Herself and I have been to Valencia three times now, which is a clear sign of how enamoured we are with the city. For me, the thing I love most about Valencia is that fact that it’s still very much “Spanish”….(ignoring the fact that they speak both Catalan AND Castellano, but for most foreigners that’s akin to splitting hairs), with very little of the usual rowdy Dutch, German, British or Americans to be found. The Russians, thankfully, have not yet discovered this little gem either.
Sitting on the Costa del Azahar – the orange blossom Coast – Valencia is also blessed with some of Spain’s best beaches. Valencia is both of Spain, and distinct from Spain. In Muslim hands for five centuries, its Christian European history has been shaped as much by Catalonia, its neighbour to the north, as by Castilla. The region’s flag bears the red and yellow stripes of Catalonia and the mother tongue of many is Valenciano, a dialect of Catalan.
The second thing we love about Valencia is the combination of new and old architecture, and the fact that you have a city that is wonderfully fresh, clean and vibrant. Two of our favourite places in the city are the City of Arts and Sciences (Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències) and the Garden of the Turia (Jardín del Turia).
After a catastrophic flood in 1957 which devastated the city of Valencia, the river was divided and the water has been diverted southwards along a new course that skirts the city. The old riverbed is now a verdant sunken park that allows cyclists and pedestrians to traverse much of the city without the use of roads. The park boasts numerous ponds, paths, fountains, flower-beds, football pitches, cafés, artworks, climbing walls, an athletics track, a zen garden and much much more.
I really love the contrast of architectural styles from the classic and historic buildings found in the old town – the old Silk Exchange, Torres de Quart and the numerous Cathedrals to name but a few – to the new ultra-modern, and in my opinion, almost alien/futuristic styles that are found at the City of Sciences and elsewhere throughout the newer parts of the city.
The third thing we love are the beaches. Or should I say “beach” because it looks like it simply doesn’t end. It stretches north as far as the eye can see and is pristine and clean with a very visible police presence on the beach. Unlike, say, Barcelona, which has the problem of having only a few crowded beaches, as well as the incessant pestering of African immigrants trying to sell you their tat or braid your hair, Valencia thankfully has none of that.
Spaniards are known throughout the world for their love of partying and fiestas and Valencia is no exception. Every year during the week before the 19th of March, they celebrate Las Fallas. It’s an annual celebration held in commemoration of St. Joseph.
The origins of the Fallas stem from the Middle Ages, when artisans disposed of the broken artifacts and pieces of wood they saved during the winter by burning them to celebrate the Spring equinox. Valencian carpenters used planks of wood called parots to hang their candles on during the winter, as these were needed to provide light for the carpenters to work by. With the coming of the spring, they were no longer necessary, so they were burned. Over time, and with the intervention of the Church, the date of the burning of these parots was made to coincide with the celebration of the festival of St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.
On the nights of the 15, 16, 17, and 18th there are firework displays in the old riverbed in Valencia. Each night is progressively grander and the last is called La Nit del Foc, (the Night of Fire).
On the final night of Falles, around midnight on March 19, these falles are burnt as huge bonfires. This is known as the cremà (the burning), and this is of course the climax of the whole event, and the reason why the constructions are called falles (“torches”). Traditionally, the falla in the Plaça de l’Ajuntament is burned last.
Many neighbourhoods have a falla infantil (a children’s falla, smaller and without satirical themes), which is held a few metres away from the main one. This is burnt first, at 10:00 p.m. The main neighbourhood falles are burnt closer to midnight; the burning of the falles in the city centre often start later.
And for those who want to venture outside of the city, you can venture to the wetlands of the beautiful lake and nature reserve of Albufera, or head into the surrounding hills to go white-water rafting, or venture to the town of Teruel, famous for its Jamón serrano and many delicious sausages and meat…..a carnivores dream town 🙂
As the third largest city in Spain, (after Madrid and Barcelona), it doesn’t give one the feeling of being stuck in a large busy city. There’s not much in the way of traffic jams, the streets are generally wide and comfortable to walk around in, and we’ve found that cycling is the best way to explore and get around the city. So if you’re looking to sample Spain, but without the tourist traps of Barcelona, then come check out our favourite little gem.