Christmas holidays 2021 were very special for us. Our daughter teaches in Spain and invited us to spend the holidays with her and her finace’s family. She was moving to Valencia from Madrid, so our very first stop was in Madrid. Feliz Navidad was in full effect. Being that the country was still under mask mandate and COVID-19 was still raging, there were not many people gathering in public placed and when they did, they were outside eating at little cafe’s or a minimum number of people were allowed inside restaurants.
Having visited Madrid before, I found it to remain a place that I love. The food, the vibe…it’s all good! We visited the coolest eateries and took in the holiday cheer. Then it was on to Valencia! Here, I will highlight Valencia and give reasons why you should add it to your bucket list!
Valencia was a new place for me, but I fell in love easily. Valencia is Spain’s third-largest metropolitan area, with a population ranging from 1.7 to 2.5 million. The Port of Valencia is the 5th-busiest container port in Europe and the busiest container port on the Mediterranean Sea. Though it’s often overlooked in favour of Barcelona or Madrid, Valencia has plenty going for it. Located on Spain’s east coast, the 2,000-year-old city boasts wide sandy beaches, striking architecture, a buzzing food scene and culture, without the crowds found in other large Spanish cities. It’s the third-largest city in Spain, but the main attractions – including the cathedral, the Mercado Central and the Unesco-listed Lonja de la Seda – are walkable around the town centre.
Not a real place, but a place that grew very dear to my heart. I met my future son-in-law’s mother, Covi a few years back in London and came to adore her spirit. Finally, I got the opportunity to spend almost one month with her, at her home in Meliana, the countryside of Valencia. Covi is rich in spirit and energy. She has a beautiful home which used to be a horse stable. She grows her own food, she has chickens and loves bringing family together. We would have breakfast, lunch and sometimes dinner in Covi’s garden; a place where she grew the most beautiful plants and cacti. Covi lived a 15 minute walk from the Mediterranean sea (Port Suplaya) and we would walk there on any given day. It is in Covi’s garden that deep conversations happened–those moments that makes one think. Over a nice pan of homemade paella and cerveza (beer) con limon (with lemon), perfectly aged wine from the greatest vineyards in Spain, what could be better. I found solitude, a space for mindfulness and peace in the garden at Covi’s. She kidded with me a lot and would often say, “you Americans work too much.” For 20 days, life slowed down for me and I enjoyed a bevy of the Mediterranean diet and lost 20lbs without even trying. We walked everywhere and ate wonderful meals. I look forward to returning, many many times.
Here are a few reasons why Valencia should be on your radar.
From Romanesque, Moorish and Gothic to Rococo and Art Nouveau, a hotchpotch of architectural styles awaits in Valencia, so you can chart its history by strolling through the city streets. Your first stop should be the 13th-century cathedral, which was once a Roman temple and later a mosque. La Lonja de la Seda, a Gothic chamber of commerce that is now a Unesco World Heritage site, is also a must-visit. Don’t miss La Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, a modern masterpiece designed by renowned architect Santiago Calatrava.
Valencia’s main monuments, including the cathedral, El Miguelete bell tower, La Lonja and the Mercado Central, are all within walking distance in Valencia’s compact Old Town. Wandering through the warren of narrow alleys, you’ll be struck by the abundance of vibrant street art that sits in contrast with the grand old buildings and cobbled streets. When you need a break, grab an outdoor table and soak up the local atmosphere in the Plaza de la Virgen.
The Birthplace of Paella
Valencia is the birthplace of paella, which makes it perfect for a foodie pilgrimage. For authentic paella valenciana – made with chicken or rabbit, white beans and snails – visit La Pepica, a Valencian institution by the beach, once frequented by Ernest Hemingway. Paella aside, the city’s dining scene revolves around spectacular seafood and tapas, which you can tuck into at the modernist Mercado Central. Stop at La Huertana, a quaint cafe that serves up Valencia’s other signature dish: horchata (a traditional tipple made from tiger nuts) and fartons (sugary sponge fingers – try not to giggle when you’re ordering them).
Valencians Love To Party
Valencians love to party. The city is best known for Las Fallas, a wild, five-day festival in March when giant papier-mâché puppets are paraded through the streets and then set on fire. You can also soak up the party atmosphere if you visit during Carnival in February as the city comes alive with street parties, firework displays and parades. Music fans should come for the two-day Festival de les Arts, which includes a line-up of national and international musicians, modern art and creative gastronomy.
Valencia, one of Spain’s autonomous communities, isn’t a typical Spanish city. It has its own language (a dialect of Catalan) and unique cuisine, with a focus on rice, seafood and meat, plus a host of fascinating cultural traditions. During festival season, you can spot locals donning bright, patterned silk costumes that cost thousands. For authentic souvenirs, pick up a hand-painted silk fan in the Ruzafa district, paella rice from the Mercado Central or some colourful ceramic tiles from Plaza Redonda.
Tons of Green Space
The city is rich in green spaces, from the Royal Gardens to the Botanical Garden. Most visitors flock to Turia Gardens, a stretch of greenery that curves 9km (5.6mi) around the city, following the Turia River’s former, carved-out course. Here, you’ll find orange trees, fountains, sports fields, playgrounds and more. If you want to get deeper into nature, take a day trip to Albufera Natural Park, a nature reserve with a freshwater lagoon, rice fields and up to 250 species of birds. About 30km (19mi) along the coast, it’s easy to get to by bus.
Valencia’s nightlife is young and lively thanks to its sizeable student population. Head out to bar hop in the Old Town, starting off at Café de las Horas for a jug of agua de Valencia (a potent mix of cava, orange juice, gin and vodka) before ambling to the bars in El Carmen such as Café Negrito. For a less touristy scene, visit Ruzafa, where you’ll find sleek cocktail bars and cafés. And to dance the night away, there’s Radio City, Mya Club or Black Note Club.