Far enough from the typical British destinations in the south of Spain, this large city, I sense, is often overlooked for its sexier neighbours such as Madrid, Barcelona and the bohemian choice of Sevilla. However, Valencia is perfect for good food and a taste of the casual Spanish lifestyle.
When thinking of Spain, one tends to gravitate to busy Barcelona, trendy Madrid or even the islands or southern beach resorts for their travels. Valencia seems to be somehow lost in the list, judging by the lack of crowds here. Valencia turned out to be one of the biggest travel surprises we had. You can’t help but notice the buildings in Valencia are impressive, architecturally and the streets are clean. There is a pride in this town. It gives the city a very tidy, modern and trendy ambiance.
Home to some of the most representative administrative buildings in Valencia, Plaza del Ayuntamiento features an outstanding mix of Spanish architectural styles.
We spent some time exploring Valencia’s cobble-stoned old town and devouring its cuisine. This city combines many of the elements of Spain, without serious tourist crowds. However, what we really enjoyed about Valencia was the wide, clean streets, the ancient winding streets of the Barrio del Carmen, and the typical Spanish-style buildings with their large doors, balconies, and windows.
However, as with any Spanish city, most tourists can be found in the historic centre – where picture-postcard beauty resides alongside the cobble-stone streets and beautiful buildings. Valencia’s old town really is incredibly beautiful and very well-preserved. There is no shortage of sights to stop off at but a lot of it may not actually be of too much specific interest…unless you like silk or are an ecclesiastical enthusiast. Valencia has many streets and squares to discover, hidden alleyways and its secrets on foot, at a leisurely place. It also boasts some amazing street art!
Valencia has its version of the Sistine Chapel – San Nicolas church – which is mesmerising. The “Sistine Chapel of Valencia” has incredibly intricate murals and carvings; the entire interior is a giant piece of art.
The stone building of La Lonja de Seda – the old silk market – is a lovely architectural example from medieval Europe. Once upon a time, the Silk Exchange was it exactly what it sounds like…a silk exchange. It then evolved into a center for local trading and commerce before it stopped being used. Nowadays, you can still find people outside the Silk Exchange bartering their collectible items.
In front of La Lonja you can see the huge art nouveau Mercado Central building, one of the largest indoor markets in Spain. Central Market is an enormous market with over 300 stalls. The Mercado is essentially a giant farmer’s market that sells every food item your heart could desire. They have everything from foodie souvenirs to fresh veggies to cured meats to specialty olives and fresh seafood.
The first thing to know is that Valencia is the birthplace of paella and Valencians are very passionate about the dish. Much of what we thought about it was considered an abomination in this part of the world – sacrilege even – NEVER ever prepare a paella with prawn and chorizo! We have eaten a number of truly underwhelming paella dishes over the years, often amounting to little more than quick cook rice and vegetables or, as it turns out, an inauthentic paella with chorizo and prawn. We took a paella cooking class and our first mouthful with a spoon, eating straight from the pan, a smile crept across our faces. Years of experience and generations of Valencian history had created a dish quite unlike anything we has tasted before. It was superb. We were taught how to make the perfect paella in the home of the paella.
Old Valencia is sandwiched in between two towers: Torres del Serrano and Torres de Quart, both of which were part of the original city walls. We only walked through Torres del Serrano, from our apartment into the old city. This is located at the edge of the El Carmen neighbourhood
Close by, you can find the Valencia Cathedral with its Gothic architecture, which towers over the plaza. The Cathedral links two of El Carmen’s well known plazas – Plaza del la Reina and Plaza del Virgen.
Plaza de la Reina is the main square of Valencia and really the heart of the city. Here you’ll find a multitude of shops and restaurants, as well as the entry point into the Old Town.
Plaza de la Virgen is one of the largest plazas in the Old Town. Here, you will find the Basilica de la Virgen.
The best decision the city’s residents made after the Turia flooded for the umpteenth time in 1957 with the river being diverted elsewhere, was to ensure that the dried-up riverbed became a park, a wonderful green space with sporting grounds, cycling and running paths and fitness areas.
These long gardens connect the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences. At the City of Arts and Sciences, we took some time to admire the work of architect. There is so much going on around you visually that you will be kept entertained for some time.
Valencia is just…cool.