Referring to my Location post, we found the exquisite town of Peñíscola completely in error. While planning our Spain trip, I was looking at a map of Spain to find a seaside town to rest in for a few days. When I saw Peñíscola, I couldn’t resist. I looked it up and even watched a tourism video. The architecture, history and castle views took my breath away. The town is situated right between Valencia and Barcelona on the Mediterranean coast.
Since we were train bound, we took the train from Valencia to Benicarlo. Benicarlo seems more like a busy city, then a coastal town, but is close to Peñíscola. We were able to take a bus right from the train station to our hotel.
As we rode the bus, it got busier by the minute. It was so crowded that we had to stop and get off to walk the rest of the way to the hotel. We had no idea what was going on and why the town was so packed. Little did we know, we booked our stay during the busiest festival season of the year that celebrates the honor of the Virgen de la Ermitana, the patron saint of Peñíscola. The festival takes place from the 7th of September until the second Sunday thereafter. There are many festivities, including the running of young bulls through the town and on the beach, with displays of fireworks and music. The plazas are transformed into miniature bull rings where the locals “play” with the bulls, which is quite a spectacle. It is a different culture and the locals do not hurt the animals. They may taunt the bulls a bit, but none are harmed. If you have a weak stomach for this type of entertainment, please refrain from visiting this time of year.
Once we arrived at our hotel we looked out the window and saw a fence on the beach, then saw bulls running on the beach. Um yeah, this was a bit odd to us, so we did some research. Once we found out we were there during the festival, it was time to venture out and see what was in store for us.
We passed by one of the plazas on our way to dinner and decided to take in some of the Spanish culture. The plaza had a stadium like structure where people sat to wait for the entertainment. For some reason, Paul decided that we should go underneath the stadium so we had better access to the ring. We could literally just walk out into the ring being underneath. My question was this, “Why would we want to be near the ring?” Well, here it is. The show started and a bunch of local men were in the ring. The bulls were lead into the ring and everyone started to cheer. The bulls started to chase the men around the ring. Then, one of the men had a fantastic idea to affix fireworks to the horns of one of the bulls. OMG. So, I’m standing almost in the ring, watching a bull run around with fireworks shooting from his horns, then the fireworks ended and left the residue on fire, ON HIS HORNS. The bulls charged toward all of us crazies under the stadium. I was holding onto a 90-year-old woman screaming for dear life as she was just laughing and drinking a beer during the entire escapade.
After that, I needed a few libations. The best part about Peñíscola, is that no matter the time of year, the prices of meals do not change. The very inexpensive culinary delights of every type of fish or seafood you could think of is spectacular. Even the pizza is fantastic. You can get a glass of Temperanillo Reserve for about €4. There’s also a lovely restaurant in the old part of town that only serves grilled meats. You’ll know it when you smell it since they give out free samples. Bring an appetite! There’s also a cool bar called Samarucs, that overlooks a grotto in the old part of town. They make the best Mojitos I’ve ever had.
The next day we visited the Castillo de Peñíscola, also called Castillo de Papa Luna. It was built by the Templars in the early 1300’s. In the 1400’s, Pope Benedict XIII of Avignon made this castle his papal seat as he waited out the long litigation over his legitimacy as Pope. To speak how this castle contributed to modern history, the movie El Cid, starring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren, was partially filmed at the Castillo de Peñíscola. In the film, the actors kept referring to the town as “Valencia.” Watch it and you’ll be able to see a great sight. We saw the film after we toured Peñíscola. It was cool to see how it looked back then. Walk up through the winding cobblestone streets of the old town to get to the castle, there’s an amazing view from the top.
On the way down from the castle, stop by to visit the lighthouse. There’s a panoramic view of the town and the sea and should not be missed! Also, going back around through town in the seaside, there are lovely restaurants on the water. Try one or two, we found them all to be comparable.
After walking a bit, we found a bird sanctuary. It was interesting enough to see some rare birds in such a random location. Then we felt adventurous and walked up the back of a cliff. The most fun was having to wait for the waves to finish crashing on the rocks so we could get by up the cliff without getting wet. I was terrified, but it was still pretty cool.
The beaches are wonderful, and there are two great bathing spots. One is on the Mediterranean and the other is on the Carrer Ullal de l’Estany. The water in the Ullal de l’Estany is a bit more calm and warmer than the Mediterranean side. Also close to the Carrer Ullal de l’Estany is where you can catch a boat ride around the castle and up the coast. It’s about 6 EUR a person and you get about an hour ride. Well worth it!
Overall, Peñíscola is still one of my favorite seaside towns. It’s beauty, architecture and rich culture make it one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited thus far.