A generation of movie goers can be forgiven for thinking that Valencia occupies a peninsular hill, protected by massive walls and a looming castle. The 1961 epic El Cid starred Charlton Heston as the titular hero, Sophia Loren as Jimena, and Peñíscola as the city of Valencia.
About 90 minutes north of Valencia, Peñíscola makes for a wonderful day trip. The layout of the city is crazy… it’s a small island which just happens to be connected to the mainland by a narrow stretch. The entire old town is surrounded by a wall and shadowed by the enormous castle which sits atop the cliffs. We went this past weekend, and despite cold and windy weather, had a great time.
The castle was built by the Templars in the 14th century and later occupied by the infamous Antipope Benedict XIII (or Papa Luna as he’s known in Spanish). Entrance was €3,50 and well worth it. It’s extremely well-preserved and the views from the top are breathtaking. The history, too, is fascinating and every room in the castle has a information card describing it, in multiple languages. My favorite room was probably Benedict’s library, where he had an extra window constructed in the direction of Rome — the city he wanted to keep his eye upon.
Peñíscola is a summer tourist town, as the unfortunate number of huge hotels along the beach make obvious, and would make an ideal weekend getaway when it’s warm enough to swim. The water was crystal blue, and the beaches looked wonderful, especially with the view that castle jutting into the water. And unlike other beach towns up and down the coast, there’s actual history here and interesting things to do.
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to reach Peñíscola with public transportation, so we recommend hiring a car. It’s worth the effort of going… it’s one of the most strikingly beautiful little villages that the Valencian Community has to offer.
More Information at the Peñíscola Tourism site (in English)
More Peñiscola pictures: