Beach parties, perfect paellas and one amazing space-age style City of Arts and Culture all add up to an appealing southern Spanish destination, full of character.
GoTimeshare reveals why easy-going Valencia is giving its big sister Barcelona a run for its money.
Like Barcelona, Valencia can boast “urban” beaches, striking modern architecture and an almost perfect balance between old-new, beach-city. It’s a sort of halfway house destination between Malaga and Barcelona – more sophisticated than Malaga and more bite-size than Barcelona.
If Gaudi’s ornate Sagrada Familia cathedral is Barcelona’s architectural icon, Valencia’s own wow factor cityscape could not be more different. To look at, the space-age City of Arts and Culture is a modern wonder, housing some of the city’s best attractions – the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia, the Science Museum, the Hemisferic IMAX and Europe’s largest Aquarium, the Oceanografico.
Valencia’s historic centre may be beautiful but Calatrava’s architectural masterpiece is a city unto itself. It usually tops most people’s sightseeing lists and if you’ve already been, you’ll know exactly why…
Before you start exploring and if you’re staying longer than a day, get yourself a:
Valencia Tourist Card
Buy a 48 or 72-hour Tourist Card and you’ll be able to hop on and off public transport to your heart’s content; also gets you discounts at restaurants, museums and shops. It’s available from one of the city’s official tourist offices.
Formula 1 Championship – 24-26 June
The European Grand Prix returns to Valencia on 24-26 June 2011 and fans will be flocking to the city in their thousands to watch the world’s Formula One drivers compete live on the city track. Once again, the area around the Juan Carlos I Royal Marina will be transformed into the racetrack, promising a thrill-packed, don’t miss spectacle. www.valenciastreetcircuit.com
City of Arts and Sciences
This amazing space lies along almost two kilometres of what was formerly the bed of the River Turia, covering 350,000 square metres. City of Arts and Sciences is a huge open area inhabited by architect Calatrava’s enormous, ultra-modernistic, space-age structures, all brilliant white, contrasting against Valencia’s blue skies.
Valenciano Santiago Calatrava really put his city on the world tourist map when the complex was completed – instantly, it became the city’s new symbolic landmark. Calatrava also designed CAC’s Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía, the Hemisfèric, the Príncipe Felipe Science Museum, the Umbracle, and the Ágora (the Agora is currently under construction). Fellow architect Felix Candela created the unique roof of the main Oceanográfico – an underwater wonderland and always a big hit with children.
Information and Bookings: 0034 902 100 031 www.cac.es
Greenery and Gardens
Part of Valencia’s easy, breezy atmosphere are its gardens – and there are plenty of them. In fact Valencia is known as the city of flowers and light, reflecting the huge variety of plants and flowers that flourish in its warm, sunny climate.
The dried-out river bed that runs through the heart of the city was re-designed as the Jardin del Turia which is a huge park with recreational facilities, and it’s bordered by museums and some of the city’s most important points of interest for tourists, making it a good place to escape to for a stroll before continuing with the sightseeing.
Others parks dotted around the city are the Jardines del Real (also called Jardines de Viveros), La Alameda, los Jardines de Monforte, the Botanical Gardens (Jardin Botanico), the Glorieta and the Parterre. All are a wonderful place to escape to for some R&R, where you can watch the fountains, take in the sculptures and appreciate the green breathing spaces of this city-by-the-sea.
A good way to explore Valencia’s gardens, as well as the beaches, is by bike: www.valenciabikes.com
Valencia is a coastal city, so the beach is part of the locals’ lifestyle. Some of the most popular as the Playa las Arenas Cabanyal and Malvarrosa, which can get very busy in summer.
The America’s Cup Port
One of Valencia’s newest sections of the city, this part of the port was especially designed for the 32nd Americas Cup 2009 and is also part of the Formula 1 circuit. It’s a lovely place to pass some time, strolling around the marina where some very smart sailing yachts are moored.
The Fallas – Fires and Fireworks!
Too late for this year’s Fallas, the five-day fire and firework extravaganza is extraordinary. Huge papier mache caricatures, like brilliantly-designed enormous puppets are paraded through the streets, representing famous political figures and celebrities. After they’re set alight, the city streets glow against the orange flames – luckily there are plenty of firemen standing by.
This spectacular festival which celebrates St. Joseph is held in March, but there’s still time to catch the mad tomato-throwing festival, La Tomatina, in nearby Bunol (on the last Wednesday in August).
The Ceramics Museum
If you love the sort of brightly-coloured ceramics Valencia is famous for, the Ceramics Museum is a great place to escape to on a hot summer’s day. Afterwards you can shop for pretty azulejos, those local coloured tiles, at one of the city’s artesan shops such as Taller Artesania Yuste.
El Mercado Central de Valencia
It’s a cliché, but no visit to the city would be complete without at least a pit-stop to the beautiful building of Valencia’s Central (food) Market. The beautiful domed glass ceiling with orange blossom design is stunning, and the whole space is light, bright and airy.
Feast your eyes on the seafood, meats, fruit, veg, cheeses, olives and spices (this is the place to pick up some manchego cheese or chorizos) so if a picnic on the beach is on the agenda, this is the place to shop for treats.
Mercado Central de Valencia,Plaza del Mercado 1,46001 Valencia, España, Phone: 0034 963 829 100
L’Orxateria del Mercat Central
After you’ve had your fill of food at the Mercat Central, this is the place to come for ice cream, chocolates, a glass of freshly-squeezed sweet Valencia orange juice or a refreshing horchata. What’s a horchata? The Valencians call it “orxata” and it’s made from tigernuts which grow in the countryside. Milky, sweet and thirst-quenching, it’s a drink that originated during Muslim times – you can buy it in supermarkets, too.
L’Orxateria del Mercat Central, Plaza del Mercado, 1, 46001 Valencia, España
Valencia’s restaurant scene, on the whole, is less international or experimental than Barcelona’s, but when it comes to the perfect paella – its speciality – it’s impossible to beat. Tapas are popular, too.
La Marcelina www.lamarcelina.com:This is a very popular weekend spot by the beach, so you might want to book in advance.
El Rall www.elrall.es:Known for its paellas, it’s a local favourite, tucked behind the silk market.
Shiraz www.restauranteshiraz.blogspot.com:Sleek, modern and with a very good wine list, this is a great find if you’re looking for excellent food that’s reasonably priced – a three-course lunch runs at about €12 and unlike most Spanish restaurants, there are plenty of vegetarian options here. You’ll find it on Calle Conquista 3 (0034 963 910 364).
Café Negrito:Grab your seat by the square and savour a glass of sweet orange juice on a hot day, or linger longer later on and people watch in the evening before you head off for dinner. Plaza del Negrito (0034 963 914 233)
Sol I Lluna:On Calle del Mar 29 (0034 963 922 216) – while away an hour or so on the laid back al fresco terrace.
Valencia Tourist Board website www.turisvalencia.com