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What to Do and See in Valencia



” Valencia is famous for its river without water turned into an endless garden that crosses the entire city like a snake from the most ancient neighbourhoods to the avant-garde City of Arts and Sciences”

José Miguel Vilar Bou

I put Valencia on my list of places I’d love to visit watching a Spanish language programme with my sons some 15 years ago.  In the Plaza de la Virgen the water court, El Tribunal de las Aguas, was in session; a circle of officials dressed in black  settling water disputes in the same common sense, on the spot manner  first used to  regulate the irrigation of the fields around the city over a thousand years ago. People packed street scenes from the festival of La Fallas followed; parades of satirical figurines some daringly tall, fireworks, parties, dancing – every year it all ends in flames as the fallas are burnt in giant bonfires.  And at the close we saw  the future, zooming in over the green river of the Turia Gardens to an architect’s vision of the yet to be built City of Arts and Sciences.

I didn’t make it for a while, but kept following the city’s progress ….

In 2009 Valencia was in the news as the venue for the prestigious Americas Cup sailing event.  The striking multi terraced “Veles e Vents”, Wind and Sails, building built to host the event became the face of the redeveloped port. Formula 1 came to party here every year for a while too, the streets  around the marina  turned into a Grand Prix circuit, and now I’ve walked this way I can imagine Formula 1 cars screaming around the tight track,  flashes of water, masts and cranes.

Valencia lived up to expectations, full of history as you would expect from a city that was  founded by the Romans, occupied by the Moors for 500 years and a great trading centre in Medieval times and at the same time forward looking.  Balconied buildings around the centre lend an attractiveness I hadn’t reckoned on. I found the city more characterful than Madrid, less severe than Barcelona.

Connections are good; from the airport it is just a short 15 – 20 minute metro ride into the city and arriving by train at the Modernist, Estacion del Nord  puts you right in the city centre. The station hall is adorned with floral, fruit laden mosaics – a perfect welcome to Valencia.

Valencia Cathedral Old City Street and Torres de Serranos

Here are a few suggestion for things to do, see and taste in Valencia

Walk the Old City – branch off from the Plaza de la Virgen by the Cathedral and take a walk around the old town. Depending on your interests you might pause to visit the Medieval Cathedral know as the Seu, climb the 207 step spiral staircase of El Miguelete bell tower or the towers of the 14th Century city gate Torres de Serranos for the views … or just soak up the atmosphere of centuries in narrow Moorish streets. Cafes and restaurants are to hand if you feel the need of a refreshing beer or ice cold horchata – its made from ground tigernuts, water and sugar. For a change of architecture wander southwards to the Plaza del Ayuntamien to see the eclectic  styles of the Post Office and Town Hall buildings.  At night the streets are particularly atmospheric; photographers will find plenty to keep them occupied on an evening stroll.Post Office Valencia

Lonja de la Seda – if I had to pick just one building to see in Valencia it would be the Silk Exchange, for the elegance and form of the Trading Hall and for its difference as civic building – a change from churches and castles.  Recognized as an ‘exceptional example of a secular building in late Gothic style’ the building was inscribed as a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1996.

The Mecardo Central opposite the Silk Exchange shouldn’t be missed either – the market is housed in an airy, decoratively tiled building dating from 1914. Valencia oranges are for sale and all sorts of other tempting fresh and local produce. In the fish section look out for the tiled wall panel of “Fisherwomen on the Beach” by Valencian artist Joaquín de Sorolla y Bastida.

Turia Gardens – buy some cheese and bread in the market and find a shady spot to enjoy the restful green oasis that has been created along the old river bed of the now diverted Turia river. The bridges are still in place. City of Arts and Sciences_Turia Gardens Valencia Spain

City of Arts & Sciences – if you’re feeling energetic you can walk or cycle all the way through the Turia Gardens to the Arts and Sciences complex. Architect Santiago Calatrava, took inspiration from animal skeletons and set his brilliant white buildings in a Mediterranean landscape of turquoise water punctuated by dark green cypress trees. L’ Oceanographic is a marine park where you can travel the world’s main marine environments from the icy waters of the poles to the Red Sea , there’s also an IMAX cinema and planetarium in the eye like L’Hemisfèric, a science museum El Museu de les Ciencies Principe Felipe full of hands on exhibits and my favourite building the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía, a venue for opera and theatre, which resembles (in my imagination) a fantastic marine creature under full sail.

Eat rice - rice has been grown in the marshy wetlands around the fresh-water Albufera lagoon south of the city since it was introduced by the Moors in the 10th century.  Arroz dishes dominate the menus: there’s paella, of course, for Valencia is said to be the home of Spain’s best known dish; also soupy rice dishes arroz caldoso, baked rice dishes with beans, sausage, potatoes and vegetables arroz al horno and arroz con costra with a baked egg crust. To pass as a local, the afternoon is the only time to eat rice.

And a souvenir
If my baggage allowance had allowed I’d have brought  home a big paella dish, we passed a  shop with maybe 20 pans strung along the wall in descending size, instead I contented myself with some Calasparra rice and Spanish paprika from the market.Spanish Paprika La Paella tiles and Paella pans

For a relaxed city break I would choose Valencia over Madrid or Barcelona, it’s more manageable with variety. World class museums and galleries, good food, an opportunity to be active or daring – what do you look for in a city break?

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