which have stunning views over the sea. The perfect place to take a break, relax and enjoy a drink – a local artisanal vermouth perhaps?
We wandered up the steep cobbled streets, past the Maritime Museum and the famous Casa de les Pextines: a house decorated in shells by a local artist, to the beautiful octagonal lighthouse and castle at the top of the hill.
Peñiscola castle is one of the most visited castles in Spain – built by the Templars in the 13th century and home to Pope Benedict XIII in the 18th century, its military purpose means an unadorned exterior, but the castle’s story is fascinating and the presentation of this is excellent. And if you have the energy, it’s worth climbing the narrow staircase right to the top of the battlement for amazing views across the town and beyond.
I wish we’d had a little more time in Morella! This beautiful town in the mountains had an entirely different atmosphere to the coast. Morella is regarded as one of the most beautiful towns in Spain. This ancient walled city with its castle perched right at top is mostly car free – you’re allowed to come in to drop off people at hotels etc but other than that, cars are left in large car parks outside of the main centre. The narrow streets are filled with artisanal shops selling lots of local produce including honey, chocolate, cured meats, cheeses and vermouth.
Its position, perched on the hillside, means there are beautiful views across the landscape as you stand at the top of the staircases that make up the steepest of the streets.
The mountain climate means Morella can be a lot cooler than the coastal towns so the main shopping streets are covered in arcades – we were very glad of these when we visited as it meant we could still enjoy a drink outside whilst a summer thunderstorm poured down around us.
Sightseeing highlights of Morella include the castle, an aqueduct, St Mary’s Church, St Francis’ convent and a dinosaur museum. I also really liked the entrance to the town hall where the original 14th century building is juxtaposed with a modern extension – it’s really cleverly done and well worth a quick peek through the door.
The villas of Benicàssim
Benicàssim is perhaps best known for its sandy beaches and for being home to the famous FIB festival, but take a walk down the promenade at Playa Almadrava and you’ll come across another reason that the town should be on your must-visit list – the Ruta de las Villas. All along the beach front there’s an eclectic collection of private houses built between 1880 and the 1940s. Each is unique and they all have a story to tell.
During the Spanish Civil War, many of them were commandeered by the Republic and converted into a hospital, with each building used as a different department. There was even a reporter’s house where famous writers like Ernest Hemmingway and Dorothy Parker stayed when reporting on hostilities.
The well-to-do end of the promenade was locally known as ‘heaven’ whilst the other end, next to the Voramar hotel was known as hell due to all of the parties that took place there. The Voramar Hotel, right at the end of the beach, is where Bridget Bardot was famously photographed wearing one of the first ever bikinis. Today some of the villas have unfortunately fallen into disrepair but the local authority have taken on two of them to restore for public use – including creating a new home for the beach’s lending library.
Castellón de la Plana
The region’s capital, Castellón de la Plana, is a vibrant small city full of great architecture and is the perfect place to do a spot of shopping while you visit the area. The wide streets and numerous squares give an open feel, so it’s pleasant to walk around even when it’s busy. The historical highlight has to be El Fadrí – the single man. This is a 16th century watch tower built to protect the city from pirates. Next door sits the city’s 20th century cathedral, built after the original was destroyed during the Spanish Civil War.
I also loved the Central Market where all of the fresh fish, meat and produce from the area is sold.
I couldn’t write an article about the highlights of Castellón without mentioning the beaches. There’s a beach for every taste. In Peñiscola, the focus is definitely family-friendly.
The 8km long North Beach and the smaller south beach are both jammed-packed with children, parents, grandchildren, aunts and uncles, all enjoying their holidays on sandy beaches that are perfect for sandcastles and parasols. On the south beach, the sea is shallow for a long way, meaning there’s plenty of room for little ones to paddle around safely.
In Benicàssim, there’s an entirely different vibe. Playa Almadrava felt a lot more laid back. The beaches are still full of people enjoying a game of volleyball or relaxing under a parasol, but there are also lots of restaurants, cafés and hotels along the promenade. There are loads of facilities including showers and even a library, and the sand was spotlessly clean. We were lucky enough to visit late in the day and the sun setting as we walked along the beach, which was the perfect way to end our visit to Castellón.
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I was a guest of Turismo de Castellón for this trip but all opinions are my own.