Just to the north of Valencia is the Costa del Azahar, the ‘Orange Blossom Coast’, so-called because of the abundance of orange groves in the area. The coast is speckled with watchtowers and lighthouses, while inland there are fortified castles and villages – especially in the inland Sierra del Maestrazgo, where white villages cling precariously to rocky outcrops – spectacular indeed! You will also see the unusual landscapes of the Ebro Delta, complete with the paddy-fields where rice for paella is grown.
- 7 nights half board in Benicassim
- Excursion to Morella and the hilltop villages of the Maestrazgo; excursion up the coast to Peniscola & the Ebro Delta
- Visit to the Desert of Palms Natural Area, with superb views of the coast; orientation walk by the modernist villas of Benicassim
- Return direct flights including coach transfers
DAY ONE: Flight to Valencia or Castellon. Transfer to your hotel in Benicassim (an hour from Valencia, 30 minutes from Castellon), for seven nights’ half-board accommodation.
Benicassim has a pleasant town centre a mile inland from the beach, but its pride and joy are the splendid Modernista villas towards the northern end of the seaside avenue. It also has a 3 ½ -mile Via Verde Greenway linking the resort with Oropesa del Mar – this is a disused coastal railway line suitable for walking or cycling and featuring spectacular sea views. Take a torch for the tunnel! There are train and bus services from Benicassim to surrounding areas, and neighbouring Castellon has both a main line station and also frequent suburban services to Valencia.
DAYS TWO TO SEVEN: In resort, with one half-day and two full-day included excursions.
Half-day excursion to the Desert of the Palms and the Villas of Benicassim. You drive the short distance inland and up into the Palms Desert Natural Park, just behind your resort. Rising to over 2000ft. the park is a land of rich Mediterranean vegetation and wildlife, scattered with castles and hermitages, and offering fantastic views of the coast. You will make a stop to visit the monastery, in a spectacular setting and where the monks developed a jealously-guarded recipe for a liqueur. You then return to Benicassim and alight at the edge of town, to walk along the seafront promenade. In just one mile, walking towards St Vincent’s Tower, you will pass 27 of the spectacular modernist/Belle Epoque Villas with wonderful gardens. One is a hotel where Hemingway stayed.
Full-day excursion to the Ebro Delta and Peniscola. The Ebro Delta, just over an hour to the north, is one of Europe’s most attractive and delicately balanced wildlife sanctuaries. The visit begins with a short presentation at the Eco-Museum in Deltebre, with an explanation of the relationship between man, agriculture and wildlife of the area. Much of the marshy area is covered by watery rice fields which support the local fauna. There are vast areas of beaches, dunes, reeded lagoons and riverside woods. Over the year, between 50,000 and 100,000 birds of 300 species (more than half the species in Europe) visit the Delta. You will also stop in Poblenou del Delta, established under Franco as the home village for farmers, in an attempt to increase national food production.
The afternoon is spent in Peñiscola. Founded by the Phoenicians, Peñiscola was an important port: Hamilcar, father of Hannibal, imported his elephants through here on his way to wage war against Rome. The town’s name is a corruption of ‘Peninsula’ and the castle is indeed, almost an island. It was built by the Knights Templar in the late 13th century, but in the 15th became the home of Papa Luna, Pope Benedict XIII, the last of the Avignon Popes of the Great Schism, who took refuge here after being deposed. Part of the movie ‘El Cid’ was filmed here. The town itself has a pleasant white painted centre and then spreads along the excellent beach. 154 miles today.
Morella and the Villages of the Maestrazgo. Your other full-day excursion takes you inland into the spectacular Sierra mountain landscapes of El Maestrazgo. The mountain scenery is wonderful; the villages and towns, perched on rocky hilltops in unlikely fashion, even more so. Today’s main stop will be at Morella, a medieval fortress town rising from the plain below, surrounded by its walls, and featuring narrow streets clustering along the contours below the apparently impregnable hilltop castle. Within the town are tapas bars, craft shops, the Gothic cloister of the monastery, the impressive Santa Maria la Mayor church, and a 13th-century aqueduct. The hilltop fortress offers amazing views all around. The city was recovered from the Moors by King James’ steward, in the 13th century. The story goes that he didn’t want to return it to the crown- the King apparently came to blows with him for possession of the city – when you see Morella, you’ll understand why! On the way back to the hotel, you stop in historic Sant Mateu, from where James I of Aragon, set out to take back the region from the Moors in the 13th century. The sturdy Gothic mansions around the main square bear witness to the town’s significant royal past. The Catalan Gothic church is impressive – with a wide column-free vault a particular feature. 142 miles today.
On your free days, there will be the chance to join optional excursions to Valencia, and to the St Joseph’s Caves near Vall d’Uxo for a boat trip along an underground river.
DAY EIGHT: Depart to the airport for your flight home.
Hotel Intur Beonaire 4*
The hotel is located just 200 yards from the beach and 1 ½ miles from the town centre of Benicassim. Set in pleasant gardens, the hotel has a large outdoor swimming pool and a small indoor one. There is a bar and restaurant serving buffet meals. The comfortable bedrooms have bath/shower, wc, tv, air-conditioning, safe, hairdryer, and small fridge, as well as free wifi. Rooms with pool-view and terrace come at a supplement. Wellness facilities (charges apply) are available in a neighbouring sister hotel. (www.intur.com/hotel-bonaire-benicasim).
The Orange Blossom Coast, Peniscola & the High Villages
- East Midlands
- London Gatwick
- 28th September 2020
- 29th September 2020
- 5th October 2020
- 6th October 2020
- 18th May 2021