Tirig-The Hidden Cove Paintings of Valltorta Spain UNESCO

Tirig is a small village with around 550 inhabitants, located in the Castellon province, in Spain’s Comunidad Valenciana (Valencian Community). It’s a journey of a little under 40km from Castellon Airport, and it’s a must for those who love prehistoric art. If you wish to stay close by you will need to stay in the lovely town of Sant Mateu, which is 11km away – that’s it in the photo above. I’ll also suggest some beach locations later in this feature.

A Very Special Story

This feature is by a guest author, that I am delighted to introduce to you – Richard Oldale. His experience when he went to visit the Cove Paintings of Valltorta is a very special story. I can tell you that it is very much in keeping with the kind of things that can happen to travellers in the villages here, if they show the willingness to integrate and a genuine, heartfelt interest in the local culture.

Introducing Richard Oldale

Richard is a freelance writer who lives in Valencia, Spain. He is enthusiastic about travel and loves to experience different cultures. In July 2014, he published a book titled Journeys to Ancient Worlds: What Modern Man Can Learn From Ancient Civilisations which investigates the desecration and cover-up of ancient history in South America.


Before Richard tells his story, I just want to mention that if you are a cherry lover, there is a Cherry Festival in the nearby town of La Salzadella during the 1st weekend of June.

Things To Do

Archaeological Civilisations

The Hidden Cove Paintings of Valltorta Spain – By Richard Oldale

The prehistoric paintings in the mountain coves of Tirig in eastern Spain are relatively unknown. Although the Museo Valltorta is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient artwork is not advertised.The museum is a 30-minute walk from the small village of Tirig. It was almost seven o’clock, Friday evening by the time I arrived looking for a place to stay. There was nowhere.

I asked a small gang of old women, sat chatting on a bench, if there was a hostel in the village. They were wrapped in floral dresses, woollen cardigans and crumpled stockings.

The youngest, Trinny, in her early sixties replied: “No. Only in San Mateu.”

“Where is that?”

“About 45 minutes back that way,” Trinny told me, pointing towards the direction I had come on the bus. The last – and only – bus for the day had been and gone.

“Uno momento” Trinny said taking out her mobile and dialling a friend. “Yes, my friend will take you,” she told me. “At the moment he is working. Have a beer and some food at the bar in the square and I will meet you there.”
Tirig Castellon Aerial View
Vista aerea Tirig» por LleoTrabajo propio. Disponible bajo la licencia GFDL vía Wikimedia Commons.)

The curious case of the astrological clock

As promised, Trinny met me in the bar. I bought her a beer and we sat outside on the tables. She asked what I was doing in Tirig. When I told her I am researching ancient civilisations she was instantly interested to know more.

“I find this very curious” Trinny said, pointing at the clock on the church tower. “Why the signs of the zodiac?”

The answer is quite simple. I explained the Catholic Church has continued the ancient pagan traditions of sun worship and place great importance on the cycle of the planets. Religion is partly based on astrology.

The clock in the centre represents the sun and the signs of the zodiac are the astrological houses of the cosmos. We find the same symbolism in the stories of Jesus followed by 12 disciples. The same pattern appears in the stories and myths of other cultures as well.

It wasn’t long before Trinny’s friend, Sandi arrived. He is a painter and decorator doing a job in Tirig, but lives in San Mateu. He rushed back along the windy road so he would be in time to watch his son play football.

Sandi dropped me off outside a hostel. The next morning, Trinny showed up with another friend, Rodrigo to drive me to Museo Valltorta. Without her help, finding accommodation and getting to the mountain valley would have been much more difficult – although there is a tourist information office in Sant Mateu.

Museo Valltorta, Tirig

Entrance to the museum exhibitions and guided tours to the coves are free. The guide, Luis, a cheerful character dressed in khaki shorts and safari shirt bounded over to me.

“You want to see all three caves, is that right?”


“We had better go now then, it’s a long day!”

Tirig Landscape. Photo credit Richard Oldale

Photo by Richard Oldale

I climbed into the front seat of Luis’ white van and within five minutes we pulled into a gritty mountain path and parked up.

“It’s difficult to get here,” I commented to Luis. “Do you get many visitors?”

“Around 12,000 people a year, but the museum is not advertised. Spain is a very religious country and the prehistoric paintings do not agree with the Bible’s version of history.”

The scenery is quite spectacular. Surrounding hills are topped with patch-green fields where olive trees grow and the grey rock face has been eroded by wind to reveal gashes of orange sediment. It is on this soft surface that early Homo Sapiens crafted their rock art.

The first paintings I saw were at the bottom of a narrow, uneven path that winds down the mountain. The image is so small I would not have noticed it if I were alone. I had to lean in to get a better look, but can make out the outstretched legs of a hunter in full stride.

“Animals are a frequent theme,” Luis tells me. “So are humans.”

The most important paintings in Tirig is the hunting scene at Cova Cavalls which describes the hunting strategy used here some 7000 years ago. The picture-story shows how prehistoric man sourced their food by chasing animals into the valley below where hunters with bow and arrows lay in wait.

To paint the murals, the ancients used iron from the rocks and mixed it with animal fat.

“They used colours to represent things. Red means danger. Yellow is the sun. Black paint meant death,” Luis explained.

Running Man. Photo credit Richard Oldale

Running Man – Photo by Richard Oldale

Tapas in Tirig

Upon my return to Tirig, I found Trinny sitting in the same place I had met her the previous evening. She invited me to join her and her friends at a bar where they were holding a mushroom festival that night.

I accepted the invitation and was treated to an enthralling night of great conversation, good music, an array of mushroom tapas and delicious wine. Later that evening, Juan, yet another friend of Trinny’s drives me back to Sant Mateu. He refused my offer of money so when I get out of the car I dropped 20 Euro on the passenger seat.

“Buy everyone a drink,” I say.

He put his palms together. “Muchos gracias.” A tear welled in the corner of his eye.

Getting to San Mateu

From Valencia City, you should take the train from Estacion Nord to Benicarlo. The bus leaves at 5.30 pm from the Commercial Centro, a 10 minute walk from the train station. There is only one bus service a day to Tirig from Benicarlo, and none at weekends.

To get to the cove paintings in Tirig, you will either need to hire a car or make arrangements through the tourist information office in San Mateu. Office opening hours are 10am to 2pm and 4pm to 6pm Tuesday to Saturday and from 10am to 2pm on Sundays.

Thanks for a great story to Richard Oldale

Day Trips

Traiguera – 26km from Tirig, 16km from Sant Mateu

Staying inland, but travelling on the N232, which you could stay on to go to the seaside town of Vinaros , you can go to visit Traiguera. It’s a nice authentic, historic small town with a number of stone buildings. The Tourist Information is based a couple of miles outside the town in the lovely Font de la Salud – see photos and information here.

Peñiscola – 43km from Tirig, 38km from Sant Mateu

Officially one of Spain’s prettiest towns, Peñiscola’s old quarter is magical. It really shouldn’t be missed, if at all possible. Check it out in the Peñiscola Travel Guide.

Vinaros – 45km from Tirig, 35km from Sant Mateu

Vinaros does get pretty busy in the summer main months of July and August, but even though it’s a seaside town, it is a proper working, authentic town all year round. It’s capital of the region of the Baix Maestrat. Check out our photos and write up in the Vinaros Travel Guide.

Castellon de la Plana – 62km from Tirig, 65km from Sant Mateu

The fine city of Castellon de la Plana, is the capital of the province of Castellon. It its old quarter you can see some fine architecture and it also has a nice marina area. See photos and information here

Valencia – 130km from Tirig, 133km from Sant Mateu –  via the CV10

If you like lovely cities, it would be a real shame not to take the time to go into the wonderful city of Valencia. If you are driving the shortest route is actually by the CV10 – taking the motorway adds another 50km or so, but of course you can drive faster! I like the CV10 personally, as I like to drive in a relaxed way and take in the scenery. The train service is pretty good, that connected the cities of Valencia up to Barcelona, and the various stops in between. Read more in the Valencia Travel Guide.


Other Travel Ideas


Parc Guell Barcelona



Sa Tuna Begur Costa Brava



Cadaques Costa Brava Fishing Boats and View At Night



Lloret de Mar boat at beach



Cambrils Catalonia beaches



Pals Girona Catalonia Picturesque medieval village



Chert Spain arch in old quarter-1



Mantis Shrimp Gastronomic Festival Alcanar Catalonia



Vinaros Spain Cala Puntal



Figueres Dali Theatre Museum Catalonia ed2



Wine routes Catalonia Penedes-1



Beach at Delta de l'Ebre Natural Park


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