The Mediterranean tour Day 2: Xerta- Castelló/ Castellón de la Plana 147km

Day 2 of 6 on this cycling tour was going to be the biggest challenge I had faced so far, almost doubling the distance from day 1. However I was super excited about reaching the coast and enjoying the seaside towns all along it, which was the main point of the whole trip. Setting off from Xerta at around 9 gave me about 12 hours of daylight to get there as well as the opportunity to enjoy any stops along the way. The wind compared to yesterday had notably died down, and was a comfortable 23 degrees and partly cloudy for most of the day, almost perfect conditions.

A light breakfast in Xerta and I set off along the C-12 straight towards Tortosa, the biggest Catalan town on the Ebro, 13km away. Aldover is a small village on the way, but very little to write about, so I bypassed it and stuck to the main road, which is almost completely flat and straightforward until you reach the town. The only downside is that there is quite a lot of traffic the nearer you get to Tortosa, but I have gone through way worse. At this point, the older part of the town is actually on the other side of the river, so you will have to cross it to enjoy the best sights.

Tortosa was often given a mediocre review by most of my friends, stating that it isn’t really worth visiting, but I wouldn’t agree with that. The city itself has a lot of history and has plenty of attractions for anyone stopping by. The biggest selling point for me was walking along the river to the cathedral and the castell de la Suda. The hills on the east bank of the Ebro also have various turrets and fortifications which now offer unique vantage points of the city and the now very wide Ebro valley. The first worthy stop for the day for sure.

Reconnecting to the C-12 out of town, gave me 3 options, continue to the delta, cut through to Vinaroz, or along the edge of Els ports away from the sea. I chose to cut through to Vinaroz where I connected to the T-331, a notably quieter road and and agricultural area of Catalonia. From this road you approach the mountains in the form of the Sierra de Montsia which is one of the most prominent peaks on the coast. Els ports is being left behind as you pass Santa Barbara and push up to a small pass just over 100m high at the Creu del Termini del Coll and enter the valley with the Sierra de Godall to your right and Ulldecona, the last town of Catalonia, straight ahead.

If you have time (which I didn’t for this trip) the Ermita de las Pietat on the Sierra de Godall would be a worthy detour of the bike, as the tarmac road takes you directly to the top, and boast views of the valley and if you were to climb to the top, the sea as well. Passing Ulldecona means connecting to the T-332 and over the dry river Cenia which means officially you have left Catalonia, and are in the Castelló province of the Comunidad Valenciana! Vinaroz was now just 7km away and I was finally going to unite with the sea for the first time on this trip and take a rest in this town. 45km separates Tortosa from Vinaroz, and the last stretch is a gentle downhill slope along the N-238, and before I knew it, I was following the signs to the nearest and main beach, the Platja del fortí.

After more than days ride, I was finally united with the sea where I would be alongside on and off for the next 4 days. Vinaroz is the first of 3 towns on the first bay the Costa Azahar, alongside Benicarló and Peñíscola, and the heart of the city of 20000+ people had a lot of activity and lovely ambience dominated by the Plaça de sant Augustí and Plaça de Sant Andoni, just a stones throw away from the promenade. It had a vibe similar to that of the port of Cambrils 100km further north, only with less of a gastronomic scene. I Enjoyed the short break I gave myself and set off again to Benicarló along the sea front.

The coastal road was exciting and had views of the village of Peñíscola jutting out in the distance, but the road became a little complicated and forced me back onto the N-340 just 3km from the next town, though I later discovered a series of residential streets did connect to the same area, but wasn’t worth it. A busy road, I wanted to be on it as little as possible and the first opportunity to get off it was immediately taken. You follow through a principal, and fairly run down street to reach the centre of Benicarló, just 8km or so from Vinaroz, where I was presented with one of the more impressive churches of the whole trip, on the Plaça de Bartomeu. Other than that, Benicarló is definitely the newer of the 3 towns on the bay, a highly commercial orientated city centre, certainly not so much to see. But it does connect with the start of a long and beautiful beachside road that’s not blemished by buildings in the way.

8km of this coastline road takes you up to Peñíscola, a Pueblo Más Bonito de España where if I had more time, I would’ve spent more time enjoying the while narrow streets and impressive views from the top of the rock. If it’s good enough for Game of Thrones it’s definitely good enough to go back. And I did just that several times. The idyllic scenery and mountainous backdrop from the the fortifications followed by narrow medieval streets make Peñíscola the most beautiful town on the Costa Azahar. Flanked by two beaches and a small marina, I decided to take a short break on the smaller Platja de Migjorn and followed what I believed to be the coastal road out of town.

Wrong. Calle Irta takes you to the Parque Natural Sierra de Irta, which is not recommended for roadbikes, even the coastal trail, which I also accidentally missed. Road cyclists would have to divert back to the N-340 to Santa Magdalena de Pulpis and then Alcalá de Xivert, before connecting back on the coast at Alcossebre. 21km of Natural park ended up being a very rewarding experience, enjoying the mountains and practically untouched coastline, but was slow going at times and I just followed the trails that I hoped didn’t kill the bike. The Camí de Ribamar thankfully got more bike friendly the closer I got, and after about an hour and a half of this off-road detour, the practically empty town of Alcossebre was finally reached.

Despite it being Easter when I did this, I was surprised to see few people around what seemed like an extended residential area, with resorts yet to fully open, and many places shut down, but I didn’t care much for that, as the Coastal road from the Passeig Maritim all the way to the Platja de Serradal 6km of some of the best coastal roads of the day. unfortunately On the outskirts of Torrenostra, the road will not connect directly to the beach again until Oropesa de Mar, 42km to go until Castellón by this point.

If I thought Alcossebre was practically empty, Torrenostra was completely empty, And I didn’t even want to stop by the many half finished apartments and timeshares that just blotted the landscape and waste my time there. The beach front may be nice, but the place spells resort to me, and Torreblanca a few kilometres up the road was a more viable place to rest. Finally, locals, more history! The main street brushes the Plaza Mayor with the Iglesia de San Bartolome dominating the scene, and narrow pedestrianised streets, so much better than what I had encountered 15 mins previously. The road takes you a few kilometres away from the coastline overlooking it and onto the N-340 once again.

Long, extensive grasslands occupied the left of me while heading south to Oropesa de Mar, leaving the Cuartell de Vell beach practically untouched. Unfortunately, for any cyclist, you’re more than kilometer inland, following a straight road. By this point I was starting to flag a little bit, taking more breaks and feeling the burn, and I was a little demoralized by the small hill I had to climb after passing Oropesa. I would never normally be phased by this, but I was getting to the point where I just wanted to get to Castellón while it was still light outside. It may had been that the coastal road that headed to Benicassim would be the better option in hindsight for the views, but my legs weren’t having it, and I pushed on the N-340 to the top of the climb which was only 100m or so. 7km to Benicassim.

If you do have the time to visit Oropesa, I would recommend it, as I did return in less tiring circumstances, as the Torre de Rey dominates the coastline in the town. The N-340 just 3km from Benicassim opens up and you can see Castellón for the first time in the distance which would give anyone motivation to keep pressing forward. Nevertheless I took a break in the town famous for its music festival celebrated in the summer, the Rototom Sunsplash. I would say this town had a lot more life in it than some of the more resort-looking towns on the Costa Azahar so far, but not much to see really other than enjoy the seaside, which I could not. Last town of the day.

14km or so separated me from Castellón and thankfully the road took me down from the hill and had no nasty surprises, just more cars. The N-340a takes you into the centre of town where I turned off to pass the Estadio Nou Castalia, Home of Castelló football club and headed straight towards the Mercado Central near my bed for the night. By this point, It had got almost completely dark, and I decided to check out a bar for some well- deserved dinner somewhere near the Plaza Tetuan, a popular area to eat from what I was told, and explored the commercial centre of town.

Day 2 was done, the longest and most challenging day of the trip so far. Being united with the coast and being to stop at some of the best seaside towns the Costa de Azahar had to offer was worth the pain I was feeling that night. What’s more I was in the provincial capital, giving me a chance to explore this relatively unknown city. Whether there was anything worth seeing or not, it did not matter, and tomorrow Valencia was to be my next destination.

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