Our fourth day at Rob's masia, I awoke exhausted and felt as if I had run a marathon in my sleep. The nape of my neck was damp; my limbs loose. Jetlag? General fatigue? Or maybe, I’ve expunged a demon cold, I thought. Whatever the case, I wanted to rise but my body disagreed. I heard Jill somewhere in the house. Upstairs, perhaps. My eyes fluttered and I drifted again; awakened a second time by the clinking of coffee things, the soft splatter of water from a faucet.
Jill appeared from the kitchen. “How do you feel?” She asked, eyeing me hopefully as she sipped from a mug.
I knew she would like to leave the masia as much as I. It had been a cold few days, the earth and sky as damp and dark as Mordor. We had reveled in the atmospheric haze of the countryside but now felt cloistered; we craved the sight of new things, the aroma of food, the sound of human voices.
I threw off my pallet of blankets and stretched skyward. “We are going to see a castle,” I declared; and marched for the shower.
Day bags packed, music on, we pulled onto the rugged track toward Sierra Engarceran. We drove through the town then, down through Benalloch, and as the fog dissipated we found ourselves winding through Valencian vineyards, olive fields and frothy meadows dotted with sheep; the flat landscape suddenly diving into deep ravines then, rising in peaks as torn and ragged as paper. I took the hairpin turns like an old lady as we crawled higher through the shifting scenery and we gasped with pleasure over the nameless hill towns that rolled past—all of them ancient and patinaed and more charming than the last; each with a church like a sweet, bun-topped grandmother.
When Morella suddenly loomed in front of us, it was as if by magic. We marveled at its vertical nature—a colorful skirt of buildings winding up the mountainside, finally culminating in the first-century castle at its pinnacle. We rolled across wet cobblestone and through a giant archway into the citutat, the city center. The fog returned, but as we stood outside the car, pulling weatherproof layers back on and inhaling the wood-fire air, we felt alive with curiosity.
The town was on the cusp of afternoon siesta, many of the restaurants preparing to close until 8 or 9 PM (when they reopen for the evening meal). The streets were narrow, large enough only for foot traffic or bikes and lined with shops and eateries on both sides. An outdoor fire was lit beneath one of the stone archways and in its archaic, amber glow we spied a nearby patisserie with neat rows of croissants, empanadas, buns and baguettes.
We entered, ordered coffees and the woman behind the counter smiled patiently as we took our time deciding on lunch—jamon and queso baguettes and a trio of pastries: almond, chocolate and marmalade. It was only us in the café and we sipped our coffee and devoured the warm, buttery sandwiches as if we would not eat again. Outside, a more serious rain began and we saw the rhythmic blooming of umbrellas in the street. When we had destroyed the last crumb of pastry, we reemerged to follow our noses through more twisting alleys, each leading to another level of the town.
Eventually, we reached the cathedral with its enormous, ancient doors of inlaid wood. Just around the corner was the castle, its entrance marked by a sandwich board advertising tour fees—€3.50 for one adult.
The docent handed us a guide sheet translated to English and motioned toward a pair of glass doors that opened onto the castle’s Franciscan abbey. We strolled its pillar-edged courtyard and walked through an adjacent stone archway to the via alto—the way up—an inclining, rocky trail marked by a smattering of ruins. The mist thickened, making us feel as if at any moment we might hear the clatter of hooves, the rattle of chain metal or thwack of arrows. We gaped upward through the fog, fascinated by the mammoth walls that seem to disappear into the clouds. Jill read aloud from the guide sheet:
The Castle of Morella is actually a mountain with a castle built into it. Geologically it is considered a hanging synclinal, meaning water filtered through the calcareous stone and clay have made natural caves. These caves have been in use since prehistoric ages. The caves also made for ideal natural water storage so in medieval times, the castle could easily withstand lengthy sieges. According to castle historians, the castle has endured Roman, Muslim and Christian rule. Due to its equidistance from major hubs of civilization—Sargassa, Valence, Palma and Barcelone, it was the only castle under crown rule (neighboring territories were ruled militarily by the Knights of the Templar, Calatrava, Hospitaller, Montesa, etc.). In its early days, the legendary Spanish warrior, El Cid attempted to wrest the castle from the Iberians but was unable to take it. The castle became a National Monument in 1931 and since then, massive, ongoing restorations have been implemented.
Climbing higher, we were battered by rain and wind—mighty gusts that finally forced us to climb back down the ninety-eight steps from the parade ground. We cinched our hoods and squinted through the mild gale to glimpse the ruins of the castle’s ancient moat; all sodden skin and chattering teeth as we descended down, down, down. Past the guard post and towers, the graveyard, stables, soldier’s quarters and artillery, the bakery, Governor’s Palace and cistern until finally, we exited beneath the imposing Main Gate.
When we looked up again, the fog had cleared and the massive castle—a marvel of both nature and human engineering—revealed itself. Plant life dripped from crevices beneath stone-hewn watchtowers; all along the ramparts there were ripples of grass and flowering vines. In many places it was difficult to tell where the castle began and the mighty mountain ended.