Valencia province covers the southeast coast of Spain and contains many major tourist attractions like Peniscola, Benidorm, Alicante and Denia. We actually didn't manage to go to any of these. Instead we spent time in the towns of Sagunto and Elche which we group together here because they're both in Valencia province. This incidentally is the beach in the town of Vinaros, about an hour or so north of Valencia (city). Just about any road along the coast of Valencia is likely to be scenic and bound to pass some nice beaches.
We spent our second morning and afternoon in Spain in the town of Sagunto which is a short 15 miles (25 km) north of Valencia. It was not part of our original plan but when we passed it on the way into Valencia the previous day we were so impressed with the series of castles sprawled across the hillside above it that we decided to go back and visit it. On a linguistic note, Sagunto is the Spanish name for the town, Sagunt is the Valenciano name. We've chosen to use Sagunto because that's what the maps we got at the tourist office in town use. This picture shows nearly the entire town, the cathedral in the center and the hills just to the west of Sagunto.
So here are some random bits of castle stretching off into the distance. The
Roman forum occupied approximately the spot where David is standing, the other visible walls were built somewhere between Rome and Carthage in the 3rd century BC and the 19th century AD during the Spanish succession wars.
More castle pieces. There are castle pieces everywhere on top of this hill.
In 219 BC Carthage destroyed what existed of Sagunto and started the Second Punic War with Rome. Between 400 and 600 AD, Sagunto was invaded to varying degrees of success by Alans, Vandals, Visigoths, and Byzantines. In the 8th century the Arabs took over until Jaime I took it back for the Christian side in the 13th century. A few more wars between Aragon and Valencia and then some modern Spanish wars and this is what is left. Actually, it is amazing anything is left considering that sort of history.
As for visiting the castle today, you can walk for a very long ways across very hot dusty terrain. The signage is fairly minimal but several of the battlements (like this one) can be accessed. Beware the prickly pear cacti which infest the entire area, particularly anything described as a former weapons practice area (which means large open area with no apparent archeological significance).
Did we mention how hot it was? Well, it was quite hot so we were pretty tired near the end of the tour (this picture). Luckily, it's Valencia so the Mediterranean is never far away. That's it in the background along with a couple nearby beach resort towns. The irrigated area visible in this picture and the one looking over the town of Sagunto is not common in Spain. Most of the country is sufficient for olive and citrus groves but in the south and east, the Valencian plain is the only large area of total irrigation.
The town of Sagunto is worth wandering around in as well. The area just below the castle is a warren of alleyways including an old Jewish section. We ate our first lunch in Spain here (the previous day's lunch was cancelled due to an excess of airplane food) and thus we had our first pitcher of sangria here. We would go on to have sangria just about every day at lunch which is in fact quite normal. We'd estimate at least half of the tables in any restaurant at lunch time sport a pitcher of sangria. The beverage itself varies as to the fruit that is put in the wine, but apples, oranges and lemons were most common.
Our third day in Valencia consisted of La Tomatina (see separate page) and then the long drive south to Andalusia. The town we chose to spend time in on the way is was the quiet unassuming city of Elche (or Elx in Valenciano). Elche is mostly known as the site of 300,000 palm trees which were originally planted by the Moors who lived in the area until the 14th or 15th century. This picture is in fact taken from downtown Elche.
The city itself has nearly a quarter million residents but we found it to be a tad on the listless side. The public palm groves run through the center of town. Private groves surround it on all sides, many of which are open for visits. Why would you want to visit a palm grove? Well they're basically highly landscaped shady oases and while they really aren't all that exciting, it's a great respite from the otherwise hot dry landscape of southern Spain.
Palms predominate in all shapes and sizes but other desert plants have made their way here as well (with help from the Moors, and then ultimately the residents of Elche). We're not sure how long cacti like these take to get this large but they've certainly been here a while.
The public groves of Elche are so large that there are tram tours of them. There are a couple parking areas spread through them, bus service to the main entrances and a nearly infinite number of trickling fountains like this one. The hard to find tourist office is located in a strange conical building in the middle of these groves.
Once we tired of wandering through the palm groves we headed west to Granada. This involves traveling through the small province of Murcia which both of our guidebooks more or less ignored entirely. Admittedly, we never stopped in Murcia, but we felt it was no less scenic than its bigger neighbors (Valencia, Andalusia and Aragon). The capital city (also called Murcia) sprawls impressively across a valley and we would've taken a picture of it but we probably would've been killed in traffic because all the good vantage points were on the elevated highways.