The modest community of Vila-real, close to the provincial capital of Castellón de la Plana, would have remained an unnoticed dot on the map but for two things: ceramic tiles and local football club Villarreal CF.
Almost twice the population of Vila-real, a non-descript town of grid-patterned streets and mini-roundabouts, could fit inside the Nou Camp or Bernabéu. Villarreal CF hit the big time in the mid-2000s when they came within a whisker of making the Champions League final, drawing with Manchester United, Rangers and Arsenal, and putting out Everton.
Diving into the Segunda for one season in 2011-12, ‘The Yellow Submarine’ resurfaced in their 90th year to gain promotion back to La Liga in 2013. For five seasons since, Villarreal have finished in Spain’s top six, qualifying for Europe and taking on the likes of Liverpool, Napoli and, in the 2018-19 Europa League, Rangers.
Behind the phenomenal rise of its football club since the late 1990s has been ceramics tycoon Fernando Roig Alfonso, club president and major shareholder. The players he hired to get Villarreal to three European semi-finals would have graced almost any team in Europe: Diego Forlán, Juan Riquelme, Sonny Anderson, Pepe Reina, Robert Pirès, to name but five. Stalwart Marcos Senna, a Euro 2008 winner with Spain, made 300 appearances for the club before his 2013 move to New York Cosmos.
In principle if not in modern-day practice, Villarreal’s local rivals are CD Castellón. Castellón actually opened Villarreal’s El Madrigal stadium in 1923 with a game against their own town rivals Cervantes. Though the rivalry remains, Villarreal and CD Castellón last locked horns in the league in the Segunda of 1993-94, finishing within two points of each other, enough to see Castellón relegated. Villarreal stayed up, going on to challenge the best in Europe. Castellón have been locked in the lower flights ever since. Their only opportunity for revenge has been a two-legged cup tie in the autumn of 2006, easily won by Villarreal.
The nearest airport to Vila-real is Valencia’s Aeropuerto de Manises, 60km (37 miles) away. It is 8km (5 miles) west of the city centre, in Zone B of the Valencia metro network, served by lines 3 and 5. Allow 15 mins (single €2) to Xàtiva, site of train hub Estación del Norte (València-Nord). A taxi (+34 96 374 0202) to Valencia should cost around €15 plus €3.50 airport supplement.
From València-Nord, take the C6 cercanía regional train to Vila-real (every 30mins, 1hr journey time, zone 6/€5.60).
From Vila-real station, an hourly Furió Línia Onda bus does a circuit outside the city centre and back but walking is the quickest and easy way to cover the short distances around town. The stadium is across the town centre from the station. For Radio Taxi Vila-real, call +34 964 35 76 00.
Vila-real City Hall has little tourist information.
Pick of the bunch is the four-star Vila-real Palace, centrally located with a restaurant, spa and transfer service to Valencia Airport. The nearby two-star Marina Azul shares some of its facilities. Both are on the south side of town, past the station, close to the hospital and Carrefour supermarket on the bus line. Also near the station, simple, family-run La Masía is affordable and convenient, and offers honest home cooking.
Closer to the stadium is the renovated Hostal Sant Joan, its seven rooms and restaurant. In the north of town, closer to Almassora station than Vila-real, the Hostal Los Domingos is modest but bright, and certainly cheap – €30 for a box-like single room, €50 for a double.
You’ll find more choice in nearby Castellón, 5-10min away on the C6 regional train line.
Bars and restaurants dot little Vila-real, most bearing yellow-and-blue iconography, but for a half-decent night out, you should head to Castellón and the bars along Calles Lagasca and Tenerías, and the Tascas tapas bars next to Plaza Santa Clara.
In Vila-real, convivial daytime/early-evening options cluster around the adjoining, central squares near the Town Hall, the Ajuntament. Terrace venues line Plaça Major, including Les Porches, while the Codere/azares branch of betting shops/bars at nearby Carrer Sant Domènec 7 can provide big-screen action. There’s another outlet at Carrer Major Sant Jaume 44.
Vila-real is not short of traditional establishments such as El Miso (Plaça La Vila 6), with its classic paella set lunchtime menus and Villarreal CF memorabilia. Nearby, tiled La Vila is in similar vein. At Avinguda de la Mura 12, Els Lluisos is a standard restaurant with a basement Villarreal supporters’ bar. On the corner, at Passatge Escultor Ortells 1, Cafeteria Els XIII is a large, friendly, cheap restaurant with football on TV.