The Cheesy Weekend

The plan was to have a cheese-fueled weekend in the Bajo Maestrazgo region of Valencian Community. We explored the trails around the towns of Catí and Sant Mateu. Here’s how it went.

The trip started with a visit to Quesos de Catí cheese shop. Unfortunately, the attitude in there wasn’t very welcoming. The person attending the shop didn’t seem to be very interested in selling their products and was in quite a hurry. A rare thing for a Spanish person, ironically. In any case, we loaded up on cheese and went to Catí to have a coffee before the hikes.

The town welcomed us with loud explosions, disturbing the peace of a quite town. It is still not clear what exactly was going on, but that’s the main way to celebrate everything here – a big bang. The route planned for the day was lineal, so we needed to move the cars. After that was done, and a good dozen explosions later, we started the hike.

After the initial flat section, the route enters a ravine and gradually starts to go up. I love this type of landscape – to be surrounded by hills, while still have the peaks in sight, waiting to be climbed. There is also good variation, as the scenery later changes to holm oak forests, providing some shade for the hikers. This was very much needed, as Spring finally seems to settle in the Valencian lands.

Eventually we reached a mountain pass, and the scenery changed again. From here on we had great panoramic views at all times, as well as fresh, gentle breeze accompanying us along the way. As we entered the pasture areas, we had to pass through several gates, set there to allow access to people, but stop cows from roaming too far. Such areas look attractive, but sometimes they have a downside to them – ticks. This was the case on our hike, and at some point we started noticing quite a lot of them. Fortunately, we were careful enough to notice them quickly and brush them off right away.

Finally, we reached a peak – Tossal de la Nevera, at 1276 meters above sea level. As usual, this was a great spot to stop and have lunch. Even though the day was warm, it was quite windy at the top and we could certainly feel the cool mountain air. So, we did not stay there for too long, and continued our hike, which now went along the top of the mountain range.

An hour and a half later we reached our destination – the shrine of l’Avella. The area is quite remote and mountainous, and at the same time has plenty of civilization. You can find a bar with an ample terrace, a restaurant and even a small hotel there. And of course the shrine itself deserves a visit. On top of that, there is a natural spring nearby, with fresh mountain water. Therefore, we were able to take some time to enjoy the warm spring afternoon and have some drinks on a terrace before heading to our hotel in Sant Mateu.

The second day of hiking started with a very gentle approach through the olive groves, which surround the town of Sant Mateu. We could see the walls of Racó del Frare natural site slowly getting closer and closer from the very beginning. Eventually, we reached the ravine and got on a single trail that took us right to the heart of the rock formations.

It was quite amazing to find ourselves in the middle of such a rocky terrain, after a long walk through the fields and groves. The trail took a steep way up on the loose rocks, taking us closer to the top. Here the things got even more adventurous, as we had to scramble a bit and walk on a steep half-tunnel shaped rock to finally reach the summit.

We decided that this was a great spot to make a short stop and contemplate the views. It was also the moment to snack on some cheese and look for photo opportunities. As we went on with our route, we were greeted by wildlife. First, a couple of small deer appeared on the edge of the cliff, carefully observing us and communicating with each other by whistling, a sound that they use to warn each other. Next, we encountered some cows, several of which were afraid of us, while one seemed to be completely uninterested.

Here the scenery changed once again, as we could see long way ahead and anticipate the trails to be walked on very soon. I quite liked this part of the route, as the landscape is quite colorful, while the abundance of cows and some old farm ruins give a very calming feeling to hikers, who pass through this area.

Eventually, it was time to get on with the descent. By this point, the town of Sant Mateu appeared in the background, so we could clearly see the goal and walk towards it. The thought of a table booked for us in the restaurant was quite motivating too. The trails became quite steep, as they eventually took us back to the olive groves and the point where we started the hike.

The restaurant Ka Nostra in Sant Mateu deserves a special mention. We have had dinner and lunch in there during our stay in Sant Mateu, and both meals were delicious. The service was remarkable and apart from great pizzas, several members of our group order vegan burger and seemed to have liked it a lot. A rare find in a provincial Spanish town. If you pass close to Sant Mateu, I definitely recommend stopping there and taking a stroll through the town.

Overall, a nice weekend experience exploring the Bajo Maestrazgo – a lower part of the vast Maestrazgo region, shared between Castellón and Teruel provinces. If you are interested in learnign more about it, you can also read about our previous weekend trip, when we went further inland – Easter Trip to els Ports.

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