Clinging to the mountains of Els Ports, in the north of the Spanish province of Castellon, lies the Valencian town of Morella. Its white and terracotta houses, its churches with blue domes and its imposing Moorish castles and fortress walls make this small but hospitable town one of the most remarkable in the region. Add to that a growing foodie scene, eco-friendly farm stays and plenty of outdoor adventure opportunities, and Morella just might be the next weekend destination everyone’s talking about.
Architecture, history and views
In Morella, it’s all about slowing down: spend the morning walking through its medieval alleys, past clusters of terracotta roofs, whitewashed walls and narrow stone alleys scented with orange and honey. In the center of town, stop at Basilica of Santa Maria la Major, a blue-domed Gothic church with intricately carved doors and a magnificent marble staircase.
Inside you’ll find a 3,000-pipe organ dating from 1719, as well as a museum featuring the city’s most treasured religious art. Nearby is the Convent of Sant Francesc, a 13th century convent that once housed Franciscan monks. From here you will find the steep road to Morella Castle, the town’s imposing Moorish castle which has been continuously inhabited since the 3rd millennium BC. If you succeed, you will be rewarded with stunning views over Morella and the surrounding valleys and hills.
Hand-woven cheese, truffles and blankets
Follow your nose to the city center until you reach Blasco de Alagón, the main thoroughfare of Morella, where artisans and traders sell the region’s truffles, honey and hand-woven rugs. This is where you will find delicatessens like La Casa de la Miel y del Queso sale of local goat cheeses, cold cuts and up to 14 varieties of honey.
Take a walk long enough and you’ll notice that Morella really has a sweet tooth: stop by one of the many bakeries to try flaó (a heavenly pastry filled with cheese and almonds), panoli (a pancake-like snack filled with caramelized pumpkin) and donuts drizzled with honey and custard. Then, learn the art of Morella carpet weaving and stock up on handcrafted souvenirs in a family workshop, Mantas Morellanas García.
Slow roasted lamb and chorizo stews
You’ve whetted your appetite, so it’s lunchtime at the Morella Institution, Casa Roque. Opt for ternasco asado, Morella’s signature dish of local lamb slowly roasted with white wine, bay leaves and garlic. If you can have another dish before dinner, the potaje morellano (stew of chorizo, beans and pork ears) and mushrooms with truffles are highly recommended. A glass of Castellón Tempranillo goes perfectly with the three dishes.
Escape to the countryside
Wake up surrounded by mountains and pastures dotted with cows in a 15th century farmhouse, Font d’en Torres. The 125-hectare adults-only property is just 4 miles from Morella, but its expansive grounds and surrounding mountains make it a secluded country retreat. Enjoy the mountain views of Els Ports from a hot tub or slip on your hiking boots and explore the forested mountains on foot, past towering pines and oaks, crystal-clear waterfalls and flowery meadows.
The hotel also organizes guided truffle hunting trips, where you will learn all there is to know about Morella’s long and successful relationship with sustainable truffle production. For adventures off the land, Morella the Old, a 20-minute drive from the hotel, houses prehistoric cave paintings that are believed to be over 7,000 years old. Capacity is limited, so be sure to book in advance at the Morella Tourist Information Center.
From wild mushrooms and truffles to organic beef and lamb, Morella is stocked with some of the best produce in Spain. So it’s no surprise that talented chefs from all over the country flock to this small Valencian town to bring their own twist to local dishes. In Michelin Guide restaurants such as Mesón del Pastor, for example, you can expect creative dishes such as salted deer carpaccio with goat cheese ice cream and ginger oil, while Vinatea and Dalouan are equally daring with local ingredients: think of the steak tartare served with a cream of fried eggs and a fillet of duck with peaches soaked in wine. For a nightcap in the open air, end your evening with a glass of local wine or a carajillo, a coffee infused with lemon and cinnamon with brandy or whiskey, to Bar la Nevera.
Whether you are looking for a farm-to-table meal, a crowd-free hike or 7,000 years of history, Morella offers the perfect Spanish weekend. Our advice? Get here before everyone else.