It is hard to imagine a city that contrasts beautiful historical architecture so brilliantly with avant-garde modern architecture, as well as Valencia does. It’s hard not to fall in love with the sweet smell of oranges that emanates from the trees, which line so many of the city centre’s avenues. The weather is often good enough that you can enjoy visiting Valencia during orange season, which is from December to early February. You can often get a few hours of lovely sunshine during the height of the day. In the morning imagine waking up surrounded by stunning architecture and starting the day with a glass of freshly squeezed sunshine! Better still entice your loved one to deliver it to you in the comfort of your bed in one of the city’s top luxury hotels.
Before I go any further, let me say that I don’t really consider Valencia to be a secret of Spain …but I wanted to feature it, as it’s such a wonderful city, and still often gets overlooked in favour of some of the obvious favourites, like Barcelona, Seville and Madrid. Read on to find out about some of Valencia’s must-see attractions, fiestas and Michelin starred restaurants.
Did you know??
Did you know that vibrant Valencia has made it into the 8th position on the Tripadvisor list of Travellers’ Choice Top 10 Destinations in Spain? I am not surprised by this, it was only a matter of time really. Don’t forget we’re talking about a city where the excitement of Formula 1 has happened right by the sea, not to mention the America’s Cup! A city with gorgeous beaches, plenty of great food and drink offerings, and an immensity of culture and history, that can be traced back to 138 B.C.
Get your bearings in Valencia’s old quarter
Before seeing any of the more recent sights, I highly recommend getting your bearings, geographically, historically and culturally, by having a wander around the old quarter. To say it is striking is almost an understatement and it’s where you can feel the blossoming of Spain’s third largest city from the 15th century onwards.
If you’re travelling during the hotter months go there early in the morning or later in the evening, so you can enjoy the remarkable architecture and sense of history, without feeling ridiculously hot!
Don’t miss….in the old quarter
Don’t miss the Serrano Towers, Quart Towers, the Lonja (Silk Exchange) the superb Cathedral with its Baroque façade on the Plaza de la Reina, the Basilica of Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados, Gothic Generalitat Palace, Royal Seminary of Corpus Christi, the City Hall and the Palace of the Marquess of Dos Aguas.
Façade gazing in Valencia
For me Valencia is one of those cities where I risk tripping up and falling, or getting knocked down, because my head is tilted upwards and my senses are absolutely engrossed in façade gazing. (I would like to thank Gery de Pierpont for those wonderful words to describe this enjoyable, but slightly dangerous habit!)
To begin with if you are taking the train to Valencia, get out at the Estació del Nord (North Station) and do what I do, façade gaze at this impressive modernist building that opened its doors to the public in 1917, and since then has served millions of passengers every year.
Go to the Central Market to façade gaze, but make sure you head inside to absorb the buzz, the colours and the smells. Head to the Mercat Colon (Colon Market) and off to the Carmen neighbourhood, which is stuffed with narrow streets, interesting old buildings and bars.
If you like modernism as much as I do, also make sure to include the Central Post Office, the Casa de los Dragones (House of Dragons), Casa Ortega, Casa Chapa, el Palacio de la Exposición, the Fábrica de Tabacos (tobacco factory) and on the outskirts, near the Malvarrosa beach, Asilo de San Juan de Dios and el Palacete y Jardines de Ayora. One that I have left until the end of these is the Asilo de la Lactancia, which is the Balnearario de la Alameda these days. I wanted to give it its own sentence or two, so that I could translate the original name for you which is as follows: Asilo de la Lactancia means the Breastfeeding Asylum!
Avant-garde and animals
These days if there’s one sight that is symbolic of Valencia it is the amazing avant-garde architecture of the City of Arts & Sciences. Located along what was the River Turia bed, it was designed by the Valencian architect, Santiago Calatrava, along with Félix Candela. It was inaugurated on the 16th April 1998, with its last great component being added in 2005 – El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia. Today the City of Arts & Sciences is Valencia’s top modern tourist attraction.
You can also find the animals on the old River Turia riverbed, in Bioparc. Bioparc Valencia is an innovative zoo on 10 hectares that is like finding a small piece of Africa in Spain’s third largest city. The concept of the Bioparc zoo is to immerse visitors into the habitat of the animals, not the other way around it is called Zooimersion, in Spanish.
Albufera Natural Park
Try to get out of the city, to the Albufera Natural Park, which is not far out of Valencia, but is well worth seeing. It’s one of Spain’s most important wetland areas, and is also home to the country’s largest lake. There are tours also organised there, if you wish to go as part of a tour. These include your return trip, a boat trip of around 45 minutes and a set menu, which often includes paella, all for 30.00.
Michelin starred Valencia
At the time of writing the city of Valencia has 5 Michelin starred restaurants. Quique Dacosta’s newer restaurant, El Poblet, joins the ranks, and amongst its offerings you can find a Grace Kelly menu.
Bernd Knoller over at Riff says that if he finds a new ingredient he just must include it in one of the two menus. At Restaurante Vertical you can enjoy excellent food, great service and lovely views.
La Sucursal is located above the Museum of Modern Art, which is also worth a visit. Ricard Camarena chose cooking over music (he was a trumpet player), and he offers a cosmopolitan eclectic menu, which features freshly sourced seasonal products.
Valencia’s little Venice
Heading 4 km north of the city centre, to the area that the locals call “La Huerta” the Orchard, you’ll find the colourful, charming Little Venice of Valencia – Port Saplaya, which officially belongs to the area of Alboraya. The locals are keen to keep this one to themselves as much as possible, and when you see it you’ll understand why. Just beside the beach, Port Saplaya is where you can keep your boat just by your door, in a complex of lovely typical Mediterranean architecture, with everything you could want at your fingertips. Smell the jasmine, have a glass of Cava….this is a place where you can really enjoy the best that life has to offer!
Last but certainly not least are the wonderful fiestas that take place in Valencia city and province throughout the year. If you don’t have to work, at certain times of the year you could almost travel from one fiesta to another. If I had to pick just one from a unique and visual perspective, it would be Las Fallas. The Valencianos put an incredible amount of work into creating giant papier maché dolls, and then at the end of it they all get burnt …except for the winners!
Jackie de Burca is Co-owner of Catalonia Valencia.
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