The Town That Captured Our Hearts – Peñíscola, Spain
Pre-Post Note: We’ve made it back home and have been busy with the crazy business of un-packing the rig & cleaning it out (who knew part-timing would be so exhausting?), so I took a short blog break to get that sorted. Back to the good stuff now….
After our short stint boondocking in the coastal wilderness we made the easy 15-min drive into town to settle into the nicest campground and most stunning Spanish city we’d stayed in thus far.
A Place Packed With Historical & Visual Treasures
I have to admit that Peñíscola captured our hearts from the get-go.
It’s the kind of coastal Spanish town that dreams are made of, or at least my kind of dreams. It’s visually stunning with miles of white sandy beach and a wide palm-tree-lined boardwalk that leads across an isthmus of land to a rocky peninsula and the deep aqua-green sea beyond.
The peninsula (Peñíscola is evolved from the latin for “peninsula”) or “city in the sea” is where the old part of town is located and it’s most certainly the highlight of the place. It’s teeny by most standards, only 67 m (220 feet) high and a few km wide, but it is packed with historical and visual treasures.
Habitation can be traced back to the 1st century BC with Iberians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Byzantines and later the Arabs all laying claim to this tiny piece of rock. In the 13th century the Knights Templar took over, destroying the Muslim fortifications and building a magnificent and suitably imposing stone castle (Castillo de Peñíscola) that dominates the view to this day. Even a pope lived here, and just not any pope but rather the infamous “Antipope” Benedict XIII (Pedro de Luna), who called the castle his home from 1415 to 1423. It’s quite a rich history…
The castle is incredible and well worth the mere EUR 5 it costs to visit, but the rest of old town is equally stunning with rows of glistening white-washed houses, hundreds of stone steps and narrow pebblestone alleyways that weave their way through it all and seem to lead to hidden views at every turn. There are dozens of cafes where you can sip, eat and take in the view, no less than two beautiful churches, a house entirely covered with shells (Casa De La Conchas) and, bestill my beating heart, a LIGHTHOUSE!!
I believe I swooned a little when I first saw it.
The newer part of town is not quite as pretty as the peninsula, but still has it’s own charm. There are miles of beachfront apartments, many of which seem to have been built in a mass frenzy of construction and later abandoned, likely casualties of the big Spanish recession from 2008–2014. This part of town feels a bit run down and certainly way less “posh” than bigger tourist spots like Sitges, but it’s recovering rapidly and you see the results of that as you explore around. The boardwalk along the beach is impeccable, there are several natural parks (some of which are brand new), and there’s all stuff you need with multiple good grocery stores and plenty of restaurants to sample the local fare.
A Great Little Campground
We also lucked out with a great campground to explore it all.
Camping Eden is a quiet, relaxed kind of place located literally right next to the beach only ~20 minutes pleasant walk along the water to downtown Peñíscola. Once again we used our ASCI card, paying only EUR 20 for the site. With the discount we fully expected to get a puny site off to the side, so we were rather surprised to be assigned a huge site right in the “posh” part of the campground. It was at least twice the size of our rig (we could easily have parked lengthwise) with nice privacy, a large “sitting area” and even an on-site dish-washing sink and water. What a cute spot!
The only potential “gotcha” was a few low-hanging branches which our Dutch neighbors promptly warned us about when we arrived.
“The last motorhome went bang” they explained, crushing their hands together quite dramatically. “You want us to move our car?”
“No don’t worry, we’ll be fine” I replied confidently, having already sized up the site & trees. “You should have seen our last rig”.
The latter remark caused me to burst out laughing hysterically, likely explaining the she’s-got-a-few-screws-loose look I got from the neighbors. However after watching us slot into the site like a well-oiled, hand-signaling, rig-expert-parking-machine I think they were rather impressed.
“Very nice” they said, clearly stunned by our parking skills
What can I say, 9 years of squeezing a 40-foot “beast” into ridiculously tight spaces teaches you a thing or two. Parking LMB is, by comparison, mere child’s play. Pffft….!
The Town Was Wonderfully Laid-Back
As an additional bonus the town was laid back, I mean REALLY laid-back.
There was almost no-one around, and by that I mean only a few people on miles of beach and barely a soul on the streets of old town. A big part of this was thanks to the time of year. This is a summer town and it’s winter season, so most of the restaurants aren’t open and a lot of the businesses are still closed. It’s a bit of a downside if you’re really into going out or shopping, but IMO it’s TOTALLY worth if your gold is to experience a place like this without the insane crowds of summer.
Purrrfect weather, no-one around, and a stunning Spanish city all to ourselves? oh yeah, exactly the way we both like it!
We Enjoy Several Days Of Just Hanging Out
Peñíscola gripped us so much that we ended up extending our campground stay twice.
We enjoyed the quiet campground (I tell you, European campgrounds are SO quiet!), had fun mingling with our international neighbors (lots of Dutch and Scandinavian folks in camp, most of which had come down for the entire winter season), and totally dug the beach and local town.
Basically we were in our own little beach paradise, and if we didn’t have the urge to see other places we might have stayed for good. Peñíscola is the kind of place where your imagination can run free, where stories of yore speak to you from the stone steps, where ghosts of days past accompany you on the cobblestone streets and where you can lose yourself in the white-blue layers of houses and ocean. It’s quite a spot.
But alas, the wanderlust is strong and there are always new places to tempt the heart. So after our two extensions we decided to turn the rig north and explore our way home. There would be much, much more to see…