After my misadventures with the car in Barcelona, I headed to Peñíscola, a small town about a 2-hours drive south of Barcelona.
If you search for day trip destinations from Barcelona, most lists would suggest cities like Girona, Tarragona, Sitges, or Montserrat. Of course, those towns are gorgeous! But after visiting Peñíscola, I think it deserves to be on those lists too!
The small town has historical landmarks, and borders the Natural Park of Sierra de Irta (Parque Natural de la Sierra de Irta) so there’s a wide variety of activities to do. Here are a few to choose from for a day trip.
Peñíscola castle, garden, and lighthouse
The main historical landmark of this small town is the big castle on the rock, by the sea and overlooking the town. The Knights Templar built it as a fortress in the late 1200s/ early 1300s and it became the residence of the Avignon pope Benedict XIII (Papa Luna).
Budget roughly 45 minutes to an hour to walk through and explore the castle, go from room to room and look at some exhibits on display. Then, visit my favourite spot on the top level of the castle where you have a great view of the sea on one side and the town on the other.
This castle is now a great location for music or movie festivals. An annual festival is the Ancient and Baroque Music Festival of Peñíscola at the beginning of August. If you time your trip right, your visit might coincide with a show that you can get tickets to.
The old town
I’m not sure how old this city is, but I assume they built it around the same time as the castle. Walk the zigzagging cobblestone streets and explore the town square. You will come across the Church of Ermitana and the Church of Santa Maria, which are both worth a quick visit. It was early in the morning around Christmas so the town was empty and I was able to take photos while avoiding crowds.
Spain is full of Game of Thrones filming locations, but I thought they were mostly in northern Spain and didn’t expect to find one here. But as I walked around the old town, I found a square that served as a backdrop for the city of Meeren (that scene where Varys says goodbye to Tyrion Lannister).
Beaches and Coves
The modern part of the town is located along its biggest beach: the North Beach. Take a walk along the beach and you’ll see plenty of restaurants and shops. Because I was in the town around Christmas, almost everything was closed but on a regular day, it must be buzzing.
If you want to get away and enjoy a more secluded beach, drive further south of the town, toward the natural park. You will find more secluded beaches and coves along the way. Some of them might not be accessible because of the cliff formation, but they are great spots for beautiful photos.
Hiking and Biking
The natural park does not have any formal entrance. Just drive along the coast and you will be in the park at some point. If you’re looking for directions on Google Maps, a good location to pick is Badum Tower.
If you’re not an experienced hiker and would like to join a group, there are local tour companies that organize guided hike tours. If you prefer to complete the hike yourself, there some trails you can follow: the Sant Antonio and Vistahermosa trail and the Pebret trail.
If you prefer biking, you can rent bikes and follow the road along the coast. To give you an idea, it only takes over an hour to bike from Peñíscola to Alcossebre, the next seaside town at the other end of the natural park.
And there you have it, one day spent enjoying history and nature in this lovely but lesser known Spanish town!