Valencia: more than just oranges
Valencia is Spain’s third-largest city after Madrid and Barcelona. It often seems to live in the shadow of its larger sister-cities, but this beautiful city has plenty to offer tourists in terms of history, gastronomy, culture, beaches and plenty of sunshine.
The city is the capital of the Autonomous Community of Valencia and, as such, is home to the region’s political and commercial centre. Like Catalunya, Valencia has its very own language and as you wander through the city’s streets you will often see names and signs printed in both Castilian Spanish and Valencian. With over 300 days of sunshine per year and a median temperature of 19ºC, Valencia is the perfect destination for a city break at any time of the year.
Valencia is most famous as the birthplace of paella. Although paella is often recognised as a traditional Spanish dish, it actually comes from Valencia and the name ‘paella’ is thought to be an old Valencian word referring to the pan the dish is cooked in. The region of Valencia is home to the majority of Spain’s rice paddy fields thanks to an abundance of natural vital water resources and, since being introduced to Spain by the Moors in the 13th century, rice has been the region’s biggest agricultural product. Paella Valenciana, the original version of the dish, is a little different to the seafood-rich fare that is typically thought of as ‘paella’. The traditional version of paella is much simpler and contains only rice, green beans, meat (usually chicken or rabbit), lima beans or butterbeans, saffron and sometimes snails, a delicacy in Valencia. You will find that most restaurants and tapas bars in Valencia feature a variety of paella dishes on the menu.
We must not, of course, talk about Valencia without mentioning Valencian Oranges. The delicious fruit is exported worldwide and is one of the most popular varieties in the production of orange juice. You cannot visit Valencia without drinking a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and luckily most eateries and hotels prepare their juice freshly each day. On a warm evening you might want to enjoy the local cocktail - Aqua de Valencia - which is a refreshing mixture of orange juice, cava, gin and vodka.
Valencia’s Old Town is the cultural and historic centre of the city with a wealth of historic buildings and sites of interest. The main square is the Plaça de l'Ajuntament which is where you will find the 18th century Baroque Town Hall, the grand Post Office, fountains, flower stalls and a number of shops, cafes, restaurants and hotels surrounding the square. From here you have streets leading off to some of the city’s main sites such as the wonderful art nouveau-style Estació Del Nord train station and neighbouring Plaza de Toros, the Carrer de Colon (one of Valencia’s main shopping streets), the Mercat Central and the pretty Plaza de la Reina where you will find the city’s cathedral.
At the heart of the old town you will find Valencia's cathedral, a beautiful blend of Baroque, Gothic and Romanesque architectural styles. The cathedral is famous for housing the (supposed) Holy Grail which you can visit in one of the cathedral’s cloisters.
Combining delicious food and history, no visit to Valencia is complete without a visit to the Mercat Central. This grand market with its beautiful domed roof is one of the oldest continuously operating food markets in Europe. Originally inaugurated in 1928, the market was renovated in 2010 but has maintained many of its wonderful 20th century architectural features. Popular with locals and tourists alike, you will find dozens of stalls selling everything from fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, pastries and sweets, to Latin American and African specialities. There are a few tapas bars within the market itself that are popular with locals and you can sample a staple of Valencian cuisine, Orxata (or Horchata) which is plant milk made from tiger nuts and is often enjoyed with a farton (a sweet pastry stick).
The city’s coastal location and port played an important role in Valencia’s history. In the late 15th century the city and neighbouring coastline were developed to establish trade with Western Europe and North Africa and ever since Valencia has been one of Spain’s key commercial ports. In addition to cargo shipments, the area around the port is now home to a harbour for private yachts and a stopover point for cruise liners, so as you gaze out over the marina you will see a number of beautiful boats and ships. The coastal location also means you are close to an abundance of wonderful white sand beaches, the ‘Arenas’, where you will plenty of opportunities for sunbathing, swimming and dining in wonderful beachside restaurants.
Today one of Valencia’s most striking and famous features is the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (City of Arts and Sciences) situated in the east of the city and considered one of the ’12 treasures of Spain’. This futuristic complex is a true architectural feat and comprises of an impressive IMAX/planetarium/concert hall dome called l’Hemisferic, Europe’s largest aquarium which is home to over 500 species of sea life, a scenic urban garden, the Palace of the Arts which exhibits a range of music, dance, theatre and opera performances, and a Science Museum which not only provides an interactive forum for visitors, but is also conducting some of Europe’s most innovative research. Many of these buildings are surrounded by shallow turquoise waters where you can practice a number of activities such as canoeing, zorbing (running inside large inflatable balls) and water bikes.
Its mild temperatures and many attractions make Valencia a great year-round destination. Visit in March to take part in the popular Las Fallas Festival where ‘fallas’ - large hand-made sculptures and scenes painted in bright colours – are marched through the streets and then burnt in a large bonfire and fireworks display which draws in crowds from around the globe. Or why not hop over for a city break in summer months where you can cool off in the sea by day and explore the old town in the evening?
The closest Parador to Valencia is the Parador de El Saler which is located next to the Albufera Natural Park, a freshwater lagoon and estuary surrounded by rice fields, around 12 miles from the city. In the heart of rice-growing country and looking out onto the Balearic Sea, this modern Parador is famous for its excellent 18-hole golf course which has hosted the Spanish Open a number of times and is ranked one of the top 60 golf courses in the world; Parador guests receive discounted green fees. In addition to the golf course, other leisure facilities include a large seasonal outdoor pool, a spa and wellness centre, a football pitch and a semi-private beach. The Parador’s restaurant serves up a mixture of local and international cuisines (paella, of course, is always on the menu!) and you can dine on the terrace throughout the summer.
If you wish to stay in Valencia itself, we can offer you a number of good quality hotels around the city such as the wonderful Vincci Lys and Vincci Palace hotels in the heart of the city centre, or the Eurostars Don Jaime and Silken Puerta Valencia which are closer to the City of Arts & Sciences and the port.
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