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For a weekend break my boyfriend and I wanted to go to a un-tourist place in Spain, with lots to do and see to keep us entertained. So we decided to visit the up and coming Valencia. And what a trip it was!
Valencia is the third largest city in Spain, with a population of around 800,000 people and is the Capital of the region of Valencia. It is situated in the centre of the Spanish Mediterranean coastline, which overlooks the spacious Gulf of Valencia. Famous for being the home of Paella, the spectacular Fallas festival housing the largest Aquarium in Europe, and one of the largest fruit and vegetable markets it's not hard to see why Valencia is becoming so popular.
*** How to get there ***
Valencia is easily accessible from many cities in the UK by plane. We travelled with BA from Gatwick outwards to the Valencia international airport and Easyjet to Stanstead on the return leg. The airport is located roughly 8-10km from the city centre. Cabs are readily available at a cost of between 15-20 Euro.
*** Weather ***
Valencia enjoys a Mediterranean climate. We visited in March 2006 during the incredible Fallas festival. At this time there was a mini heatwave with temperatures soaring to 26 degrees! You can imagine then that July & August are the hottest months, therefore if on a sightseeing break, May June or September would be best to avoid heat stroke walking around the city!
*** Accommodation ***
I like to get the feel of living in the city I'm visiting so to speak, and so prefer to stay in apartment, which also reduces the costs of eating out. We stayed in a private apartment, in one of the backstreets 10 minutes walk to the Bullring, which cost 200 Euro for 4 nights http://www.valenicangems.com Georgina was lovely, and the apartment has more than enough room for 4 people, an absolute bargain! The most popular places to stay are around the Cathedral and town centre or by the beach in the summer. Wherever you stay, the attractions can be easily reached by bus (0.80 Euro) or metro (1.20 Euro per single journey).
*** Festivals - Las Fallas ***
As if the beach and beautiful buildings were not enough to draw you to Valencia, there are also numerous festivals throughout the year. Las Fallas is undoubtedly one of the most unique and crazy festivals. What started as a feast day for St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, has evolved into a 5-day, multifaceted celebration of fire. The town swells to three million as tourists' flock to the city between the 12th and 19th March. The focus of the fiesta is the creation and destruction of ninots--huge cardboard, wood and plaster statues--that
Pictures of Valencia (Spain)
are placed at over 350 key intersections and parks around the city today. The ninots are extremely lifelike and usually depict bawdy, satirical scenes and current events (This year they had Posh and Becks as one!) They are crafted by neighbourhood organisations and take about six months to construct costing up to 50,000 pounds! Many ninots are several stories tall and need to be moved into position with cranes. During the 12-19th March, these are all put into place, and during the evenings revellers hit the brightly lit streets for parties and flame throwing. On the 19th at the stroke of midnight, the ninots are set alight! How neighbouring buildings are not set alight I don't know! And each year, one of the ninots is spared from destruction by popular vote and exhibited in the local Museum of the Ninot along with the other favourites from years past. During the days leading up the 19th, you can check out the extensive roster of bullfights, parades, paella contests and beauty pageants around the city. Spontaneous fireworks displays occur everywhere during the days leading up to "La Crema", but another highlight is the daily mascletá which occurs in the Plaza Anyuntamiento at exactly 2pm. When the huge pile of firecrackers is ignited, the ground literally shakes for the next ten minutes. On the first day we visited there were over 200,000 lined shoulder to shoulder in the street, it's like one big party in but almost like being in a warzone! What I didn't like were kids as young as 3 letting off fireworks in their hands, aiming them at passers by.
*** Beaches *** The main promenade in Valencia city is in the Malvarrosa district. There are long sandy beaches popular with the locals, and seafront tapas bars and restaurants famous for paella. If you are staying in the city centre, you can easily reach Malvarrosa by bus or metro. Take bus number 1 or 2 from the bus station or number 19 from the main town hall square.
Another lovely, unspoilt beach is El Saler, only 30 mins away by bus. We did not visit this area as we did not have time.
*** Shopping ***
If you are a serious shopper like me, head to the mall which is located opposite the L'Oceangrafic. It's brand new and houses Zara, Mango, Game, a huge supermarket (good for stocking up on wines to take back!) and even an C&A! Well worth a visit, you will be there all day mind you! If you haven't got enough time, then there are various Zara and Mango stalls located all around the centre, and there are plenty of souvenir shops and department stores, including El Cortes Anglais, the Spanish Debenhams/Selfridges. There are 4 different branches each specialising in either clothes, music, home, or food products all within 1 mile of each other. There is also the fruit and veg market which is phenomenal. Over 150 stalls, consisting of fish, fruit, veg, meat. I could have spent a fortune if I was living here! A word of warning, the smell of fresh fish was very overwhelming!
*** The Cathedral ***
Walking around Valencia you will find my beautiful traditional and modern buildings. The most attractive is the catherdral. It is a 13th Century building that claims to be the home of the Holy Grail. Although open every day it closes at 1pm for siesta. You can have restricted access for free, otherwise to see the whole catherdral you have to pay 10 euros for a guided tour. We opted for the free access due the lack of time. We were not disappointed! We were greeted by an immense feeling calmness. Walking around we observed the enchanting stained glass windows, and took notice of the services in place - 1 lady was praying at the feet of a priest sobbing, whilst trying not to notice, it wasn't hard to be moved by the whole experience.
The most fascinating part of the cathedral is the Miguelete - the bell tower. It costs 2 euros to walk up the 200 + narrow spiral stairs (it's not for the faint hearted or the unfit!) but it is more than worth it. At the top of the bell tower are the most amazing 360-degree views of the city, including the Aquarium, and even the football stadium! Be warned the bell still works and if you are under the bell as it chimes on the hour, you'll certainly ask friends and family to speak up when talking to you! After the long walk down, relax at one of the many cafes for some tapas in the sun in the Plaza de La Reina, my legs ached for days afterwards!
*** Museums *** If you like museums you'll love Valencia. There are far to many to name here, but IVAM (Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno) is very interesting. It displays 20th-century art. Its programme of activities includes permanent collections, temporary exhibitions, conferences, courses, workshops and the publishing of works. It includes the Julio González Centre, opened in 1989, and the Sala de la Muralla (Wall Room), in the basement of the front building, with remains of the city's old medieval fort, inaugurated in 1991. The IVAM is attached to the Department of Culture and Education of the Autonomous Government of Valencia. A more traditional museum is the Cathedral Diocesan Museum. It contains two large canvases by Francisco de Goya, painted in 1799, of Saint Francis of Borja taking leave of his family and attending a dying man. There are paintings by Rodrigo de Osona, Yáñez de la Almedina, Vicente Masip and Juan de Juanes, etc. (15th-16th centuries).
*** The Aquarium ***
The biggest in Europe, this attraction is certainly worth a visit, but be prepared to pay! 23 Euro per adult, and 15 Euro for Children. In my opinion this is overpriced as everything can easily be seen in 2 ½ hours. The aquarium houses every fish imaginable, including a whale! With lots of interactive ingredients to keep the kids happy. It also has several shark tunnels, the longest I have ever seen, you really get the feeling you are swimming along with them. The biggest attraction is the shows, the dolphin being the most popular. It is like being at Seaworld, with Dolphins participating in tricks for food. However, the tricks are not that amazing, and the show is over in 20mins. We actually found the aquarium very hard to find (about 30 mins walk from the centre - it looked closer on the map!) so be sure to get a bus (number 95 if my memory is correct)
*** Food and drink ***
The Valencian paella, made with rice, chicken, rabbit and greens, is the typical dish in Valencian gastronomy. Each village has its own variations and preferences because rice mixes well with so many different ingredients. However, the most popular specialities are the meat paella (with chicken or rabbit), the seafood paella and the mixed one. Restaurants were reasonable, but expensive in comparison with the likes of Mallorca (15 Euro for main meals) Most are packed after 9pm when the locals eat, and when the wine starts flowing, the party really gets started!
*** Nightlife ***
The province of Valencia is famous for its bars and clubs, where the music plays until dawn. They are situated on the outskirts of the city and on the Valencia - Cullera road, crossing numerous residential estates and beaches. A lot of bars and clubs are situated in 'Calle Juan Llorens'. Friday's and Saturday's are naturally the busiest days. If you want to remain in the city centre, we walked around the backstreets of the main square where there were lots of restaurants and tapas bars to sit and watch the world go by. During out visit, the locals were out every night wandering the streets viewing the ninots for the festival. Parties accompanied this and when staying in the city be prepared not to sleep during this time!
*** Summary ***
I had an amazing time in Valencia and I'm heading back there in September! There is something for everyone from shopping to nightlife, to the glorious museums and spectacular festivals. The food is glorious, do not miss the paella, and the people are friendly and fascinating. 4 days is not enough to see everything but it gives you a taste of what this city is all about - timeless Catalonian traditions in a modern Spanish culture. Go now before the rest of the world discovers it!
Excellent review but, being from Valencia, I cannot let pass the inaccuracy about Valencia being part of Catalonia (or Catalunya as we say). They are two separate regions and, although they share the same language, they have got different history, different governments and Valencia (and the rest of the Comunidad Valenciana) are not demanding independence from the rest of Spain like Catalunya is.
donovan74 12.10.2006 11:34
Great review. I've been all over the country but Valencia really in my opinion is the most beautiful city in Spain. : ) donnie.