Spanish steps

Heidi Fuller-Love enjoys fine food and cultural delights, taking in the Orange Blossom Coast and beyond

Huesca, Spain. Our first trip over the Pyrenees - took longer than expected so we pitched up enroute to Zaragoza. Woke up to this beautiful view. Photo by member Jack Thomson.

A hint of spring was in the air and the almond trees were flowering pink and white as we headed along dusty roads to Zaragoza in north-eastern Spain. The country’s ‘fifth city’, with its ornate Moorish towers and domes reflected in the chestnut waters of the Ebro river, is simply stunning. 

We’d passed this 2,000-year-old settlement on previous excursions but never visited properly. So now, en route to Spain’s Costa del Azahar – the Orange Blossom Coast – we made a detour to explore the old town’s narrow alleys, admire the gloomy Goya frescoes in the Pilar Basilica and visit the fascinating Museo del Foro de Caesaraugusta, dedicated to the original Roman city which was founded here in 14BC.

After a late lunch at La Miguería, a tiny tavern with street-side tables that serves the southern Spanish dish migas – garlicky fried breadcrumbs – with everything from chorizo to octopus, we took the winding road south to Los Olivos de Xivert, our first campsite.

Big believers in ‘slow travel’, we took our time, enjoying some of the sights on the way, including the medieval Castle Calatravo and the pretty main square at Alcañiz.

Scents of freedom

Bella – near Peñìscola, Spain. Photo by member David Allender.

When booking our trip, we’d struggled to decide between Los Olivos near the village of Alcalà de Xivert, with its swimming pool and restaurant, and nearby L’Orangeraie Càlig. Ultimately Los Olivos won out – it’s a great base for exploring Valencia to the south and the glorious Orange Blossom Coast, which stretches from Vinaròs to Almenara. 

In the morning we awoke to blue skies and a warm, orange-scented breeze. Close to the Serra d’Irta Natural Park, the site sits on a stretch of coastline that is not as well known as the Costa Blanca and the Costa del Sol, meaning it’s generally less crowded. 

With plenty of winding tracks and wild countryside to explore, this region is perfect for hikers and cyclists. To celebrate our arrival, the following day we hopped on our bikes and rode into Alcalà de Xivert to buy pizza-like flatbreads (coques) and sweet fried doughballs (bunyols), and spent the day walking and lazing on Alcossebre’s glorious sandy beach. Another day we pedalled around the natural park, stopping to relax in billowing dunes overlooking the gloriously wild Playa del Pebret beach. 

On our final day we’d hoped to take a boat trip to the Columbretes, a cluster of volcanic islands a couple of hours’ boat ride from Valencia which are renowned for their unspoilt beaches and fish-filled waters. Sadly, however, it was too windy for the boat to leave. Instead, we followed the coastline to Peñìscola. 

Known as the Gibraltar of Valencia by locals because of the narrow strip of land connecting it to the mainland, this lovely town is topped by a magical castle. So striking is the medieval architecture that scenes from the 1961 movie El Cid, starring Sophia Loren and Charlton Heston, were filmed here.

After strolling around the old town’s narrow cobbled streets, lined with colourful flowers and typical whitewashed houses, we stopped off to admire the Casa de las Conchas, a house that was the love project of a local family in the 1960s who covered it from top to bottom in shells. From here we climbed narrow stepped streets to the 14th-century castle with its stables, grand hall, beautiful interior plaza and striking views over the Mediterranean. 

The Valencia region is the home of paella. The famous rice dish has roots going back several centuries and took its name from the paellera pan in which it is cooked. Down on the waterfront that evening we enjoyed some of best paella of our trip at the cosy, fisherman-run restaurant, El Caracol.

Seafood surprise

Playa Montroig, near Cambrils. Photo by member David Adams

After our lazy stay at Los Olivos, we were ready for the second part of our trip. Following the coast road northwards, we stopped off for lunch at Vinaròs, the Costa del Azahar’s northernmost town. It is famed as the best place to eat langoustines in Spain – a fact that is celebrated here every August with a lively seafood festival.

On a friend’s advice we made a beeline for Restaurante Bergantin where the juicy langoustines were served a la plancha – grilled with slices of lemon – and tasted as fresh as if they’d just leapt out of the harbour and onto our plates. 

Satiated by delicious food, we continued northwards along the lovely dune-studded coastline via the Delta de L’Ebre natural park to La Torre del Sol, a wonderful palm-tree-shaded site on its own stretch of soft sand beach in southern Catalonia.

Over the following days we visited the lovely town of Cambrils on the Costa Dorada (Golden Coast), and we couldn’t resist spending a fun-packed afternoon at the popular, sprawling PortAventura theme park in Salou. Although a number of the rides are for children, we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the various areas and we even had a knee-trembling ride on the Hurakan Condor, the park’s ‘giant drop’ attraction.

We ended our trip in Tarragona. Even from afar, this ancient coastal town surmounted by its medieval cathedral and amphitheatre where bloodthirsty gladiator fights were held back in the second century, is spectacular.

We spent a whole day here, enchanted by its ancient Roman ruins, fascinating museums, wide sandy beaches lined with laid-back cafes and the lively port area.

To work up an appetite later in the afternoon we wandered over to El Serrallo, the city’s old fishing district with its palm tree-lined promenade, old pastel-coloured fishermen’s houses, low-key tapas bars and seafood restaurants. 

At El Posit del Serrallo we sat outside and enjoyed plates of moixina, a rich potato and fish stew served with garlicky mayonnaise, as we watched boats buzzing in and out of the harbour. It was a magical end to our stay in this wild and lovely region, which is all too often overlooked.


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Campsites in Spain

Soak up sun in the south, eat Paella in the north and party in the Spanish cities.

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