Spain’s Orange Blossom Special
This off-the-beaten-track port, Castellón de la Plana, is found along the stretch of the Spanish coast called Costa Azahar. Azahar is the translation of “orange blossom” or “orange tree” in the local languages. Remember, everything is written a few different ways here. Costa means “coast.” So here you are on the Orange Blossom / OrangeTree Coast of Spain where not so many travelers come. Over the years, yes, but all too often today’s travelers end their journey at Valencia, about 40 miles away. You, on the other hand, will be among the select few to add this notch to your travel belt. Good on you.
So Where Are You?
Spain. Goes without saying. On the Mediterranean coast of the Iberian Peninsula in something called the Valencian Community. Castellón de la Plana is the capital of the Castelló Province and is a city steeped in time. It’s also called the Province of Castellón by her people. This province covers an area approximately 65 miles long and is very mountainous. These rugged mountains are known as the Desert de les Palmas Mountains and they form a dramatic backdrop and setting for some wonderful hiking and other outdoor adventures. Those with GPSs will be absolutely thrilled to record that, while here, they’re standing smack on the Prime Meridian. Turn north, drive 1000 miles, and you’ll run right into Greenwich, England.
The city of Castellón de la Plana dates back to the 13th Century and is, as you guessed, lined with orange trees. The sweet scent of orange blossoms wafts on the springtime air and would be a delight should you come back for a visit at that time. As the city is rather small, it’s quite pleasant for strolling and taking in the place and pace of it all. The Old Quarter is a wonderful starting point. It’s rich with history but people-watching is also a pleasure especially in the plazas. There are several to choose from -- Plaza de la Pescaderia, Plaza Mayor, and Plaza de Santa Clara with its Gothic as well as Renaissance architecture.
Of course the landmark centerpiece of it all is the bell tower, known as El Fadri. Dating back to the 16th century, it’s designed in an octagonal shape with bells that ring out on the hour and also peal to announce important events.
The people of Castellón shop and sip coffees along Avenida Rey Don Jaime or at Plaza de la Paz. If they meet for a hearty meal or even a quick snack of tapas, they’ll often select from the regional favorites that include fish, fish, more fish, and some meat. Sardines and anchovies, prawns and shellfish, seafood paellas and grilled fish are featured on most menus. So, too, something called tombet del maestrazgo, a type of soup. But, for dessert, there’s turrón a delectable sweetie made of nuts, sugar, honey and egg whites. What’s not to like?
On market days, the locals visit Plaza de Santa Clara, an open-air square with a more contemporary feel. For sport or a brisk walk they’re keen on Ribalta Park. And, speaking of sport, golfers might already know which famous golfer on the circuit today was born right here in Castellón de la Plana. If you guessed Sergio Garcia you were absolutely correct.
There’s Valencia, 40 miles away. This magnificent city has all the trappings – the Generalitat Palace, the 14th century Serranos Towers, and something called La Lonja del la Seda, which was the old silk exchange and is today a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sailors will remember that Valencia was also home to the 2007 America’s Cup race, considered by boating enthusiasts to be sailing’s most prestigious regatta.
Cavers will take to St. Joseph’s Cave in the Vall D’Uixó. These caves contain Europe’s largest navigable subterranean river that measures 1.7 miles long. If that’s not enough, there are also Palaeolithic paintings adorning the cave walls suggesting these caverns were inhabited 1000 years ago. An underground cruise in a small but steady boat that drifts merrily along is just the ticket.
If a mountainous setting is more your thing, there’s Peñíscola. It is a hugely popular destination in this province due to its unique setting. Peñiscola is surrounded by the sea on three sides and is, therefore, called the “Gibraltar of Valencia”, without the Barbary apes. High atop its craggy ridges sits the Templar Knights Fortress, a structure that once was home to Pope Benedict, lovingly nicknamed “Moon Pope”, who was headquartered here while battling to unify the Catholic Church.
Your battle today is with the clock. It’s time to discover exactly which of the Orange Tree Coast’s many offerings will be your pleasure. Whatever it is, do enjoy.
Karyn L. Planett