Before leaving Valencia, we got word, after weeks of chasing, that a garage nearby would take a look at a few troublesome items under warranty on Benny, so we headed to see them first thing. The service could not have been better; greeted by name on arrival, given a lift to a local town to complete a laundry and a shop whilst the works were undertaken, picked up again later with all issues we had listed, plus a few others, either resolved or replaced. And all for our favourite price – gratis. Pedro at AC-LLAR, we salute you.
Now early afternoon, we drove up the coast to Castellón de la Plana and found a free aire near the beach to overnight. We had a short walk along the local promenade but saw little of the town itself, before hunkering down due to being battered by heavy rains and wild winds. We left early next morning to head north, to the celebrated town of Peñíscola.
We parked up near the town centre and walked a short distance in the persistent rain to the tourist office, glad to see we were not the only people mad enough to be visiting the walled town of Peñíscola today – there were two others. The wind was blowing strong and shaking the empty cafes, with their chairs chained up outside rather than arranged for use. On the beachfront the sea was rolling in hard and choppy, with large breaking waves like a conveyor belt of froth and spray. The tall palms that lined the beach were bent over like thin grass, their leaves waving and shaking like a reluctant long-haired dog being given a blow dry.
Everything in town seemed beaten down by the weather; except for us. It had been a while since we’d experienced this type of storm, and we were invigorated and energised by it. We bounced up the street, battered but excited, enjoying the wind and rain on our faces. We had already visited lots of places in calm sun, so the citadel here seemed all the more romantic, wild and interesting for being visited under these conditions.
With only a few other people around, the walled old town we saw was probably unrecognisable to anyone who had visited in summer. We passed posh restaurants on empty, wet streets with tables already neatly set for customers who would never appear. Their blustering awnings hung on grimly and flapped noisily under strain. We braced against the ferocious wind as we walked, trying to imagine the same place on a bright, busy summer’s day.
Shards of colourful tiles littered the corners of some streets, broken off from walls and balcony edges by the strong winds, making us a little wary of potential airborne projectiles as we wandered. We walked a loop of the old town walls, enjoying the views out to the roaring, angry sea. Huge walls of grey cloud rose above, completing the full Turner painting scene. Information boards listed numerous films that had been set in locations around the town. One such board pictured where episodes from Game of Thrones were recorded, the scenes shown familiar to us.
We saw the castle, the churches, the shell house, the museums and the natural blow hole, the Bufador, where the sea roars in below. But the agitated sea bombarding the lower city walls and throwing spray high up into the sky was today’s star performer. It was wild and wonderful.
An hour’s drive north-west into the mountains, at a height of over 1000m, the impressive citadel town of Morella appeared suddenly and filled our windscreen. The valley itself was filled with wispy low lying cloud, and the high castle fleeted in and out of visibility on our approach. We skirted the city walls and parked up in the motorhome aire to the north east, impressively positioned and entirely empty- we were the only motorhome in town.
Given the weather, temperature and time of year, this was not totally surprising; it had fallen to under 4 degrees C in the mountains, was cloudy and spitting with rain, and we were only a week away from Christmas. After a warming cup of tea sipped whilst enjoying the sight of the town from our window, we walked the ten minutes or so along the road, passing the remaining stone arches from a 14th century medieval aqueduct on our right, to the largest of the city wall gates, to begin our exploration.
We walked the length of the main shopping street, some places still alive with local customers, reminding us that Morella is a viable, busy town, not just a tourist attraction.
Entering the town hall, we read a little on the long history of the town. A Neolithic and Bronze age site on an important trading route, it was subsequently Roman, Jewish and Muslim, before being finally claimed in 1231 CE for Christendom. It barely survived the War of Spanish Succession, but has rebuilt itself over time. It now enjoys a new life as a thriving local town and popular tourist-friendly spot.
Morella also has a long history of carnivals and processional events, dating back as far as the 14th century. Some of the large figurines used for the festival processions were on display in the town hall, solemnly stood like stern-faced giants. Alongside the annual events, the town holds another popular festival every six years, the next in 2018, called Sexenni. Dating from 1678, this festival lasts several days and celebrates the Virgen de Vallivana, with the whole town being beautifully dressed in tapestries and ornaments.
We didn’t linger in town for too long, as the low cloud was denying us proper views across the mountains and valleys below, and the cold air was biting. We hoped to return another time to visit the castle and really absorb the views, but we saw what we could for now.
Delta L’Ebre – Casa de Funta
We dropped out of the mountains and back to the coast, but for a change of scene, we skipped past the beaches and headed to a protected Wetlands Delta, set in the fertile plains of the river Ebre, now used for growing rice, citrus fruits and various vegetables.
We drove along the narrow causeway roads between the shallow pools and rice paddies, mirror flat and exposed, that reminded us of the western tip of Île de Ré. The environment and landscape, in some ways similar to the fens of rural Norfolk, was a world away from the richly foliaged, steep slopes of the mountain valleys we recently left. We heard so many different bird calls, quacks, squeaks, whistles and cries, and even one that we were convinced was mimicking a cow. At least there were few dogs, and just one local straining donkey with the occasional braying outburst to disturb our relative silence.
We climbed a timber built observation platform constructed primarily for bird watching. With the surrounding land being so uniformly flat, being only a few metres higher up changed the perspective massively, allowing for lengthy visibility over the cultivation pools and scrubland plains, alive with bird life.
The weather continued to blow hard and occasionally deposit rain, but the wild clouds and stormy nature suited this big-sky environment, fitting well with the exposed and rugged simplicity. We enjoyed the gentle battering we took from the weather on each venture outside, and relished our return to the comfort of Benny all the more for it.
We passed flamingos and egrets, grey and purple herons, their presence interspersed with black cormorants and avocets. There were many other birds we didn’t recognise, all enjoying the delta’s bounty. We walked into the local population centre of Poble Nou, more for the exercise and fresh air than the excitement of a townstead that turned out to be mostly shut up for the season anyhow. The solitude and peacefulness was intoxicating.