Castellon de la Plana Travel Guide
Castellon de la Plana is a growing city, with plenty of activity and attractions, including its own marina – El Grao de Castellon, where there’s a casino and lots of lovely bars, restaurants and cafes. Capital of the region of Castellon, this city sits in an area where there is an interesting blend of landscapes. The fertile orchards of the Costa Azahar (Orange Blossom Coast) are a dominant feature, with their beautiful, vibrant orange groves, but in the North you’ll see the foothills of the mountain range – Serralada de les Palmes.
There are also some fine sandy beaches in the area, and out at sea you should really visit the Columbretes Islands, which are a protected national park, around 30 miles from El Grao de Castellon. In the city itself you’ll definitely want to visit the central market, the Santa Maria Cathedral, the town hall, a number of lovely, historic mansions, to mention but a few.
Between the city, the marina, beaches and islands, there is an abundance to see and do. However it would be a shame to be so close to the lovely city of Valencia and not pop in at least on a day trip. It’s 74 km away from Valencia. You can find more information about Valencia in our Valencia travel guide. Also very close by is the town of Benicassim (14km), which although best known for its music festival, also has a lot to offer to the visitor. Find out more in our Benicassim travel guide. You can find other ideas about the area in general and about the first Ryanair flights in the feature about Castellon Airport.
The town of Castellon has countless charms. It is a promising destination, because of its proximity to the coast and its huge range of cultural offerings. For a number of years now the city has been revitalised, to turn it into a tourist destination with great potential, that combines modernity and tradition, and seaside relaxation with city living.
This, still relatively undiscovered city, is not unlike an open air museum. Between a wealth of historical and architectural sites of value, the city itself is actually decked out in more than 200 sculptures. Castellon de la Plana also has its fair share of squares. It also has a fascinating history.
Although the city was founded in the 13th century, its history is far older than that. Records confirm that around 2000 years ago there were Iberian settlements in the port area, El Grao, and afterwards also Roman civilisations, who were involved in maritime trade. Just like nearly the whole of the Iberian peninsula, Castellon de la Plana, was also invaded by the Arabs, in the 8th century.
Before the conquest of King James I of Aragon, we hear of the Fadrell Arab Castle which was on a ridge in the Sierra del Desert, surrounded by some farmhouses, that were dotted on the plains. It was here that the founding fathers of the town would have taken their first refuge. The town as we know it today, was formally founded in 1251 by King James I of Aragon. He gave permission to transfer the town from the mountain to the plains, on 8th September 1251, just after the Moorish Kingdom had been conquered.
During the Middle Ages, Castellon de la Plana was protected by a combination of walls, towers and moats. Also during this period a church was constructed, which later become a cathedral.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the city played a part in both the Revolta de les Germanies and supported the Austrian Archduke Charles, in Spain’s War of Succession.
The city’s walls were taken down in the 19th century and it started to grow. However, this growth was to be interrupted by the War of Independence against Napoleon and the Carlist Wars. In the second half the 19th century, the town once again started to grow, marked by the coming of the railway, the port’s enlargement and the construction of important city buildings such as the Provincial Hospital,, the Casino, and the Theatre. Parks were also built, as part of the development of that period.
In more recent times the town development was furthered by the construction of the Jaume I University, in 1991. These days the economy of Castellon de la Plana is fed mainly by tourism, crafts and some industries.
Things To Do
Discover The Main Square – Plaza Mayor
Wander around the main square to get a feel for the city centre. Today where you can see the circular fountain, in the centre of the square, is where there used to be a great laurel tree. The epicentre of the city, the main square is an idyllic place to hang out and just watch life go by.
It’s the city’s iconic public space, which is suitably embraced by some of Castellon’s most symbolic buildings. From here you can visit the City Hall, the central market, as well as El Fadri and Saint Mary Co-Cathedral (more information on those below.) Reaching out from the main square, are two pedestrian streets, which travel to the West and the North respectively. These are the streets Colón and Caballeros.
As it’s pedestrianised you can really enjoyed the historical town centre, which is best discovered on foot. On the corner of the crossroads of these two streets you can see the striking Hemp Trading Hall – La Lonja del Canamo.
Ayuntamiento de Castellón – Castellon City Hall
Plaza Mayor 1
The Castellon town Hall – the former Palacio Municipal – is a building of cultural interest. Gil Torralba, who was the city’s master builder, drew up the plans in 1687. However the first stone wasn’t laid until 1689, at which stage the direction of work fell to the Serrano family master builders. Although the building was occupied from the beginning of February 1716, work was continued over many decades to come. The prison quarters were extended between 1799 and 1806.
Since then various changes have happened at different stages. Alterations also had to continue after the Civil War 1936 to 1939. At the time of writing the most recent alterations were done during the 1950s and 1960s. The city hall has three floors, with a Tuscan style facade. The lower part has seven arches and Corinthian style columns. On the first floor there are balconies and on the second floor windows. Inside you can see a variety of frescoes, paintings and sculptures from the 19th and 20th centuries.
During fiesta time – Fiestas de la Magdalena – the Fiesta Queen stands on the balcony of the town hall and shouts out the traditional ending of the Festival.
La Lonja del Canamo – Hemp Trading Hall
In 1604 , once work on the El Fadrí had been completed, the town council bought a house which was located on the corner of the two streets Colon and Caballeros. The original intention was to pull it down, and make an open space where trading and commercial activities could be carried out. At that stage, however, there was a trend of building these exchanges (lonjas), so building instead was started for this purpose in 1606. This went on for longer than expected because of the economic repercussions of when the Moors were expelled in 1609.
Originally the building was in Renaissance style, and it had one main body, with two facades each opening out onto one of the streets. Today you can see big arches which rest on Etruscan style columns, and these actually date from those early stages of the building.
Sadly by 1792, however, the once proud building was in a ruinous state. The city sold it to Joan de Matheu, a French trader, who in return had to commit to maintaining the building. He was also granted the right to bring it up one storey. At that time the first floor was a late Baroque style family dwelling.
Later in 1906 it was once again brought by another private buyer, and at that time a mezzanine floor was built, and also the ground floor arches were closed. Well-known painter also did a new mural decoration at that stage. However even though in 1984 it was declared to be a historical artistic monument, it fell into further degradation in the late 20th century.
In 1999 however it was bought by the University. Their intention was to use it as an urban centre, ideal for exhibitions, conferences and holding courses. The superb rehabilitation project was carried out and once again this is a glorious, proud building.
(Check out the fine example of another exchange of this period in our Valencia travel guide)
La Farola – The Street Light
Plaza de la Independencia – Independence Square
In 1927 the Mayor of the time had a monument designed which immediately became one of the landmarks of Castellón. This was La Farola. Designed by José María Lopez Sáez, many locals named the square after it these days.
El Faro del Grao – The Lighthouse Of The Grao
When you look at the lighthouse in El Grao de Castellón, remember that its light could reach up to 13 miles. Standing higher than 15 metres above sea level, it was on the 12th July 1917 that this lighthouse was inaugurated. Its notable features are the octagonal shape, and its sculpted ashlar, which was finished off with a cornice. Cantilevers are in place to support the cornice, plus there are embellishments on the corners to accentuate the surface.
However in 1967 Castellón was allowed a larger reach for its light, which couldn’t be achieved by this lighthouse. So this original lighthouse underwent some restoration work and was then relocated, stone by stone, to the Muelle de Costa (Coast Dock). It is a pretty feature, standing inside a decorative moat.
The city also has some fine examples of modernist architecture, which you can find below in the Modernist Routes section.
La Playa de Gurugú – Gurugu Beach
Gurugu Beach is an ample, sandy stretch on the coastline, which flanks the motorway in between Castellón and Benicassim. It travels from the El Camino de la Plana crossroads to the Rio Seco’s (Dry River) mouth.
Over the years the summer season has become busier here, and in the height of the season, visitors make use of the beach facilities until the wee hours!
At the Gurugu Beach, you’ll find the maritime HQ of Circulo Mercantil e Industrial, where it’s possible to dine in a restaurant that has been constructed directly on the sand. Behind the coastline, there is a large piece of city land that is being used currently as an airfield and is home to Aeroclub Castellón.
Playa Serradal – Serradal Beach
The Serradal Beach extends from the mouth of the Río Seco (Dry River) to the border of the town of Benicassim. The promenade separates the seaside from the highway that goes in between El Grao and Benicassim, allowing for easy and safe access to the sand.
One of the most distinctive features of this beach is that there is an area devoted solely to the protection of the sand dunes, and where specific types of plants have been nurtured for the nesting of the Kentish Plover. The Dune Regeneration Plan kicked off back in 1990 and as a result there are now tiny mobile and semi long-term dunes. There are plainly marked paths that assist beach-goers in between the plants and dunes to the sea.
Playa del Pinar – Pinar Beach
The Pinar seaside starts at the northern limit of the Castellón’s Port and its very first section goes all the way to the crossroads at El Camino de la Plana. Ample roads and car parking areas make this stretch of the coast easy to access, and in fact the zone has actually gone through a lengthy procedure of re-organisation, to give top priority to those visiting the beach, rather than to the vehicles!
Now that this work has been completed the new coastal park – the Parque Litoral – is open to visitors and overall the area has been much improved. During the summer season, there’s plenty going on here.
Castell Vell – Old Castle
The remains of the Moorish castle can be seen on the Hill of la Magdalena, and the origins date back to the 10th or 11th centuries. It is believed to have been a tributary of El Cid, and was retaken by King James I in 1233. Its shape is staggered, to conform to the shape of the hill upon which is built.
Centres Of Interpretation
Planetario de Castellon – Castellon Planetarium
Paseo del Marítimo 1. Grao 12100
Located in the port area, just at the beginning of the promenade is the planetarium. This is one of the top sites within the Valencia community for the popularisation of science. Outside you can see a statue by Juan Ripollés.
Concatedral de Santa María – Saint Mary Co-Cathedral
Calle Arcipestre Balaguer 1
Originally planned in 1288, the co-Cathedral has had a rather chequered history. The first church, St Mary major, had a very short lifespan as it was totally ruined by a huge fire. The town council decided to build on the same site, and stone from the original building was used in the works.
In March 1549 the new church was eventually consecrated, and its architectural style was Gothic, as seen to rate the crown of Aragon, of that period. The single nave church, had five sections, and three facades. Over the centuries further enhancements were made to the building.
However a huge shock what’s to come – because on 17 November 1936 the church was actually demolished, because of a municipal agreement. It’s almost disappeared completely, but in 1940 after four years of abandonment and demolition, a new project was launched to rescue the building.
Tomás Traver, the architect in charge of the project, followed the lines of the original church, starting off with the main facade, which still stood even after everything.
By 1960 it had gained the rank of co-Cathedral. Since then plenty of rebuilding and improvements have taken place. Inside it has preserved a carving by Vergara and a painting by Ribalta, and some very valuable pieces of gold and silver.
El Fadrí Campanario – Fadri Belltower
Possibly the most symbolic building in the city, this stand-alone bell tower of the Santa Maria Cathedral, was constructed on and off between the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1437 the town council had decided it would be necessary to builders, because the population was increasing, so by 1440 some work had begun. By 1459 it had reached its first level, around 8 m from the ground, but unfortunately the master mason left Castellón, which meant that it was around 100 years before work was resumed.
In March 1591, Damián Méndez, a Portuguese architect, who was a resident in Valencia, along with two master masons, continued the work. Unfortunately there were more issues, this time legal problems with the execution of works, so it wasn’t until 1593 that work was once again resumed.
The six master masons – Francisco Galiança de la Lancha, Guillem del Rei, Pedro Crosali, Marc Volsanys, Antonio y Joan Saura – eventually brought the bell tower to completion, in 1604.
You can actually enter the tower from Monday to Friday at noon, assuming it isn’t a festive day. Ideally the local authorities recommend calling before visiting.
Phone: 964 227 556
Basílica de la Mare de Déu del Lledó – The Lledó Basilica
In 1724 the work began on the basilica, after an image of the virgin had been seen in the location where it is built. The work was completed in 1766, and on 3 March 1983 Pope John Paul II raised it to the category of minor basilica. Now today the Basicilica of Castellon is the reward you get at the end of a charming stroll. The current temple, which is Neoclassical in style, was opened in 1730. It has the status of a minor Basilica and legend has it that the image of the Virgin that you can still see there today, was found by a a farmer while he was raking the field. The Virgin, who is the Holy Mother Lledó, is the patron saint of the city and you can see her image is housed in the Basicilica. The Virgin’s image may not be impressive in terms of its size, as it is only 6 centimetres, however its wow factor comes from the simple thought that it has existed for many millennia, in fact it may even be of pagan origin.
During the spiritual oppression of 1936 the tiny image was amazingly conserved, however the reliquary picture was damaged. When the war came to an end, another reliquary image was made and the tiney image was placed inside, which is where you can see and worship it today. The Lledó Basilica has a wealth of beauty both inside and outside the church, and it is a haven that is enjoyed by numerous residents of Castellón, as well as visitors to the area.
Museu d’Etnologia de Castellon – Castellon Museum of Ethnology
Really close to the La Lonja del Canamo – Hemp Trading Hall you can find the Museum of Ethynology. This is an 18th-century stately home, which is now home to the Museum. What you see there today is thanks to numerous generous donations by farming societies and local people of the city. You can immerse yourself in their occupations, rituals, clothing, methods of cultivation and much more in the museum.
Museu de Belles Arts – Fine Arts Museum
Av. Hemanos Bou 28 – Phone: 964 727 500 Website: www.culturalcas.com
The Museum itself has existed for more than hundred and 50 years, however during this time it has gone from place to place in search of its definitive headquarters. It seems to have found a home since 2001, in the building the you can see it in today. This was custom-built and have actually won a variety of prizes in architectural competitions. So a visit to the city’s Fine Arts Museum can be both for the architectural side of things, as well is the artistic collections housed within it.
Church of Sant Miquel – St. Michael’s Church – Today the Bancaja Foundation Exhibition Centre
Calle Enmedio 17
Construction of the church started because of an economic boom during the second half of the 17th century. The site of the church, which was to honour the Archangel Michael, was granted in May 1679. However if you look up at the entrance door to the sacristy you’ll see that the date etched is 1725.
During the time of French domination, between 1812 to 1913, the church was turned into a stable and prison. However once again from 1913 until 1936 the church was used again for worship.
After the end of the Spanish Civil War, the church doors opened once again to worship. There was some refurbishment done, but by the 1970s it was closed again. It was even used as a warehouse at one stage.
However in 1987 it was bought by one of the banks, and since then has been well restored. These days it enjoys a privileged part in the life of the city, and functions as an exhibition space with some excellent art collections.
Parque Ribalta – Ribalta Park
In 1868 the long-awaited railway arrived, and the farming bourgeoisie of the periods decided to create an idyllic forest setting is a welcome for newly arrived visitors. The town council later extended the Park in 1876, and today it is a peaceful haven within walking distance from the city’s iconic central spots.
Islas Columbretes – Columbretes Islands
In 1988 the islands were declared to be a nature park, and in 1990 they were reclassified as a Marine reserve. Located around 56 KM from the city, they are a tiny group of islands which you can only visit one of them. Visiting is very strictly controlled due to the fragile ecosystem. Of volcanic origin, the islands have a unique ecosystems and are very interesting. Visits are arranged from the centre which is at the planetarium.
The two closest attractions to Castellón that are perfect for family days out with the kids are in Oropesa del Mar, at the Marina D’Or resort, which is around 25km away. These are:
Mundo Fantasia – Fantasy World
Marina d’Or Resort – Website: http://www.marinador.com/en/ocio-infantil/mundo-fantasia
This is a great kids’ theme park, with heaps of attractions, which has a medieval wall surrounding it, and has huge figures decorating it. Fun activities include speeding tree trunks, mini go-karts, jumping on trampolines and with harnesses, an inflatable play zone and a merry-go-round. There is also a 4D cinema and a pirate ship.
Aventura d’Or Parc Tematica – Gold Adventure Theme Park
Also at the Marina d’Or Resort, this is the perfect place for both young and older children! It opens during the high season of July and Augut, as well as during Easter Week. Forget the children, just joking… and get yourself onto the giant slide, the mixer or the spider. Or what about the free fall? There’s a quad circuit, a rock wall and much more.
Correos – Post Office
Plaza de la Independencia – Independence Square
The eye-catching Post Office was built in 1932, and is a good example of modernist building in the city. It also has some neo-Moorish ornamental finishes, and rounded corners and arches give it a particularly harmonious look.
Casa de las Cigüeñas – House of the Storks
Plaza de la Independencia – Independence Square
At number 7, there ‘s another fine example of modernist building. The name translates into House of Storks, and it’s full of interesting details, ceramic ornamentation and Mediterranean colours.
Casa Alcón – Alcon House
Opposite the Farola, is the Casa Alcón. This building also has plenty of modernist details, however in this instance there are some Gothic touches, as well is decoration from the Viennese school. The combination gives an eclectic interesting result.
The Old Casino
Plaza Puerta del Sol 1
Built by Francisco Maristany Casajuana, in 1922, this is a converted 18th century palace, which has a striking character, full of elegance and distinction. It has an interesting stepped profile, which reduces down to two floors.
Where to Sleep
Where to Eat
Coming soon ….
Mercado Municipal de Castellon – Castellon Central Market
One of my favourite pastimes is visiting the municipal markets of the towns of these areas. Many of them are interesting architecturally, and once you walk inside there’s a burst of colour, activity and a buzzing social life. The thriving central market of Castellon is a fine example of exactly this. It has been playing this central function and social role since the 21st December 1949.
Coming soon ….
Photo Credits – We wish to thank & credit the following for some of the photos on this page: