Taste of Savoie Travels
Along the promenade at Benicassim
What an enjoyable day out this was to see The Villas of Benicassim. Along the Orange Blossom Coast or Costa del Azahar in Spain is a wonderful beach resort with 6 kms of sandy beach all linked by a promenade. Along the beach front promenade walking from the Hotel Voramar there are beautiful traditional villas with an amazing history of the highlife of the arts and theatrical society of the 1920’s. The 27 prominent villas all with lush green gardens and built in a French villa style have a romantic look and maintain their traditional style. This group of villas is known as The Celestial Courts; due not only to the peace and tranquillity that reigned here but also to the Saints names that the owners named their villas. Along the route from the Hotel Voramar, you walk through the area known as Hell, on into Limbo and end in Heavenly Court.
Villa Amparo, The Villas of Benicassim
This magnificent villa in an American Colonial style is one of the oldest villas of the group. It was built between 1880 and 1920. The most notable details about this villa are hidden in the stories behind the walls. During the Spanish Civil War this house was used as a hospital to treat infectious diseases. The villa was also the scene for a love story between writer Ernest Hemingway and war correspondent Marta Gellhorn. Some of it’s tenants included journalists and photographers like John Dos Passos and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Villa Dávalos, The Villas of Benicassim
The Villa Dávalos was built in 1933. It was owned by the Dávalos-Fletcher family. A family of industrialists and art patrons from Castellon. This villa has certain features that are typically seen on houses in Northern Spain. What stands out is the rural looking stone facade and the red woodwork. This villa is now a popular restaurant with tourists to Benicassim. It belongs to the Dávalos-Fletcher Castellon Foundation and is dedicated to the promotion of arts and science in the region.
Modernism Style Villas
Some of Spain’s most prestigious architects were involved in the construction of these ‘modernism’ art nouveau style villas built since the 1880. The villas each have their own individuality whilst maintaining some common themes like the symmetrical design, Mediterranean gardens, Arabic tile coverings, modernist columns and balustrade railings.
This is the smartest villa along the promenade. The architectural combination of the French style elements promoted the nickname of ‘Biarritz Levantino’ to the Benicassim Villas. Victoria was built in 1911 and soon become the centre of the area ‘Hell’ because of the unrestrained social meetings! The most important members of the High Society and show business came to these parties. During the Spanish Civil War this villa was baptised ‘Villa Cultura’ because the library was housed there. Soviet films were shown and dances organised there. In 1997 Luis Garcia Berlanga filmed part of the Blasco Ibáñez series in this villa.
The pediment which crowns the facade of this villa bears the name of the first owner; Sebastian Carpi. He was a businessman from Castellon who also built a harbour in front of his villa. This was popularly known as Carpi’s little harbour by the local fishermen. What catches your attention are the green wrought iron railings and supports around both terraces. This style is similar to the Concha Esplanade in San Sebastian.
Villa del Mar Restaurant Benicassim
A great find along the promenade as this villa is now a restaurant and a very good one! The Villa del Mar was built in 1891 and marks the boundary between the 2 beaches of Almadrava and Voramar. It is one of the more unusual looking villas as it has a symmetrical structure but a rather ecclesiastical look and is made of red brick. It has a huge and very attractive garden behind the wall and wrought iron. When a privately owned villa it apparently hosted the best parties. Apart from the high society residents, it has had a diverse range of tenants including Nuns and Civil War Brigades, the latter who used it as a dining hall. The Villa del Mar restaurant is where we had lunch. Sitting out in the shaded gardens looking over the sea.
Villa Del Mar, Benicassim - Confit Iberico Pork with Pineapple Chutney
Villa Del Mar, Benicassim - chocolate fondant dessert
Villa Del Mar, Benicassim - grilled fresh fish of the day with a tomato chutney
Villa Del Mar, Benicassim - vanilla cheesecake with a blueberry compote
Bathing in the Sea
Most of these villas have been preserved beautifully. Along the promenade are informative signs telling the history of the villas and of their colourful owners and famous visitors. The villa owners held regular parties until dawn along the area known as ‘Hell’ starting from Hotel Voramar. Strolling along the promenade and looking through the railings and into the gardens of these villas I could imagine the scene from the 20’s and the parties of times gone by. The Villas are majestic and make this sea front so attractive to visit and enjoy.
This promenade became one of the most highly sought after places to bathe in the sea. Middle Classes, industrialists, artists and literary people were among those found walking along the promenade and beach. After the publication of the Bathing Decalogue – containing information about when to bathe, for how long, what to wear and even suggestions of what to eat, holidaymakers and locals of Benicassim followed the recommendations of the Bathing Decalogue exactly. At the time bathing in seawater was highly recommended as it was considered an excellent hygienic and therapeutic way to cure diseases. This beach and promenade became so popular that not only the villas were built but The Voramar Bathing House and Cafe was built which soon became the first hotel.
The old sign on the promenade at Benicassim
The beach at Benicassim
If you are visiting this region of Spain, then Benicassim on the Costa del Azahar in the province of Castellon in Spain is worth a day out. The Desert de les Palmes mountain range inland behind shelters this resort form the north winds. Situated 13 kms north of Castello de la Plana in the Valencian Community. The closest airport is Valencia. The International Music Festival of Benicassim FIB is a well known annual attraction.
I found more detailed information about the Villas and their history in this article on The Valencian Tourist Board website
This post is part of my series of Taste of Savoie Travels