When I headed inland to the hilltop town and castle of Morella, I never thought I’d be swimming in mountain rivers or bouncing over a “Lost World” plateau where vultures soared overhead.
But first I had to navigate my way around Valencia’s busy roads where a lost rear bumper in the fast lane was about to cause a serious pile up on the motorway. Realising that he couldn’t retrieve it and the possible destruction it could cause, the driver responsible was fleeing the scene, in true Spanish style. Safely on a quieter road, climbing to Teruel, I could now enjoy the beautiful landscape, dotted with small picturesque villages. Then a deserted minor road threaded its way up a narrow gorge to the spa town of Montanejos.
As I entered the town, there should have been a big sign saying “Closed for the Winter”, not that it needed to be advertised as the sealed shutters and empty streets told me that much. I parked up and followed signs for “banos” which took me down to the wide, shallow river which runs below the town. Testing the water, I discovered that it was barely tepid. Besides, I wasn’t sure how I could swim in only 2 inches of water. I was feeling rather disappointed as I drove out of town, but then I saw the large parking area beside the road and the footpath leading down to the true hot springs.
Luckily for me, two English guys had already tested the water and declared it “warm”. Unfortunately, the high side walls, carved by the river over millions of years, prevented the sun from penetrating the bathing area, keeping the outside temperature a chilly 5 degrees. But I couldn’t pass up the challenge and boldly stepped in. First discovered by the Moors, who built baths here in the 13th century, the waters are supposedly a balmy 25 degrees. I beg to differ, discovering some warm patches but also some equally cold ones.
The road to Morella continued, in spectacular fashion, up the gorge, through narrow tunnels and overlooking the river far below. Then, as the sides opened up, I found myself at a dam which had created a large reservoir. When it was decided to dam the river in 1977 the village of Campos de Arenos was submerged below the water, and the villagers were forced to relocate.
The last part of my journey took me across a lost world plateau, up to 1659m above sea level. It was a barren, craggy place, except for a few farms breeding hardy, long-haired cattle. Stopping at a viewpoint which looked out towards a sheer cliff face, I stopped at a low, dry-stone wall and stumbled across a pile of bleached-white bones and an emaciated, dead horse. This was a feeding zone for a colony of griffon vultures, reintroduced to the area. As they soared quite close above me, I felt like prey and hastily retreated to the safety of my motorhome.
The following day, a pair of griffon vultures circled above Morella Castle as I visited the hilltop fortress. Despite its dilapidated state, it has a commanding view from the top of the 1062m high mountain. Some of the buildings are built into the limestone rock, utilising existing deep caves from Neolithic times. The town wraps itself around the foot of the mountain, entered via grand, arched gates, leading to a long, arcaded, main street with bars, restaurants and local food shops selling a multitude of different cheeses, cured meats, honey and truffle infused products. The other typical product is woven blankets of soft sheep’s wool. Traditionally red and black, they now come in many colours to suit modern tourist tastes and are used to make ponchos, tops, bags and scarves.
I take lunch at Pizzeria Restaurant Lola which not only serves pizza and calzone, but also has an extensive menu del dia of local dishes. I dine on chickpea soup, roasted lamb and a local desert of sweetened sheep’s milk curds. Later, at a local patisserie, I buy another local delicacy, flaon, a kind of sweet Cornish pasty.
Morella is a fabulous place to visit, but the highlight was the route I took to get there. I wonder what the next road will bring.
Motorhome tip: The tunnels north of Montanejos are quite low and narrow and may not be suitable for larger, longer motorhomes. No height or width measurements are given prior to entering the tunnels. The road across the plateau between Mosqueruela and Iglesuela del Cid is narrow and in very poor condition, though it seems that it is partially being widened and repaired, so may be improved in the near future.