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We were based for three nights at a four star resort hotel in Peñiscola, on the Costa Azahar in the province of Castellón, one of the most popular tourist resorts in the whole of Spain. The castle surrounded by the old town is perched on a small peninsula overlooking the sea, surrounded by water on every side but one. It really is a stunning vista!
As we took an evening guided stroll upwards through the narrow cobbled streets surrounded by beautiful 16th century walls we glimpsed history around every corner. We also tasted its liqueurs, based on alcoholic coca cola and named after Papa Luna, the Anti-Pope Benedict XIII, who lived in the castle where he died at the beginning of the 15th century. In 1922 the town was named Monumento Histórico Artístico Nacional, and in 1961 the film cameras moved in along with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren for the filming of “El Cid”. Peñiscola is currently on the list of “Los Pueblos Mas Bonitos De España”, voted one of the 24 most beautiful towns in Spain.
No more writing from me I will leave our three ladies to describe the rest of our holiday. Ken Cross
Day 2 – Morella by Sarah Makin
Leaving Peñiscola we head up the coast passing Benicarlo and then inland, we notice the temperature dropping as we climb steadily towards our destination of Morella at 984 metres.
In the surrounding area there are prehistoric traces with cave painting and Bronze Age tombs.
After the Punic war, the Roman Empire annexed it for the big and strong Tarraconensis Province. The Moors took over Morella and this part of Spain in 714 and it marked a dramatic turning point for the region.
Under five centuries of Arab rule the region prospered, with large advances being made in irrigation techniques (the palm plantations of Elche date from this period), the cultivation of rice, the manufacture of paper in the region around Xátiva and centres of learning established in the Region of Valencia and Denia. The Moors also had a rich culture and believed in the importance of education, poetry, maths, literacy and the arts flourished during their time in the region. They also tolerated all religions. One legacy from the Arab era which still exists today is the Tribunal de las Aguas in the regional capital, Valencia, where a council of ordinary people meets every year to discuss the distribution of water.
The famous El Cid was supposed to have rebuilt the castle in Morella and in 1084 fought in the service of Yusuf Al-Mutaman against Sancho Ramirez of Aragon, a Christian aristocrat. Sancho did manage to capture Morella in 1117, but it was soon recaptured by the Moors until finally taken by Blasco de Alagon in 1232. The Arab epoch came to an end in the 13th century, although the final expulsion of the last families would not take place for another two centuries, under the rule of Philip II in 1609. Many of the villages deserted by the Moors were taken over by people from the nearby island of Majorca, who in turn brought their own influences to the language and cuisine of the area.
King James 1st of Aragon established a royal garrison in the city and gave its inhabitants the title of ‘faithful’.
We enter Morella, on foot, through the Porta de San Miquel, a stunning Archway flanked by two kilometres of walls dating from the 14th century which include 10 towers and 7 gates as it wraps around the city. We get our first glimpse of why Morella has been listed as one of the Pueblos mas Bonitos de España.
As we walk along the cobblestone streets, we notice the many gorgeous shops selling all kinds of local produce. ‘Quesos de la Artesanos de Oveja y Cabra Comarca’. There are dozens of sausage varieties, beef slices, olive oils, honey (Miel de Lavanda), cheese, beef and pork hams, wines and the highly prized black truffles. Some tasted a ‘flaon’, a local pastry filled with curd and almond. It certainly made my mouth water!!!!
We then visit the Santa María la Mayor Archpriest (1263-1330) with its two impressive Gothic doors and the many different influences from the 13th to the 16th century it truly is an amazing Cathedral. Inside there is a treasure-trove of artefacts from the various eras. Maravilloso!!!
After that, the 29 souls who felt energetic continued up the cobbled streets (led by Danny) to the Castle. The last 98 steps to the top challenged all (especially with the winds!!) and only 2 souls faltered at the final hurdle (knee injuries would not permit that final ascent!!). Those who managed the steps said it was definitely worth the effort for the amazing views of the area.
The remainder of the group were able to enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of the many restaurants and café’s which provided wonderful local fayre. I’m sure everyone who visited Morella could have spent many more hours enjoying all it had to offer. A Truly Wonderful day was had by all!!!
Day 3 – The Ebro Delta and Tortosa, by Wendy Wood
It was an early start for our motley crew this morning. After a hearty breakfast we set off for the River Ebro Delta with a few crew members partaking of a little grog on the coach to help with their scurvy (or so they said). Arriving at our destination we were piped on board (well nearly) for our cruise out into the delta to where the river meets the sea. We were kept informed by a standard commentary much improved when our knowledgeable holiday guide, Danny took over the microphone, and then, worryingly, the controls! The sea was calm and on the top deck music enhanced the enjoyable voyage as well as spotting the local wildlife including an ibis and a bearded heron but no marauders nor hungry crocs thank goodness. After the cruise there was plenty of time for refreshments and a look at the local pink snail’s eggs (or perhaps that grog was stronger than we thought).
There was an interesting giant museum in the park. The giants and ‘big heads’ parade is a popular tradition celebrated in many parts of Europe and South America. The tradition consists of making characters with big heads chase attendees of the parade; the most common characters represent popular archetypes or historical personalities. Since 2009, these giants and big heads are located in the enclosure ‘La Llotja’ in Tortosa, a gothic Catalan building, originally a warehouse, built in the middle of XIV century. In 1716, ceased to function as a warehouse, and in 1933 it was transferred, stone by stone, from its old location next to the river, to the modernist gardens of Teodor Gonzalez Park.
On the way back to the coach a few of us indulged in a Bailey’s ice cream. We wended our weary way back to the hotel for yet another night of good food, good company and a drink or two!
Day 4 – The Caves of San José, by Shelagh Copeland
After a leisurely breakfast we bade “Adios a Peñiscola” – sad to go but sure to return.
The homeward journey was ahead of us but to cheer us up we had an interesting visit to look forward to on the way.
Between Castellon and Valencia we stopped at La Valle d’Uixo. Here we visited the fascinating Grutes Les Sant Josep (Caves of San José) natural caves in an underground river. The river is the longest navigable underground river in Europe – currently 2750 metres – but the source of the river (or the end of the cave) is still not known so who knows how long it actually is.
In the boat on our way through we spent some time with our heads down to avoid the massive stalactites. We did leave the boat to walk in a semi-circle before joining it again. Our party joked that in the UK you would not be allowed to do it without – at least – tin hats. One of our party wished she had worn a tin hat when she had a collision with an overhanging rock. But what an experience. Unforgettable. You can see a few pictures of these underground caves at www.riosubterraneo.com.
This is certainly a place to bear in mind if you have visitors and want to take them somewhere really different. It has plenty of parking and a variety of facilities – pools and playgrounds, a chapel, a Tourist Centre, souvenir shops and plenty of places for lunch or snacks. Most of our group took advantage of the various ice cream kiosks.
We reluctantly got back on the coach and carried on with our journey home. Just outside Valencia we stopped for a quick menu del dia. Our one hour lunch somehow extended to two hours but in good company time flies.
Unfortunately, the last part of our journey was delayed because of an accident on the motorway which forced us to make a detour. But a sing along on the coach kept our spirits up.
We finally arrived back in the Almanzora Valley and had to say a sad goodbye to Danny (our guide) and our driver Paco. But not “Adios”; simply “Hasta Luego” or “Hasta la Proxima”.