There’s so much more to Spain than the Costa Del Sol, the Costa Blanca, Barcelona, Ibiza, Majorca, Seville and Madrid. In fact if you wander a little off the beaten track, away from Spain’s notorious tourist destinations, you’ll find a wealth of aesthetic delights, cultural wonders and culinary pleasures. The country is dripping in tempting destinations, many of which the average tourist is unaware of. This article is the first in a series called Secrets of Spain, which will feature a combination of seaside, city and inland destinations.
Peņiscola officially one of Spain’s prettiest towns
Rising majestically from the sea is the old town and Templar castle of Peņiscola, which is one of the jewels of Spain’s Orange Blossom Coast. It’s a unique, impressive sight during daylight hours, which can be enjoyed from many miles away. However once night falls, the darkness that embraces the beautifully lit, fairytale castle makes the scene even more spectacular and romantic. There’s no wonder that Peņiscola is officially one of Spain’s prettiest towns.
Sunbathe on golden sand under a fairytale castle
Imagine sunbathing on the main beach, that looks up at the fairytale Templar Castle, which became a Papal Palace after Papa Luna (Antipope Benedict XIII) moved there in 1411. Peņiscola’s main beach meanders on for miles of mostly fine golden sand, which is flanked by an immense choice of bars, restaurants and hotels.
Wander through romantic cobblestone streets
The old town walls and Templar castle can be found between the main north beach, and the half-moon shaped south beach. You certainly won’t need anybody to give you directions to the very well preserved old town, as all you need to do is head straight towards the majestic castle.
Once you enter the old town, you can explore the maze of pretty, cobbled stone streets. It would be hard to imagine anything more Mediterranean cobbled streets, with whitewashed buildings, dotted with azure blue features, overlooking the vast, blue beauty that is the Mediterranean sea. During the main season, there’s a rainbow of vibrant colours, which spill out from the shops.
Sparkling sea views with a sense of history
Make your way to the edge of the old town where the walls overlook the sea, and stand for a while and be mesmerised by the sparkling sea views. If you have a sense of history, there’s something truly magical about leaning against these fortified walls, while watching the sunlight dance playfully on the surface of the sea.
Old meets new
There’s a saying that my Dad has used hundreds of times over the years, which is: “Be not the first by whom the new is tried, nor yet the last to lay the old aside.” (I love that saying …and my Dad, of course…)
One of the enchanting things about many of the places that I have visited here in Spain, is that there are a number of towns and villages that somehow adhere harmoniously to this saying. Peņiscola is most definitely one of those. The old town and castle, and its quaint, pretty cobbled streets, are surrounded by a modern vibrant town. Somehow it works.
The city in the sea knows how to celebrate
Like many towns in the area, Peņiscola also knows how to celebrate occasions in style. There are plenty of places in Spain where Easter is spectacular, and Peņiscola is a good choice, if you wish to absorb the rituals that make up Easter week here in Spain. Don’t forget that the castle was once a Papal Palace, not to mention the amazing location…..There are a variety of festivals during the year in this beautiful place.
Fine, varied cuisine
You could be excused for just wanting to choose the restaurant with the best views over the shimmering Mediterranean sea, or at the very least, stop off for the tipple of your choice. However the town has a generous choice of restaurants, both in the old and new part. Add to this centuries of gastronomic culture, and its location by the sea, and in the fertile area of the Costa Azahar (Orange Blossom Coast) – Peņiscola is a natural foodie location.
As of February 2015, one of my favourite restaurants will open in Peņiscola – Carmen Guillemot de Peņíscola, which was previously located in Alcanar. This is possibly the best restaurant I have been to so far, with sumptuous food offerings and amazing service. The owners are a couple, who are both artists, and their creativity comes through deliciously in their restaurant’s culinary delights and ambience.
Don’t leave until you’ve seen the Casa De Las Conchas (House Of Shells)
In the midst of the charming streets of the old town, lies the quirky Casa de las Conchas which is a must see before you leave Peņiscola.
Jackie de Burca is Co-owner of Catalonia Valencia.