Traveling through the lands of Aragon and Valencia, we come across towers and detached battlements of houses that fill the slopes. Mile after kilometer, these visions prove to be as anachronistic as they are fascinating.
Marking the zero kilometer of a trip to an old train station has to be told. The privilege went to La Parada del Compte, near Torre del Compte which, in 1973, after almost two centuries of receiving the train from La Val de Zafán, was decorated with a sign “Station closed a la Circulation” and doomed to abandonment.
As in Portugal, in Spain, these railway injustices had long since passed into history, but as they strolled through the Matarraña region, José Maria Naranjo and Pilar Vilés stopped in the area, marveled at the surrounding landscape and seized the opportunity. José Maria was himself part of a fourth generation of railway workers. Upon learning of the liquidation carried out by RENFE and with some support from the Government of Aragon, he set out at full speed for the project of transforming the ruin in a short time into a station of the senses.
The natural framing helped. The new Parada del Compte hotel is surrounded by Mediterranean flora and fauna, refreshed by the Ribeira del Matarraña that maintains the green fields and quenches the thirst of the flocks that usually visit them. The more distant views are also not far behind. To the southeast, vast olive groves and pine forests. To the south, the village of Torre del Compte and the Ports de Beceit-Tortosa, a rugged mountain range.
Despite the physical and spiritual comfort provided by the Parada del Compte, it was time to get back on the road. The trip we had embarked on was another one, made in time. Around us, the region of Matarraña awaited us, a medieval stronghold irrigated by the homonymous river and its tributaries in lands of olive and almond trees that insisted on resisting the invasion of the great Spanish public.
The car's engine doesn't even heat up when the first stop is justified. We have Torre del Compte ahead of us and, even without a maiden to save, it seems impossible to escape the appeal.
The village appears, as if in balance, on top of a 500 meter high slope. It conserves a good part of its walled enclosure and one of the six primitive access doors. One of these doors, San Roque, leads to the street with the same name, one of the most beautiful in the village, bordered by whitewashed manor houses and upper floors with arched galleries.
We walked through it from beginning to end, passing a fruit and vegetable vendor, the façade of the church and other less imposing ones. After risking a detour or another, we found the viewpoint we were looking for, over the valley of the Matarraña river. We appreciate the landscape when a place asks us: “Is there a drought there too?”.
in these people, the news jumps from balcony to balcony and the information that we were Portuguese given, half an hour ago, in a short conversation at the entrance to the village, almost overtook us on the way to the other end. "It's more or less like here." we reciprocate. For now, nothing special. When we get closer to summer it will be seen.” The answer seemed to leave the interlocutor intrigued.
We return to the asphalt with the plan to visit the capital of the region, Valderrobres, not before making a strategic stopover in La Fresneda. The stretch there is short but it confirms that, on these sides, countryside and villages still have their own spaces. We go wherever we go, curve after curve, endless orchards and more olive groves and almond groves. Apart, like someone who has nothing to do with the bucolic setting and just continues to scan the horizon in search of infidel armies, there are the forts, the towers of the churches and their houses.
La Fresneda resulted from the coexistence of the military orders del Temple and Calatrava and the nun de los Mínimos, in a territory where, despite the presence of the Holy Inquisition, Muslims and Jews also ended up fitting.
Side by side with all its beauty, grandeur and historical authenticity, from that past of fragile separation between light and darkness, there is still a mystical atmosphere. It is sheltered in the various churches and in the hermitage of Santa Bárbara (isolated in a desert and protected by centenary cypresses) and reaches its peak in the Consistorial House, whose lower levels hide the most terrifying prison in the region. It is a classification that is only disdained until it is known that its dungeons are formed by several levels interconnected by a trapdoor, through which the executioners threw the prisoners, from a great height, to the deepest part. Here, the famous “I wasn't expecting the Spanish Inquisition” from the Monty Python troupe, would make even less sense.
We return to the light and the road. Shortly thereafter, we glimpse the soaring contours of the inevitable local castle and church. In addition to the capital, Valderrobres is the heart of the region. The city is divided into two by the same Matarraña who has been accompanying us. On one bank is the monumental old town, on the other, the modern annex. Joining them is an elegant stone bridge that leads to the fortress's gate, where a double function is easily detected.
Above the arch, in its stone niche, is a St. Roque pilgrim who, with his left knee uncovered (a sign of Gnostic knowledge), has been welcoming those who come for centuries for centuries. A few meters above, there is a dog choke, strategically placed for the company to demotivate enemy armies, whether faithful or infidel. Everything indicates that, in these times of peace and tourism, it is the saint who has the most work. After passing the door, you discover the Plaza Mayor and, in it, esplanades full of visitors and people from Valderrobres in the middle of a feast.
Next door is the Fonda de la Plaza, a typical inn-restaurant where Trini Gil and Sebastian Gea continue to honor the centuries-old tradition of the fonda (a kind of medieval inn) and the title of oldest building in Valderrobres. As any native would be ready to confirm, they fulfill their purpose perfectly. “Every day, we serve endless trays of the best delicacies in the county!” The menu makes it very clear which they are talking about: pickled cone, rellena back or roasted tenderloin that, if the customer agrees, they leave accompanied by the best wines in the region and are followed by divine desserts: Almendrats, casquets or melocoton al vino.
To take the price of this genuine restaurant to the extreme, it should be clarified that, in Matarraña, fondas are almost an institution. Over time, they always occupied places at the base of villages, where they spared travelers the steep climbs and ensured warmth, good food and company.
We leave the Plaza Mayor behind and head into the alleys of Valderrobres that alternate with stairs on our way to the top of the slope. A few more steps and the summit appears, crushed by the dominant presence of the castle-palace and the Gothic church of Santa Maria. We arrived just in time for an unguided tour, enriched by an unceremonious sunset. With the end of the day, the palace closes.
At night, we pass Fuentespalda towards Monroyo. Nine kilometers later, we cut to Rafales. As we expected, Ráfales turns out to be another pueblo on top of a hill, with an immaculate old town, in which the Plaza Mayor, churches and a Consistorial House with more dungeons stand out.
Everything that is too much makes you sick and, as such, the next morning, we decided to explore a little of the countryside surroundings. We cross the village with the aim to peek the limit of El Straits, an impressive mass of rock, the kind that only climbers know how to appreciate. Where are we from, see each other the cliffs, but the distance deprives them of grandeur. We changed plans. we decided to leave Matarraña and let's go direct for there Morella, province of CastellonHis Inuous, this path goes through dense pine forests and, ahead, it has to overcome the slopes of the El maestrazgo, in an area that the altitude becomes cold and inhospitable.
After a long climb, 25 km after Monroyo, he finally comes across what, in the desert, could be a mirage. More than 1000 meters above sea level, as if crowning a hill, there is a rough castle with several levels of walls that adapt to the shapes of a rocky base.
We are obliged to recognize that, in this way, the description had not departed far enough from what we had come to find, and whose repetition made us hasten Rafale's visit. However, due to the epic sumptuousness of the framing, Morella managed to activate, once again, the medieval imagination.
Jon foot, à As we approached the walls, we couldn't resist catching a glimpse of Moorish armies on the innumerable newly arrived bus tours. We quickened our pace to see if we could still appreciate the city before the invasion.
The differences stand out. Perhaps due to the longer Muslim domination (until 1232), the houses are white and, because the slope gently spreads, the streets and squares are somewhat wider and airier. You can also feel the tourism finger. Contrary to what was happening in Matarraña, stores of souvenirs shop not lacking. We peek at the postcards. There is one in particular that catches our attention: Morella nevada. It looks doubly fascinating. We started to magic a winter return. “The zone is high and freezing for most of the year. Catching it with snow shouldn't be complicated.” It's another project to return to the list. This one should go in there for fiftieth place. Even so, you never know.
Back to reality, we find that it's time for a change of air again. The last night was scheduled for the coast. From Morella to there we drive 65 km which we only stop once or twice to photograph from the side of the road. We head towards Vinaròs whose center we avoid and continue towards Alcanar. At km 1059 of such a rue N-340, we come across the small sign of Finca Tancat de Codorniu. The detour leads to a sea of orange groves that obscure the view of the Mediterranean and everything else, but the narrow road there leaves us in the right place. We ended up entering an old summer mansion owned by Alfonso XII, a Borbón that, in the XNUMXth century, acquired the nickname of Pacificador.
Medieval Spain had left us to its knees. We followed the king's motto and dedicated ourselves to peace and rest.