Situated on Spain’s southeastern coast, Valencia harmoniously combines the ancient with the most innovative and has a very unique and special charm.
Words Patricia Mc Crossan
Spain’s third largest city is a wonderful place with flourishing cultural, gastronomy and nightlife areas, a thriving port and beautiful white sandy beaches. Having experienced devastating flooding in 1957, Valencia diverted its river to the outskirts of the city and converted the former riverbed into a superb park winding right through the city so no matter where you go you are never far from a green area.
On it are the strikingly futuristic buildings of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, (City of Arts and Sciences) an entertainment-based cultural and architectural complex designed by Santiago Calatrava. The colossal structure houses an Imax cinema, as well as Europe’s largest aquarium – the Oceanografic, interactive educational exhibits in the Príncipe Felipe Science Museum and the avant-garde opera house – Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía.
The Ancient District
A wander through these labyrinthine cobbled streets which are lined with towering medieval buildings will transport you back in time to another era. Barrio del Carmen and its mansion houses which are situated in the ancient district of the city grew between two walls; the Islamic and the Christian city walls. The Church of San Nicolás has recently been restored, revealing a pictorial display that experts have called the Valencian ‘Sistine Chapel’.
Plaza de la Virgen and the Cathedral Quarter
Experience 21 centuries of history right at the heart of the city where you’ll find historical treasures such as Valencia Cathedral, the Micalet, the Basilica of the Virgin and the Almoina. Don’t miss the Tribunal de las Aguas (Water Court), a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The Chapel of the Santo Cáliz in the Cathedral of Valencia safeguards one of the most revered and prized relics within the Catholic Church: the Holy Grail.
It’s well worth an early morning visit to buy produce picked fresh from the surrounding countryside. This masterpiece of modernist architecture with a surface area of over 8000 square metres houses more than 1000 posts selling fresh fish, vegetables, meat, fruit and much more.
Spread over 25 acres, the zoo has the scope to recreate the flora and the fauna of different habitats such as the savannah, the forests of Madagascar and equatorial Africa. The vegetation is indigenous to each of the habitats, thus reproducing the bioclimatic zones of each as are the replicas of the great rocks, caves and giant trees.
The Albufera Nature Park
A 45 minute boat trip will transport you to a world of untouched nature where the only sounds you’ll hear are the birds singing along to the streaming water. It is a place of great ecological interest with rare species of birds and a rich variety of wildlife.
Where to Eat
Valencia is famous as the home of rice dishes like paella, but its buzzy dining scene offers plenty more besides.
Opening directly on to the beautiful sandy beach with magnificent views out to sea, the atmosphere here is amazing with exquisite food to match. If you are planning on spending a day at the beach then this is the perfect spot to lunch. lamarcelina.com
Located in the El Cabanyal area, Casa Montaña will spoil you with mouthwatering tapas set in a magnificent 180 year old bodega. The original tiled wine cellar (holding 500 vintages) remains and wine is still sold by the litre for take away while all the original rusty taps double as wall decorations. Casa Montaña is one of the few places which will serve top wines by the glass rather than making you buy the whole bottle. Emilianobodega.com
The old town, Barrio del Carmen, is very lively at night, particularly around Calle Caballeros (also called Cavallers). For a less touristy scene, check out the smart bars around Plaza Cánovas. In summer, there are lots of outdoor bars and clubs along the promenade flanking Las Arenas and Malvarrosa beaches.
Café de las Horas
Stop off for a coffee or cocktail in the delightful setting of this café in a grand townhouse in the heart of the city. Run by the flamboyant Marc Insanally, don’t be surprised if an impromtu X Factor-style evening of song unfolds at Café de Las Horas. The main attraction here is its classical baroque image. Refurbished using recycled pieces found in markets and antique shops, this really is gem of a find.
Our guide was David Gómez from Valencia Tourism