Anything But Paella

Castellón de la Plana

Castellón de la Plana is a city, about an hour north of Valencia, which most people drive straight past without even giving it a thought. It is, in fact, well worth a visit, and can be an excellent base for exploring the area. It even has its own airport, Castellón Airport, which is a story in itself having lain dormant for four years after its official opening before welcoming its first commercial flights.

The city is quite functional and boasts a large, modern university, but make your way to the historical centre and you’ll find a completely different place. Packed with bars and restaurants, there’s plenty going on to keep yourself occupied.

It’s worth taking some time to look at the city’s old architecture. The town hall was built in a Tuscan style and overlooks a beautiful fountain on the Plaza Mayor. Also fronting this impressive square is the Central Market, the cathedral and the 15th Century Gothic bell tower known as El Fadrí. On Tuesdays to Sundays from midday until 1pm you can climb up the tower to see the city from high above. Moving underground, there’s also a Civil War air-raid shelter you can visit. Be warned, it is closed on Mondays and after heavy rains, and you need to negotiate 70 steps to get in so it’s not suitable for everyone.

The city celebrates its 9-day Magdalena Festival during Lent. This commemorates the origins of the city, especially the relocation of the city from the Hill of Mary Magdalene to the coastal plain in 1251. There are parades, fireworks and even a bullfight if that’s your thing. You can read the 2019 programme if your Spanish or Valencian is up to scratch!

The walls of the Central Market are often used for displays of art and information. On our two visits to the city we have seen some unusual art inspired by nature (2019) and pictures of how the city was bombed during the civil war (2017).

Of course, you might well want to head down to the coast. Castellón is after all the “capital” of the Costa del Azahar, the so-called Orange Blossom Coast. The city is a few miles inland but Grao de Castellón has a totally different feel to it. There’s a great beach and plenty of waterfront room to stretch your legs. You can get there on a very convenient trolleybus route running from the city to the shore.

Puerto Azahar is a huge entertainment and leisure complex near the marina. There are several entertaining statues in the area paying homage to the local fishing heritage and the family connections to the industry. An impressive Planetarium is located close to the beach, and you can also visit the Museum of the Sea.

Castellón is also a good place to stay if you want to see what nearby Benicassím has to offer but don’t want to be in the thick of a tourist resort. Many people stay in the city in July each year when they are going to the FIB Benicassím music festival, which will be headlined by Fat Boy Slim this year! There’s also the extraordinary Paella Day to enjoy every January.

If you want to visit Castellón you could do worse than consider these two hotels, both part of the NH chain as they offer a good level of comfort and value.
NH Castelló Mindoro in the city centre.
NH Castelló Turcosa just a stone’s throw from the beach.

When it comes to food in the centre, we loved Gringo’s La Tasca for fabulous food all the way from Argentina. North African delights await at the Al Andalus Tetería if the chef is on duty, but check first or you’ll be left with just a kebab!

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