A day trip from Valencia, Spain – 40 minutes northwest from the city.
Jérica isn’t in any of our guidebooks or tourist guides. It barely shows up on most maps, but if you drive from Sagunto up the V-23, you’ll notice it on your left with its tall bell tower rising up from a little hill with another hill extending upwards housing what little remains of an old castle. From there is the drop falling to the river Palancia, a thin turquoise green ribbon that springs from Bejís and winds through the Sierra Calderona.
So today, we went there. Just 20 minutes from my house up the V-23, Jérica is the perfect day trip when you’re tired of the sea and need a new landscape. Parking on the outskirts of the town isn’t difficult, so we found a spot near that big yellow house and began our walk into the town, past a busy corner and across the street onto the mound, the tightly packed hill that contains the cities oldest homes.
Here the streets wind narrowly up to the top. There is no hurry since no car can speed here. Pedestrians amble freely until they hear a car, then squish themselves flat along the thread of a sidewalk to allow the car to go by. It’s a quiet day. The houses are all stuck together as they often are here most standing three stories tall and differing from their neighbor by a slightly different shade of pastel and a different colored shutter. It doesn’t take long to get to the top, which we did, to find that though the hill didn’t look that high, the wind in this river valley roars with such force that we were walking at a forward slat around half the tower, then were pushed into a run ’round the backside.
Jérica’s Mudejar bell tower sits upon a platform of Roman origin, though no one knows exactly when it was built. The tower itself was proposed in 1614 when the city council decided that the bells couldn’t be heard from all points in the town. The tower was completed in 1622 and the bells moved. It cost 1,775 libras. The bells that ring from the tower now aren’t quite as old. They two oldest are from 1802 and 1790 and are named Santa Agueda and La Virgen. The former weighs 2600 kilos.
Near the entrance on one side lies a tiny little street full of flowers. Three homes face each other seeming to battle over who has the most flowers. The best is absolutely adorable. With terracotta pots both on the ground and fastened to the exterior walls and window boxes overflowing with geraniums, it looks like something out of a fairy tale. A tiny old lady emerged, so I complimented her on the array. “My son did all this,” she said. Then she began to tell me how beautiful this town is on a sunnier, warmer day. She also told me about the path near the river and the waterfalls below. We talked for at least 5 minutes. Could have been 10. People are very friendly in Jérica. Given enough time, we probably would have shared a coffee.
Around the corner is a tiny playground flanked on both sides by enormous fig trees heavy with overripe fruit. From there it’s easy to spy the path that leads to the top of another hill. This is where we went next, to another windy spot so blustery, that my dad put Elise and Luci into the mouth of the remaining castle tower worried that they’d blow right off the mountain if left alone.
It was here that my darling youngest’s discovered and collected old bones, excited and thrilled by their discovery, shoving them in the faces of all who were and were not so interested. “Oh, how wonderful! Old bones!” Blech.
Angie and Arianna stood at the bottom of the hill. The rest arrived here. This was the safe house for the littles while dad and I walked to the back and nervously watched each other as we took turns creeping slowly to the edge to look over and take a few photos. The drop would have been scary enough without the wind, but with it, I moved slowly and crouched low holding onto the rocks so I wouldn’t be blown over. This is where you can see the river approach, skirt around, then continue down some falls and into the orchards in the valley below.
Wild pomegranates grow here as do praying mantis. We watched this guy walk across our path, then we held him up precariously on a stick to try to get a closer picture.
Old Spanish towns are just cute. The thread width roads and white-painted buildings, the terracotta pots and paint peeling doors. It all lends to a certain charm that I haven’t tired of. This village also had these funny stacks of pumpkins in several windows that I’ve never seen before. I suppose with the cool air, this is the perfect storage space to keep them fresh, but doesn’t allow for much a view.
This house had created a mosaic around each arched window and its doorway with old broken tiles of all colors. Apparently this is the street to avoid if you lack the green thumb. Each tiny courtyard here is lined, green spilling out of clay pots of all sizes. Even within the tiny room on the right inside the old abandoned tower, someone is keeping beautiful green plants healthy and alive.
Just to the left of this are two small adjoining courtyards and a little water pump. All of these flowers are cared for by the tiny little lady in the photo below. I talked to her too and she told me to return in the spring when the colors are much brighter and the flowers are flowering more. She proudly told me that she had planted all the flowers in that area and all the ones lining the street down to the end of her house, a house that she was born in over 70 years ago, where she grew up and where her own children were born. She loves Jérica and says that people return every year to ski in the nearby hills and attend the many cultural festivals. Just to the right of her house is a little plaque showing that this street won the “most beautiful street” award in 1994. I’m not surprised.
These tiny plant lined streets led to the church where some famous guy was born just facing it. At this point we were all getting a bit tired and hungry which is why I didn’t care at the point who the famous guy was. His picture is on the wall in tile with his name. Wasn’t anyone I knew. ;)
The door of the church is made of gold-colored punched metal. It’s extremely detailed all the way down to the key hole covers and fancy door knobs.
The old city was created in three phases. The oldest part began with the castle an only extended to the top of the hill. Another phase built a wall halfway around the hill and in the final phase, another defensive wall was built at the base. Even now, the hill remains divided in those original rings with the buildings stuck together and wall connecting the open parts with just arched doorways here and there to allow people through. There are fun surprises at every corner like tiny covered passageways with half-timbered ceilings that lead to miniscule courtyards with laundry hanging to dry.
We ended up here near where we started famished and ready for food. There’s a “real” restaurant up the street, but this little bar was good enough. We sat outside under a tree where a bird decided to decorate one jacket while we enjoyed our lunch of pork and fries for some, omelets for others, and a couple of really quite delicious beef sandwiches. Not beef like roast beef or steak, but a thinly sliced steak about 1/4″ thick cooked and placed on a roll with sautéed onions. Good. Simple, but good.
Instead of heading directly home I thought I’d try to find the river that the lady on the hill told me about. I went the wrong way and ended up driving in the middle of nowhere on a very tiny little road until turning around and trying again. Then, I drove up a road past an old communal laundry with a large stone tub of water where I faced a road tinier than my van with a steep incline, but chickened out, made a thousand point turn, and left. We found ourselves in a parking lot and discovered the trail head. Large golden leaf trees bent low over a sequence of water falls and a stone path snaked along the mountain. The gusting wind blew the leaves which lingered in the air as if they had taken flight on their own, nature’s confetti. Dad and I jumped out to take pictures. We wanted to walk it, but it was cold… really bitterly cold with that wind and the rest of our party were already warm and deshoed in the comfort of my car.
Another wrong turn and scary retreat down a really steep narrow road and we were finally on our way home with just one stop for this view.
Jérica is beautiful. With enough time, I’ll definitely go back.
Events: July each year they have a medieval market.