It has taken me by surprise that I have fallen in love with this little village and its surrounding areas. The village of Sant Rafael del Ríu is a simple, authentic village where you can feel like you are living your life as we would have done 15 to 20 years ago…..or maybe even more like 30 to 40 years ago! There’s nothing remarkable about the village, except for its natural charm, because it is so friendly and relaxed. It’s also in a wonderful location, as it’s around 15 minutes drive to the sea, yet it’s embraced by an abundance of orange groves, olive farms, almond trees and is on the edge of a lovely natural park. Sounds good? I think so …come and explore a little more with me in this Sant Rafael del Riu Travel Guide.
Sant Rafael del Ríu has around 550 residents, some of which take their chairs onto the streets and chat to their neighbours during the balmy, summer evenings. In July it celebrates the Fiesta of the Virgin Carmen, on a scale that a larger town would be proud of. The Fiesta lasts for about 10 days, with plenty of events for all the family and lots of partying. Some nights the music goes on until five or six in the morning, and for those of us who are no longer in our 20s, having coffee at 7.30am in the morning and seeing some party stragglers wandering around the village can be rather amusing.
You may wonder how we discovered this place. We came across it during our search for a plot of land, which definitely brought us up the mountains and down the glens … Otherwise we may never have known about this lovely area, and this village where it’s possible to live a life filled with simplicity. It also has a kind of interesting location because although it’s in the Valencian Community (Comunidad Valenciana), a two-minute walk over the bridge will bring you into Catalonia. Our little village was featured in one of the most important newspapers in Spain, on 5th November 2014, in an article entitled – “The Last Town Of Spain”– if you’re curious check out Sant Rafael del Riu in El Mundo – of course it’s in Spanish, but good old Google Translate should be kind of able to help you, if you don’t speak Castellaño.
Let me elaborate a little bit on some of the details of life here. Our neighbours bring us vegetables from their land, and we do the same for them, although our farming days are still in the infantile stage. One of the bars is on the main route for the traffic that goes between the Valencia Community and Catalonia. If you go there for a drink and sit outside, after a while the slow pace of life will catch up with you, and you’ll find yourself looking at cars and trucks with great interest. I would never have believed it myself, but it’s what most people end up doing. Of course most people greet you, which makes it very civilised and if you’re in the mood you can easily strike up conversation with someone. The locals speak Valenciano, which really sounds just like Catalan, but they will speak Spanish to foreigners. If you want to get something done you can also go to the same bar. Once you get to know one or two of the locals, most likely this will be the most efficient place to find someone to do a job or your help you in some way. Of course by now you’re also getting the message that the village is not going to be for people who want a fast paced life. However if you want to go on a holiday to somewhere very authentic, that’s surrounded by nature and has a good feel about, then it could be for you.
It doesn’t matter which way you go from the village, if you hire a car there’s an abundance of other villages, towns, seaside towns, sites of cultural and historical value, high quality locally sourced food, and hermitages which are often located in beautiful spots with amazing views. I’ll let you know about these in the most relevant sections of this feature, as you read on.
Sant Rafael del Ríu Brief History
On 28th November 1927, the village of Sant Rafael del Ríu became independent of Traiguera. At that time the population was almost 800 people who were spread over many farms, which in reality had originated from what was only one farmhouse in the mid 19th century. But as olive oil production grew things improved and the population increased. Not too long ago remains were found on the old Roman road of what might have been a village.
We had an artisan fair in the village on the weekend of the 11th/12th October. In a way I think this shows a little bit of the artistan roots of the area as a whole, and of course the historic link to Traiguera. You’ll see the photos above and more interspersed throughout the article, that will give you a flavour of this annual market.
Things To Do
La Moleta del Remei Archaeological Site (part of the Ruta dels Ibers) between Ulldecona and Alcanar
For those of you interested in Iberian civilisations and archaeology, you won’t want to miss this site which is on the road between Ulldecona and Alcanar. In fact this place is worth the trip purely for the view that you have down over the coast and the Delta de l’Ebre. To read more about this click on La Moleta del Remei Archaeological Site
The drive here from Sant Rafael del Rio is about 15 to 20 minutes going towards Ulldecona first and the down towards, but not as far as Alcanar.
Amposta Suspension Bridge
Amposta is located at the mouth of the River Ebro in Catalonia, and for those interested in architecture and engineering is worth the trip just to see its spectacular suspension bridge. To read more about this click on an Amposta suspension bridge
Amposta Municipal Market
I really love this building and if you’re already going to Amposta you would definitely want to see it. If you want to hit Amposta on the day where the outside market is also happening, then go on a Tuesday morning it runs up until around 1:30 2 o’clock. To learn more about it click on Amposta municipal market Amposta is 40km from Sant Rafael del Riu (San Rafael del Rio)
Tortosa Modernist Buildings & So Much More
Tortosa has many buildings of architectural interest, too long to list here. However head over to our feature on Tortosa, and check out the modernist buildings and so much more in our Tortosa Travel Guide – also check out the amazing castle there. Tortosa is 35km from Sant Rafael del Riu (San Rafael del Rio) and both itself and Amposta could be visited in the same day if you like to see things relatively quickly. Personally I would prefer to see them on different days, and in the case of Amposta I would then head down into Delta de l’Ebre, after a lovely morning spent at the Tuesday market and wandering around.
Benicassim Route of the Villas
Heading in the opposite direction, and staying in the Valencian Community, you could do a day trip to the lovely seaside town of Benicassim. Most people know the name of the town because of the music festival, however there’s a lot more to it. I adore the Benicassim route of the villas on its promenade – I can especially imagine the amazing parties that were held there during the Roaring Twenties! Check out more information about this by clicking on Benicassim Route of the Villas Benicassim is 82 km from Sant Rafael del Riu, and also has lovely beaches and much more besides.
Castellon Town And Port Area
In Castellon town and El Grao, the port area, there are a couple of points of architectural interest also. Check them out now by clicking on Castellon travel guide. This section is not finished, I will be adding more to it over time, so pop back if you want to get other travel ideas.
Beaches 15 to 20 minutes from Sant Rafael del Ríu
The most obvious locations to go to the beach are the closest ones, which are both around 15 to 20 minutes drive from the village. If you want to venture further afield I have also recommended a couple of other possibilities.
More like 30 minutes + drive
Delta de l’Ebre beaches – this is a special experience, as the landscape is unique and magical
Benicassim beaches – you can sunbathe in lovely spot with the Villa Route just behind you
Where to Eat
There are 4 bar cafes in the village, one of which is in the local petrol station. The petrol station and the bar are run by a really friendly family, and mostly we’ve only been there for sandwiches, which have been very good. If you are entering the village from either Vinaros or Traiguera, you can’t miss the petrol station right in front of you at the pretty roundabout at the entrance of the village.
At the roundabout if you were to take the right, you will barely have taken the right and you’ll see the Town Hall – Adjuntament – across the road, and just a little bit up from there is the next bar which is called Bar Fibla. Fibla is a friendly, smiley character, who should make you feel welcome. Normally there’s one or two tables outside, but the interior is where many of the locals go.
If you continue up, going around the corner which leads straight up past Bar Fibla, it won’t be long… like a couple of seconds… before you see Bar Parada. This is the one that’s on the route that the cars and trucks take when they’re going to Catalonia. Here you will find another jovial character, Miguel, and Eva, who is also friendly and pleasant. They serve food in that bar, we’ve mostly had sandwiches and what are called “platos combinados” which translates literally into combination plates, and basically it’s just their way of describing meat with chips, salad or whatever you might be getting. The food has always been tasty, and fresh and served with a smile. (The bar was closed for August holidays on the day these photos were taken, but normally there would be a few tables and people outside)
From the roundabout at the entrance to the village to go to bar Alaska you will go directly straight through the roundabout, keeping the petrol station on your left. They also do food, again with a similar range of sandwiches, tasty simple main meals and also some salads. Like everywhere else in the village, the couple who run this bar are also very friendly, and the food is fresh and tasty.
Sant Rafael del Riu Weekly Market
The weekly market happens in Sant Rafael del Riu on a Sunday morning, until around lunchtime. Given the size of the village it won’t surprise you to hear that this is a small collection of stalls. However it’s very handy to get fruit and veg on a Sunday there, as the supermarkets generally don’t open on a Sunday. (For some of the high season, some do).
Artisan Market October 11th-12th 2014
This was a lovely set up for our 550 or so person village. You’ll have got a feeling from some of the earlier photos, but I was well impressed. There were lots of interesting artisan and ecological products. There was also Show Cooking set up starring a winner of the Spanish Masterchef, who is actually from Benicarlo. We chatted to some of the traders, and found them very helpful. In truth, I could have spent a fortune here, which came as a massive surprise for our little border village.