The drive to Jávea was easy, heading east out towards the coast again. Traveling through acres of orange trees and olive groves the lowlands are surrounded by mountains in the distance, and the temperatures were rising as we neared the sea. Jávea is a small town with a pretty bay known as The Arenal, it has a pebbled beach on one side and sand on the other. A paved promenade just in front of the usual shops and restaurants leads from one end to the other, it is a great vantage point for lots of sea gazing and people watching from the rocks or one of the numerous restaurants and bars. It would be rude not to, so we stopped to admire everything with a beer and ‘tosta con tomate y aciete olivio’ which is quite delicious. There were a few metal sculptures and my favourite was a man, shading his eyes and gazing out to sea, just as we had been doing.
The huge rocks at the end of the bay sheltered a pretty harbour with both fishing and pleasure boats, their hulls reflecting in the water, mirroring the blue from the sky and as still as a mill pond. It was so relaxing listening to the gentle sound of water and watching the fish around the boats.
In total contrast is the sandy end of the bay, full of people, bars, ice cream, kids, bikes, large bellied men wearing sandals with socks pulled up – what is that all about! Someone had started to carve a sand sculpture of castles and figures which looked like it would be very good when finished. However, we didn’t too stay long but had time for my first sangria since being here, and then went back to Della and cooked up a large paella for ourselves.
After two days we wanted to move on again and stopped off en-route at Pego Marshes for a spot of birding again. There were loads of little egrets, cattle egrets, and glossy ibis feeding in the rice paddies, currently with no crop, also four bright yellow wagtails and numerous gulls. I saw a small flock of sheep and goats who had their own ‘cattle egrets’ riding on their backs, as I tried to get a photo sadly only one remained on board. We could hear frogs and obviously there was plenty of food there judging by the numbers of birds over many acres.
We stayed for one night just outside Valencia and were on the move again just before 9am. Satnav took us straight through the edge of Valencia City itself, by now I was not so terrified as I had got used to the road systems, but even so it was a little daunting, with work traffic, roundabouts and traffic lights everywhere.
Luckily I got through unscathed and soon we were heading north through much greener countryside. The land is less barren, everywhere something is growing or land is built on and there is a noticeable difference from our time in southern Spain. Many orange trees interspersed with olive and cherry trees, the roads have oleander and lavender growing in the central reservation plantings which it will look lovely in a few months.
After just over 100 miles we arrived in Peñíscola, one third of the way between Valencia and Barcelona. It was Chris’s birthday and we decided to stay for 3 days to relax and do some sightseeing. There was a lovely feel about the place, beautiful beach, castle, old walled town and a working harbour.
It was a dull, grey day, so after quickly setting up we soon disappeared to the locally known ‘city in the sea’ as it is built on a narrow piece of rocky land about 220 feet high. The castle is set high up on a ‘rocky island’ with the old town set out below it on the landward side, harbour on the south side and beach on the north. It was built between 1294 and 1307 by the Knights Templar, they were a monastic order who formed after the Crusades dedicated to protect pilgrims. In 1411 Pope Benedict XIII known as Pope Luna converted the castle into his papal seat where he lived until his death in 1423. Here endeth the history lesson!
The castle has many rooms, inner courtyard, towers, beautiful stonework and gardens laid out below, it is well maintained and has information boards, thankfully in English. The church of Santa Maria is just outside the castle walls, with a plain interior, a high semi-circular apse, minimal decoration and a square bell tower on one side that is 17.5 metres high. Even though it was cloudy, from the ramparts of the castle there are wonderful views over the church, surrounding town with cobbled streets and broad sandy bay and harbour.
High on the rocks is a stone lighthouse standing 11 metres high originally built in 1892 and with electricity added in 1929 and remodelled again in 1970. We spent an hour or so enjoying all the history and views before walking back along the promenade for a rest, the ‘birthday boy’ opened his Hobgoblin Gold beer which had travelled in Della’s ‘garage’ since leaving Salisbury. It was very good. We indulged in a meal out for a treat instead of us cooking and enjoyed a lovely bottle of Rioja.
Next day we walked along the full length of the promenade which stretches the full length of the beautiful long beach that is 3 miles in length, lined with restaurants, shops and bars. In the evenings the castle is lit up, it looked beautiful and reflected in the sea around the rocks below.
On our final day it dawned bright and sunny, blue sky and puffy white clouds, and we walked to the south side of the castle to look at the harbour with many fishing boats tied up. The catches were being sorted ready to be sold, nets being laid out and mended while the fishermen sorting the boats out ready to go back to sea.
Sitting at a tapas bar, we enjoyed a ‘fresh from the sea’ lunch with mixed fish and squid, salad, chips, and a couple of beers while watching the activities in front of us. It really was a fabulous place to sit and relax in the sun.
On our return to the campsite, we walked around the old hilltop town just below the castle with its whitewashed houses and narrow streets. There were some lovely cobbling and paving creating patterns on the roads, which was quite slippery and I cannot imagine what it would be like in rain, and I certainly would not want to drive on it. We passed a house on a corner with all the walls covered in shells set in patterns around the windows. Most of the buildings have lovely balconies with ceramic floor tiles set with the design facing downwards, wrought iron railings in different designs and ornate street lamps. A lovely restaurant with umbrellas and several shops selling the usual tourist merchandise were situated on a narrow street overlooking the sea, we did not stop but admired it all the same.
Peñíscola is definitely a place to visit with lots of history and activity, you can be as active or inactive as you wish, lots of people watching available, and many bars and restaurants. Only the high rise apartments and hotels spoil the coastline, however, if you can ignore that and enjoy what else is around, it is lovely. Definitely a place to return to for rest and relaxation.