Rounding the bend just below Vilafames, a delightful mountain village to the north of Valencia in Spain, you see in front of you the castle, perched on the top of the hill, with the sky glowing through the now empty window apertures, its circular tower Watching over the village that seems to hang on for dear life to save it from tumbling down the hillside.
Unless you are a devotee of driving through narrow cobbled streets with turnings that would make a donkey struggle, it's advisable to park and walk up Carrer la Font from the square of the same name. On your way into the center of the village, on the left few meters up the street, you will see La Roca Grossa, the emblem of Vilafames, a huge red stone, now blackened with age and which appears to have the enigmatic smile of a beached whale, that seems to hang in limbo on a steep slope, and looks as if it might slide down at any time and carry half of the village away.
Vilafames is a mountain village of narrow corkscrewing streets of white painted houses edged in chunky red stone that could have been designed by Walt Disney. Its history goes as far back as Neolithic times but it was after the conquest of the Moorish leader Beni-Hemez by Jaime I in 1233 that the village began to take its present-day shape.
The oldest part of the town is at the foot of the castle, around the 13th-century Iglesia de la Sangre. Built over an Arab aljibe (a water tank) this tiny church was renovated during the 17th-century, but it contains an interesting Baroque altarpiece and painted frescoes in the presbytery. Calle Cuarticho, the arms-width alleyway that runs alongside the Iglesia, is one of the oldest streets in the town and could easily win a Prettiest Street in Spain competition. Tiny cobbles pass between ruins and restored houses, both with ivy cascading over them. The narrow streets are perfect examples of meandering medieval thoroughfares, and the drops so sheer that they form the walls of some of the tiny houses.
The views from the castle ramparts are stunning; 360 degree vistas of hills rising from the fertile rust-colored plains of olive and citrus fruits to the mountain peak of Penyagolosa, which, at 1814 meters, is the highest point in the Valencian region.
There is no shortage of history and architecture to keep you busy, but one of the unexpected delights of this small rural town is that it has one of the most important collections of contemporary art in the land of Valencia. Housed in the beautiful Palau de Batle, an excellent example of Valencian Gothic civil architecture of the 14thand 15th-centuries, the Museo Popular de Art Contemporneo (the Museum of Contemporary Art) houses a collection of the work of over 400 artists working from the 1920s until the present day. Sculpture, paintings, etchings, and holograms unfold before you as you wander baronial halls and servants quarters alike, and out into the sculpture patio with beautiful views over the village and the valleys beyond.
The Iglesia Parroqual de La Asuncin, (parish church) with its Baroque organ, 17th-century altarpiece by Bernardo Monfort, and gold and silver processional cross from the same era is a mini-museum in its own right, but you'll only get to see them around the time of mass, otherwise the doors are kept firmly shut.
As you make your way back to Plaza de la Font, almost as you reach the square, you see on you right a corrugated doorway that looks like the entrance to a garage. Here is El Perol Trencat (The Broken Cooking Pot) where you can stock up with ceramics, postcards, walking sticks and other bric-a-tat .