Warm, spring days are finally here and there is no better time to book a European city break – with or without the family. Gemma Antrobus from Haslemere Travel gives us the inside line on Valencia.
No matter how many times you have travelled to Spain, there are always new and different places to enjoy, it is such a vast and varied country. For a cultural city option with quick and easy access to gorgeous, sandy beaches, why not consider Valencia on the south-eastern coast? Its rich heritage makes it a must for those who love Baroque architecture and enjoy historic sites; but, as I discovered last September, during a surprise visit for my birthday, it’s set amid a vibrant, modern cityscape with easy transport links, both internationally and nationally. And it’s the home of paella. Need I say more?
Valencia is very much a walking city, mainly because it is very flat. The beautifully tiled station, Estacion del Nord, is a joy to use, but there is an excellent tram system too. Valencia also has several beaches, including some within Albufera Park to the south of the city, a wetlands reserve with a freshwater lagoon and walking trails. The sandy beach we chose was just a short bus ride away, where we hired sun chairs and loungers and drank mojitos, bliss.
What to see
The oldest part of the city, encircled by the river Turia is now a landscaped riverbed park, but still boasts ancient walls, towers and beautiful bridges, as well as cycle/footpaths and football pitches. But a visit to the modern City of Arts and Sciences complex is a must – it is so vast and interesting, you can easily spend the whole day there.
Several of its buildings have become icons of the city. The Oceanografic is Europe’s biggest aquarium, with 500 different species. The Principe Felipe Science Museum encourages visitors to touch exhibits and offers scientific workshops for the real enthusiasts. Finally, the surreal shape of the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia opera house looms above the horizon and shows opera, concerts and ballet. And to recuperate from all that culture, the huge Umbracle garden is ideal for a stroll, through its Mediterranean plants and contemporary sculptures.
Valencia has a tradition of fiestas, including a big bonfire festival in March and an important religious celebration in May. Recently restored, the Gothic church of San Nicolas de Bari and San Pedro Martir is amazing and quieter than the big (but impressive) cathedral; its ceiling has frescoes which rival those of the Sistine chapel in Rome and it is only 5 euros for entry with an audio guide. Stunning!
Where to eat
Opposite the 15th century La Lonja (Silk Exchange), we found the beautiful, Art Nouveau Mercado Central fascinating, with its plentiful displays of fresh seafood and every imaginable fruit and vegetable – perfect to stock up for an alfresco picnic in the nearby, tranquil Botanical Gardens. Food, as ever in Spain, is important here, there are some fabulous restaurants; we particularly enjoyed Panorama, which is out on a pier looking back at the city. Vuelve Caroline was ideal for its really unique tapas. Or try paella at 120-year old La Pepica at the beach, made famous by writer Ernest Hemingway, who penned For Whom the Bell Tolls while staying in the area. But the best treat was thick, hot chocolate and churros at either of the two Chocolatieria Volor.
Other special sights include the Plaza de Toros, for shows and concerts (not necessarily for bullfighting…); the IVAM, the first modern art museum in Spain, which has some fabulous and thought-provoking pieces and the National Ceramics Museum, housed in a 15th century palace which was refurbished in 1740 with a magnificent alabaster entrance.
And if you still have time, there is some great shopping to be done in Valencia too – and a nightlife famed throughout Spain! All in all, the perfect location for that special weekend away.