The 12th century Arab village, which was controlled by Peñíscola and later conquered by Jaime I, evolved into what is now Benicarló. In the course of many centuries the city centre has been endowed with several fascinating buildings.
• Iglesia de San Bartolomé – Saint Bartholomew’s Church (Plaça de Sant Bartomeu)
Especially worth mentioning is the baroque Iglesia de San Bartolomé, built in the first half of the 18th century (1724-1743). The church has a separate octagonal bell tower. The altarpiece was completed in 1818. Inside is a museum with Gothic artwork.
• The city also has an enjoyable main square (Plaça de la Constitució) with green vegetation, about 150m south of the church (where the tourist information centre is located).
• Form a triangle with the church and the Plaça de la Constitució, and you’ll find Benicarló’s Central Market (Mercado Central / Mercat Central), essentially a typical indoor food market, with a great variety of fresh vegetables, fruit, fish, meat, bread, and even flowers. (Carrer de Pius XII, 10)
Historically, Benicarló has been an important fishing port and it is still a very active one. Benicarló’s harbour is a lovely place to spend some time, day or night. From a good supply of bars and restaurants you can enjoy watching the busy fleet landing their fish at the auction hall (mainly in the afternoon) or spot fancy yachts in the adjacent marina.
Next to the harbour, lies a long beach that stretches all the way south to Peñíscola.
Playa del Morrongo (Morrongo Beach)
Right next to the port, you’ll find the blue flag of Morrongo Beach. Being close to the harbour, there is a good selection of bars and restaurants close to the beach.
Jardin del Papagayo (Parrot garden)
The Jardin del Papagayo houses dozens of different species of parrots, macaws and cockatoos in large aviaries. You can buy your seeds or nuts and feed the birds, in or outside the aviaries. There are also flamingos, kangaroos and butterflies. The animals are well looked after. There are adventure trails and obstacle courses throughout the park. Trained birds also perform tricks during the park’s shows. (Camí de la Ratlla del Terme)
Basseta del Bovalar
Located about 4 km from the city-centre, close to the way from Peñíscola, the Basseta del Bovalar is a natural park, much appreciated by locals. The Basseta (“swamp”) is encompassed with unique lush green vegetation, typical for wetlands.
In this charming coastal village you’ll find yourself basically surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea and the mountainous nature reserve of the Sierra de Irta.
Alcossebre sits on ten kilometers of coastline, with five main quality beaches, coves, and wetlands. It offers land and water activities.
You will definitely appreciate the views from the reserve and from the Ermita de Santa Lucia.
Oropesa Del Mar
Developed around its bay, Oropesa Del Mar has a good selection of beaches and coves, a modern tourist infrastructure and a beautiful and well-preserved old quarter.
Go to Morro de Gos if you’d like to enjoy a nice beach with clear water. It has a good supply of restaurants and bars and a pleasant marina to visit.
La Torre del Rey (The King’s Tower)
Facing frequent pirate attacks in the first decades of the 15th century, Ferdinand I of Aragon decided to build a network of defensive walls and towers. Several towers still stand. One of these towers is probably the most iconic monument of Oropesa: the robust Torre del Rey, a watchtower (located in the Cabo de Oropesa, near the lighthouse, at 20 meters above sea level and 40 meters from the sea). It is an imposing piece of architecture, combining pragmatic military with aesthetic Renaissance architecture. Construction of the tower initially began in 1413 and it was probably finished around 1428. In 1534, the tower underwent some fundamental changes, to be shaped in the tower we can behold today.
Jardin Encantado (the Enchanted Garden)
The Enchanted Garden is a world of illusion and magic, moving and talking trees, figures, actors that interact with the audience, and spectacular shows. There are fountains, waterfalls, in a setting surrounded by tens of thousands of flowers.
A few minute-drive south of Oropesa del Mar sits another unique beach resort, Benicassim (Benicasim in Spanish; Benicàssim in Valencian).
We don’t have to delve deep to trace Benicassim’s Arabic origin. The name of the city is derived from the Arabic Banū Qāsim or “The tribe of Qāsim”. The tribe controlled the area from a 10th century castle now known as Castillo de Montornés, before it was ousted out by Jaime I in 1234. The castle is situated on a steep hill 4 kilometres from town, at a height of 500 meters.
Among locals Benicassim is best known for one of Spain’s top music festivals.
La Ruta de las Villas (“The Route of the Villas”)
During the late 19th and early 20th century, wealthy families from Valencia and Castellón engaged some of the most renowned architects of the time to build a great array of villas in different styles along the bay. The oldest villa still standing along the Route, also known as “the Valencian Biarritz”, is Villa Pillar, built in 1860. 51 mansions have been catalogued, and 19 have signposts.
It is a lovely stroll along promenade, with the beach and the Mediterranean on one side and these villas on the other side. The only villa that is not privately owned is Villa Elisa, which is sometimes opened to the public. The other villas need to be admired from the outside.
(Location: Situated along Paseo Pilar Coloma and Carrer Bernat Artola, divided by the Comín gardens, popularly known as Limbo. The Route of the Villas stretches between Torre de San Vicente and Hotel Voramar).
Via Verda (or Via Verde; The Green Route)
Before or after your walk along the villas, you can enjoy a slightly longer hike along the Via Verde, which runs practically past Hotel Voramar (cross Avenida Barcelona first, right next to the hotel). The Via Verde joins Benicassim and the marina of Oropesa.
The Via Verde is the old railway line that ran between Barcelona and Valencia. It is ideal for cycling (it is an 11 km round trip if you decide to go all the way to Oropesa). You can rent bikes from either Benicassim or Oropesa. But it’s perfectly suited for walking as well.
This coastal route offers captivating scenery, lush green vegetation, many open areas with spectacular sea views and a rocky seashore, a watchtower, tunnels, bridges, and high cliff wall passes.
Desierto de las Palmas (“Desert of the Palms“)
The Desierto de las Palmas is a protected natural park close to Benicassim.
It offers some truly breathtaking views of the vast countryside, the plains of Castellón, of Benicassim bay and the sea. On a clear day you can even see the Columbretes Islands.
The word “desert” should be taken figuratively. It refers to the solitary, eremitical lifestyle of the order of the discalced or barefooted Carmelites, a mendicant order who inhabited the area for centuries. The discalced Carmelites are a branch of the original Carmelite order, a number of devout men, former pilgrims and crusaders, who established themselves around 1155 on Mount Carmel in northwestern Israel. The Desierto de las Palmas served as a spiritual refuge for the discalced Carmelites and the location for their monastery and church. The monastery was built mainly in the 18th century.
You can visit the ruins of the monastery and Montornés Castle. The castle is located on a steep peak on one of the mountains of the natural park. Originally a 10th century Arab fortress, built on Roman remains, it was reinforced and extended after the final reconquest by Jaime I. It was abandoned in the 17th century.
You could conclude your visit to the park in one of the restaurants, with a wonderful view and good food, near the top.
Castellón de la Plana
The provincial capital of Castellón offers plenty of activities and attractions.
It has a captivating city centre with a feel of an open-air museum, and an urban layout, shaped in the course of many centuries, dating back to the Middle Ages. The city has its fair share of enticing squares and gardens, orange trees, old mansions and beautiful churches.
Parque Ribalta (Ribalta Park)
This park is the most symbolic site in Castellón. It is the oldest public park in the city and preserves an extensive variety of plants. It was designed in the latter part of the 19th century for the occasion of the inauguration of the railway Valencia-Sagunto-Castellón. The city wanted to create “a forest scenery” close to the railway station to impress visitors.
The layout represents 19th-century taste. The pathways intersecting each other have been preserved until today, forming little squares where the music pavilion and the pond are located. Throughout the park, you’ll come across several monuments. It is a delightful place to relax.
Natural Park “Islas Columbretes”
The Columbretes islands form a tiny group of volcanic islands, about 56 km from the city. Visits are strictly controlled because of to the fragile and unique ecosystem and are arranged from the centre of Castellón de la Plana, at the planetarium
(Planetari de Castelló: Paseo Marítimo, 1).
La Playa del Pinar (Pinar Beach)
This wide beach with fine golden sand takes its name from the nearby pine forest, a good part of which has been preserved, known as Parque del Pinar. The park makes the beach all the more enjoyable. The beach starts at the northern limit of Castellón’s port. There are ample sport and other facilities, playgrounds, etc. There is a golf course, with tennis courts, as well as a planetarium.
La Playa de Gurugú (Gurugu Beach)
The beach is comparable to Playa del Pinar and equally cared for.
Although not a beach resort, Onda is located only 20 km inland, from the coast and from Castellón de la Plana. But it is definitely another hidden gem in the region. The days the town lived under Arab rule (10th-13th centuries) gave the historic quarter its urban layout.
Castillo de Onda (Onda Castle)
The main sight in Onda is the castle. The castle was built by the Muslims in the 10th century. The original structure is buried under several reconstructions carried out throughout the centuries. In 1238, Zayan, the last Muslim king of Valencia, surrendered it to King Jaime I.
It became known for its large size as the “castle of the 300 towers“, as it was said that “it had as many towers as there are days in a year”. The castle would play an important strategic role during several chapters in Spain’s history since. Today it houses a local history museum, with archaeological finds.