Somewhere I came across a newspaper piece about Los pueblos más bonitos de España, the prettiest villages in Spain. The organisation that promotes this list seems to be a not for profit organisation. Whatever its origins or purpose it gave us a simple holiday plan.
We have friends who run a casa rural, a country house for rent, which goes under the name of Vientos de Gudar in the village of Fuentes de Rubielos in Teruel. With a visit to our friends, and their house, as our ultimate destination we decided to do a mid distance tour from Culebrón up through the villages listed in the provinces of Castellón and Teruel with our end point being Fuentes.
The first stop on the list was Vilafamés then on to Peñíscola, Calaceite, Valdearobres, Morella, Cantavieja, Puertomingalvo and Rubielos de Mora. We also stopped off in La Fresneda and Beceite which didn't feature on the list but were recommended by locals.
The villages varied. Peñíscola for instance is a busy seaside resort with the old town built around the castle. Anyone who has seen, and remembers, the film El Cid with Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren knows the outline of Peñíscola old town. Morella too was packed with visitors, so many that the local police funnelled traffic into a huge car park. Once inside the walled town there were countless shops selling local produce and knick knacks, alongside tens of restaurants touting regional menus, all of them aimed fairly and squarely at tourists. Calaceite on the other hand, well the old town at least, was full of huge stone buildings and steep streets but there was hardly anyone around; we couldn't even find a bar to buy a cold drink. Valderrobres was something half way in between; more huge stone buildings, more steep streets and stone staircases lots of them almost deserted whilst, in the main square, the bars and restaurants were doing a brisk trade with we day trippers. Maggie says she liked Valderrobres best. Puertomingalvo was, perhaps, my favourite. More stone, more steps, a gigantic church, a small art gallery, a splendidly different restaurant and several people posing for snaps but still quiet enough to hear the birds singing.
As I said, our destination was the casa rural owned by a couple of old friends. They had the house built from scratch and they have been running it as a business for a few years now. Our pals said that bookings for their house weren't bad but they thought that rural tourism seemed not to be recovering from the economic crisis as quickly as beach tourism. In summer their adopted village comes alive with summer residents. In the past, the bar at the local swimming pool has been run by a group of young women who wear harem pants, sport nose studs and cook things like hummus and cous cous - pretty alternative for Spain. We were looking forward to snacking there but it seems they were outbid by another outfit for this year's summer contract.
Now obviously, as we were away from home we needed somewhere to stay overnight. We've used a lot of hotels in Spain and it's usual to be able to find something decent in the 50€ to 60€ bracket and often less. The weekend before we set out on our road trip for instance we'd gone to Madrid. We stayed in a central hotel there and we were mysteriously upgraded so that our 57€ bought us a junior suite. Also this month I made a bit of a jaunt to Ciudad Real, a small provincial capital, where the centre of town four star hotel cost just 39€. When I was trying to find hotels or guest houses for our three nights in Castellón/Teruel I had to discount lodgings in several of the villages we were visiting because they were beyond my financial reach. The choice seemed to be either expensive or slummy. In the end we paid 60€, 63€ and 70€ for the places we stayed. All of them looked great from the outside but all had pretty dodgy Wi-Fi and one didn't have aircon. None of them were bad, or dirty, or unacceptable but only the 70€ room could be described as anything other than ordinary.
I suppose there are sound motives, from a business point of view, for the higher prices (and snail like Wi-Fi) in rural locations but I did wonder if one of the reasons for the slower recovery of rural tourism is simply that it isn't price competitive with either its beach or city rivals.