Who was first? The Knights Templar or the dragons? The must escape is yet to come, and, as any proper magic, it should last three days. You simply must go to Peniscola.
Take Costa del Azahar north from Valencia towards Barcelona on either the highway or the national road, if you want to make some stops along the way. Sagunt is a very old fortress and Benicassim a lovely beach resort, especially for families. The intriguing mountainous region inland, west of Peniscola, is worth a lazy drift, because it opens a completely different landscape, more stern and quiet and aloof than the serene coastline. The incredible Morella and Vilafranca, close to the border with Aragon, are rare findings for thehappyfew chasing castles and fortresses. But the destination in mind is Peniscola, the wonderful beach town made unique by its inimitable castle that emerges from the sea almost miraculously.
The castle is called “Castell del Papa Luna”, remembering Pope Benedict XIII (Pedro de Luna), who lived here for almost 10 years, starting 1415. But what about earlier ages? The history of the place melts into legend: Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians. What about dragons? If Hannibal dropped by, why would it be so incredible to imagine Daenaerys’ dragons flying over? The present castle is sure to have been built by Knights Templar at the end of the XIIIth century, but what’s equally sure is that Game of Thrones’ Meereen was filmed here in 2015.
It took me a whole afternoon to discover the obvious and the hidden beauties of the fortress, and I still went back the next day. Still inhabited and painted white and blue, the houses and the little shops and taverns spell playground all over. Going up the streets to the castle and the lighthouse, new angles and colors open up at every turn, while the sea is the perfect backdrop for every photo. When I got back into town, I went on the beach until sunset, and all the time I said to myself: this is one beach with a view 🙂