PICS: Why the UN named tiny Valencian town one of 44 top tourism destinations in the world

Screenshot 2022 01 11 At 14.23.00

SHOULD you really trust the beer-soaked recommendations of your neighbour’s sister’s man-friend about where to visit in Spain?

The answer is simple: No.

But when the UN names an obscure town in the coldest corner of Valencia as one of the top 44 tourism villages in the world – during a ceremony attended by the Spanish president – you’re still going to ignore it anyway, aren’t you?

When it comes to the village of Morella (pop. 2000) in the northern-most Valencian province of Castellon, we really hope you don’t.

Otherwise there’s just no hope for these funny little Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) upon which the UN claims hang, well, the actual future of the world.

During a glitzy ceremony in Madrid, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) unveiled their 44 top picks (from 32 countries) they assure you are worth picking your backside off the beach for.


Yes. Because each of the 44 villages – Spain only has two of them – stand out for both being beautiful and being full of all the cuddly bits that ensure a future for your children.

Things like ‘conservation of cultural resources’, ‘economic sustainability’, ‘environmental sustainability’ and something called ‘Tourism Potential and Development and Value Chain Integration’.

That last bit sounded boring, I’ll admit, but there’s got to be something there. No?

“Tourism can be a driver of social cohesion and inclusion by promoting a fairer distribution of benefits throughout the territory and empowering local communities,” said UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili during the General Assembly.

“This initiative recognises those villages committed to making tourism a strong driver of their development and wellbeing”.

We don’t care about divelopmint and wellbeans, we want to know if we can brag to our mates about it – I hear you shouting.

Okay, okay, calm down, have a look at the pretty pictures.

Morella – a history dating back to the dinosaurs

Morella has featured in every major epoch of Spanish history: including 19th century battles over who gets to be king, the Reconquest of Spain from the Moors, the Visigothic era, cave paintings and the dinosaurs.

Seriously, there’s a dinosaur museum right next to the Sant Miquel church and a dinosaur-themed Escape Room for the children (and adult-children) among us.

This means you can get your fix of Spain’s entire history neatly tucked within 2500m of medieval-era walls.

Of particular interest for history buffs is the Battle of Morella of 1084 where the Spanish legend El Cid fought in the service of Yusuf al-Mu’taman ibn Hud (a Muslim!) against Sancho Ramírez of Aragon.

The incredible fortress atop Morella’s main 1000m-high hill changed hands a few times before Valencia’s main conqueror-hero – Rei Jaume I – established a royal garrison in the city in 1239.

Some time later Morella decided Don Carlos María Isidro Benito de Bourbon (try saying that after a sherry) should be king.

Baby Queen Isabella II didn’t like that, apparently, so her mother ordered troops to fling 19,000 projectiles against the walls of Morella and crack it open.

That the fortress is still standing is a miracle.

You can visit Morella’s castle for €3.50 (that’s under two pints guys!) from Monday to Sunday at the following times:

  • 11:00–17:00 (winter)
  • 11:00–19:00 (summer)

See Morella’s official tourist website (in English) for more info.

Morella – great outdoors and great food (if you like blood-spouting mushrooms)

Since the UN declared Morella a sustainable place to visit, there’s got to be some outdoorsy activities to be had.

There are numerous walking, biking and hiking trails which Morella’s tourism office have prepared for you on the website (in English).

You can get jealous about the mountain-biker in this tourism video for example:

There’s also a multi-adventure circuit called Saltapins just 4km out of town – including highlights like ‘hanging stirrups’, zip lines over 100m long and a Tibetan bridge.

Didn’t you have walking a Tibetan bridge on your list of New Year’s Resolutions?

You did? Great.

If none of this is your thing, Morella is also a centre of traditional foods like jamon, cheese and black truffles.

Between January and March restaurants along the shaded medieval streets of Morella offer elaborate menus where you can taste black truffles with the traditional scrambled eggs, meat stews, homemade patés, liquors and even ice creams and cakes.

Morella is also a fantastic place to taste traditional wild game like boar and rabbit, and in autumn has piles of the Valencian delicacy of the ‘blood-spouting mushroom’ esclatasang (it tastes better than it sounds).

According to Morella’s tourism website the village ‘smells of sweets’ due to its pastries based on traditional Arabic recipes, such as the flaó.

This pastries is described as the ‘king of pastries’ and is a sweet pie stuffed with cheese curd and almonds.

Don’t worry, Morella is touristy enough to have regular cafés and restaurants for the fussy and squeamish among you.

At least you made it, right?


Joshua Parfitt

Joshua James Parfitt is the Costa Blanca correspondent for the Olive Press. He holds a gold-standard NCTJ in multimedia journalism from the award-winning News Associates in Twickenham. His work has been published in the Sunday Times, Esquire, the Mail on Sunday, the Daily Mail, the Sun, the Sun on Sunday, the Mirror, among others. He has appeared on BBC Breakfast to discuss devastating flooding in Spain, as well as making appearances on BBC and LBC radio stations.

Contact me now: [email protected] or call +44 07960046259. Twitter: @jjparfitt

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