WHAT TO DO IN PEÑISCOLA, VALENCIA, SPAIN
Bristol Airport is just a short drive from our home in North Somerset so it’s rather fun to discover a new area of sunny Spain which is accessible seasonally via a local 2 1/2 hour direct flight. I hadn’t even heard of Castellón until I was invited there by Castellón Tourist Board but this summer I flew into its shiny new airport on one of Ryanair’s twice weekly flights along with four fellow members of the “Bristol Bloggers and Influencers” group. If you’re not from the South West, fear not, as you can also fly to Castellón from London’s Stansted Airport.
Situated 30 kms north of Valencia and bordering the Spanish Mediterranean, the Castellón province has a rich historical, cultural and artistic heritage as well as offering Spanish sunshine, hot springs, deep blue sea and 120 kms of coastline with family friendly blue flag beaches. Then of course there’s the local produce – orange groves, ancient olive trees and highly prized black truffles, to name but a few. In our three-day whistle-stop tour, we had a good old go at packing in a bit of everything! Our first port of call was Peñiscola.
Peñiscola (pronounced Pen-iss-co-la) is the most important tourist destination in Castellón with long sandy beaches to the north of the town and protected rocky coves to the south. Its popularity with holidaymakers is demonstrated by the seasonal population fluctuation. 6-7000 residents in winter swell to around 70,000 in summer. 80% of visitors are Spanish though so it sounds as though most of us Brits have yet to discover the destination.
WHERE TO STAY IN PEÑISCOLA
When we arrived, we checked into the Gran Hotel, Peñiscola, a large family friendly hotel opposite one of the longest sandy beaches of the Azahar Coast. My room was comfortable and spacious and offered luxurious touches like a bathrobe, slippers and some fancy chocolates to welcome me. A “wow” escaped my lips when I looked out of the window and saw the hazy moon in the inky black sky above the illuminated hotel pool. I couldn’t wait to see the view in daylight!
When I drew back my curtains in the morning, I was impressed. Like many of the 400+ rooms, mine offered fabulous views overlooking the beach right in front of the hotel and towards Papa Luna castle and Peñiscola’s old quarter in the distance.
We had a busy day ahead so it was time to fuel up at the hotel’s generous buffet breakfast where there was a huge range of hot and cold choices. It always amuses when I see sparkling wine alongside the fruit juices as a bucks fizz for breakfast seems like the height of holiday decadence, however this was a working trip and I do have some self restraint, so I walked past and sipped delicately on a Spanish coffee instead.
PEÑISCOLA BY BOAT
After breakfast we set off to explore Peñiscola by boat. This pleased me no end as nothing is more likely to make me feel like I’ve arrived on holiday than a boat trip in the sunshine. At Benicarló-Peñiscola port we met Alicia, the boat company owner who stocked up with icy drinks from a local bar ready for our trip. Once on board, out came the sun-hats and lotion and we settled in, taking in views of the old town with its imposing castle and the Sierra de Irta Nature Park along the way.
SOUTH BEACH (PLAYA SUR)
We disembarked near South Beach (Playa Sur) which is a stones throw from the port. After leaving the boat we wandered round to this golden sandy stretch where Spanish families come, claiming their territory with towels and multi coloured parasols. It’s a busy spot but not as ram packed as you might imagine, considering Spanish children were off school for the whole of July and August. My plan was to enjoy a swim before our lunch reservation but when I spotted children paddling way out in the distance, I realised I’d have quite a walk to find any water deep enough to even cover my knees so I settled for a cooling paddle along the length of the shoreline instead. Parents looked on casually as their young children made sand castles in the perfectly mouldable sand or splashed around in the shallow water. It’s easy to see why so many young families come to Playa Sur.
WHERE TO EAT SEAFOOD IN PEÑISCOLA
Next we took a short stroll to Puerto Mar Restaurant overlooking the water at the Port of Peñiscola where we enjoyed the most amazing fresh seafood lunch.
We were served with plate after plate of delicious fresh fish: mussels, prawns, calamari, anchovies, sardines, octopus and cuttlefish and then new flavours like razor clams. Everything was fresh and so tasty, I’d highly recommend a visit to Puerto Mar if you’re a fan of seafood like I am.
PEÑISCOLA OLD TOWN GUIDED TOUR
Our stomachs full, we headed to Peñiscola old town for a wander around the narrow winding streets, past the whitewashed houses and up to the Papa Luna Castle, with our guide, Catherine Dolz. Catherine pointed out architectural features like the balconies decorated with colourful tiles even on the underside and “La casa des conchas”, the quaint house covered in shells.
Catherine also pointed out filming locations of Game of Thrones which I’d never watched at this point, but after my return home, the husband and I started on series one. (We have a while to go before we’ll be able to spot Peñiscola though, as I believe the parts they filmed here feature in series six!). Not surprisingly Peñiscola has featured in many other films including El Cid.
PEÑISCOLA CASTLE (PAPA LUNA’S CASTLE)
At the top of the hill is Papa Luna’s Castle, built by The order of Templars after Peñiscola fell into their hands at the end of the 13th century. The castle was used by pope Benedict XIII and then Pope Clementine VIII so Peñiscola city became the third papal seat along with Avignon and Rome. The fortress was designated a national historical monument in 1931.
After exploring inside, we climbed up to the top of the castle where we were rewarded with the most spectacular panoramic views over the beach, harbour and countryside beyond. There’s plenty to see in the castle itself as well as an audio-visual presentation and historic artefacts, but I’d say it would be worth visiting for these views alone!
Now it was time to leave the Peñiscola and seaside and head up into the mountains which was to be a highlight of my trip. You can read about that in my next post about the picturesque ancient village of Morella in the Castellón Province.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about what to do in Peñiscola. If this article has whetted your appetite, why not take a look at my short video, “What to do in Castellón”, which features sandy beaches, historic castles, secrets of orange growing, a boat trip and paella making in the region.
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CASTELLÓN – USEFUL LINKS
You can find further information at the Turismo de Castellón website, by following the hashtag #incastellon on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and remember to take a look at my What to do in Castellon video.
I WAS A GUEST OF CASTELLÓN TOURISM AND THEIR PARTNERS WHO KINDLY HOSTED ME DURING THIS BRISTOL BLOGGERS AND INFLUENCERS TRIP.
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