World comedy film lovers may know about the Peniscola Comedy Film Festival that draws foreign filmmakers and actors each year to Spain’s Mediterranean coast of Castellon, and with good reason. Peniscola is where Luis Garcia Berlanga set his 1956 comedy film Calabuch, which was released in the US under the title The Rocket from Calabuch. This story of the American atomic bomb specialist who runs away to hide in an idyllic Mediterranean village features the charming coastal landscape and cliffs of Peniscola and the placid sea below.
It is also where the slave girl Missandei and the Unsullied help Tyrion and Varys take leadership in Mereen. For the uninitiated, that is the story arc from season six of the Game of Thrones series. The fortress town with its medieval walls and Templar Castle against the stunning backdrop of the sea is an ideal setting for filming historic and fantasy works.
Many adventure films of the 1950s were shot here, as was the 1961 Charlton-Heston and Sofia Loren starrer El Cid. As many as twenty seven films were shot here, including 1999’s entertaining satire Paris Tomboctu.
The city appears to be sitting on the sea and is joined to the mainland only by a narrow strip of land, converting it into a peninsula and earning the city its name. It’s been called the Gibralter of Valencia for its important historic position as a fortified port.
Not only is the location notable, the city also has a long history going back to the Iberians, the Phoenicians, the Greeks and the Carthaginians. There is a legend that it was on Peniscola that Hannibal was made to swear an oath by his father Hamilcar Barca to never be a friend to Rome.
The most notable historic feature of the city is its 14th century Templar Castle, which towers over the city and was also the home where Pope Benedict XIII ended his life. Some of the $6 million epic budget of El Cid went into the restoration of the castle in 1960. Today, the castle, its vast courtyard and gardens are well-marketed, with interpretations, for tourists who want to get a taste of the history and the turmoil of the past, and some fantastic views from the castle summit.
The inevitable souvenir shops and restaurants don’t mar the scenery too much. But there is a lot more to Peniscola that offbeat travelers and location scouts will find appealing.
Peniscola paints a stunning picture both when viewed from a distance and when looking out from its winding streets lined with white houses. Near the Old Town you’ll find the cavern called Bufadordel Papa Luna, which has an intriguing landward entrance spewing a cloud of seawater.
The modern town outside the Old Town is a beach resort with palm-tree lined promenades and lifeguards on its popular beaches towards the north, and secret inlets and coves along the rocky southern coast.
The town is well-equipped to make your holiday or filming project a relaxing and entertaining one. There are several good restaurants, bars and casino resorts in the newly developed part of town for unwinding and meeting locals.