From Gothic streets and futuristic architecture to beaches and cycle trails, why Valencia is Spain’s best-kept secret
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Enjoy the Mediterranean lifestyle in Spain’s third city, where a buzzing foodie scene and the country’s most colourful festival combine with lush parks and a golden coastline.
Valencia is a city where you can spend your morning strolling the old town’s tangle of Gothic streets and the afternoon relaxing on golden beaches. Where the best way to explore is pedalling the 90 miles of cycle paths, and evenings are spent spilling out of bars and restaurants to sit on terraces under swaying palms.
Spain’s third city is bathed in more than 300 days of sunshine a year, and its Mediterranean coast, combined with the market gardens that create a green belt around the city, supply the local produce that inspires its vibrant foodie scene.
Historic: The elegant city of Valencia, the third largest in Spain, also boasts pristine beaches
Then there are the Turia Gardens, a five-mile stretch of park that wends its way through the city following the course of the old River Turia. Threaded with pathways and streams, and dotted with sculptures, it is crowned by the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences.
Here, Valencia’s famous son, the architect Santiago Calatrava, created the soaring white buildings that emerge from the greenery and are home to a science museum, Europe’s largest aquarium, and an opera house that looks like a huge glittering fish.
Futuristic: The Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava designed the City of Arts and Sciences
Yet, somehow, Valencia manages to fly under the radar, leaving the headline-grabbing to the likes of Madrid and Barcelona, while it simply relaxes and enjoys the Mediterranean lifestyle.
A fiery festival
That’s not to say Valencia is a quiet city. Each March it explodes – quite literally – into a colourful month-long festival with daily fireworks and huge figures built in the streets, turning the city into an open-air art gallery until they are all burned to the ground.
Cover your ears! In Las Fallas, revellers let off firecrackers in the square in front of City Hall
Las Fallas is one of Spain’s biggest festivals, and neighbourhoods spend all year raising money and hiring the best artists to create the colourful displays that fill the streets, normally featuring a satirical twist on world news.
At 2pm each day, everyone crowds into the main square to hear the eardrum-busting fireworks displays, and on the final weekend of the festival, you’ll find concerts in the streets, pop-up bars and sweet churro stands, with the whole city on the move to see the artistic displays before they are ceremonially set on fire.
Satirical twist on the news: Las Fallas is one of Spain’s biggest – and brightest – festivals
Valencia doesn’t just buzz with energy during Las Fallas. This is a city that loves to eat out, with bars and restaurants for every taste, whether you want a traditional paella, or modern dishes created by some of Spain’s leading chefs.
‘Traditional paella must be made with rice specially grown just outside the city, along with rabbit, chicken, green beans and lima beans – rather than the seafood one we are all familiar with.
That said, there are so many different takes on this famous rice dish, whether you fancy truffle, pork and black garlic or a ‘Senyoret’ paella, which translates as ‘gentleman’s paella’ because the seafood is peeled and de-shelled so you don’t need to get your hands dirty!
Home of paella: Enjoy this mouth-watering traditional rice dish in the Valencian sunshine
Head to the beach for restaurants steeped in tradition, or to hipster Ruzafa, where patio restaurants blend Valencian flavours with world cuisine surrounded by beautiful Art Nouveau buildings.
Cabanyal is the up-and-coming district that was once a separate fisherman’s village and serves the freshest fish, while the old town is perfect for ‘horchata’, a sweet refreshing drink made with tiger nuts and often complemented by ‘fartons’, a croissant-like pastry that is perfect for dunking.
A step back in time
It may have been inspired centuries of quests, but it seems the Holy Grail was in Valencia all along. Some believe this ancient chalice, on display atop a golden pedestal at the city’s 13th-century cathedral, is the cup used by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. But even if you’re not sure, the spectacular cathedral is well worth a visit and its tower offers panoramic city views.
Stroll through the old town’s winding streets and bustling plazas towards the glorious Art Nouveau Central Market, where colourful local produce battles to out-dazzle the stained-glass dome and mosaic walls.
Worth a trip: The city’s Art Nouveau Central Market boasts delicious local produce
The 15th-century silk exchange La Lonja is another beautiful Gothic masterpiece, while the Almoina Museum gives you a glimpse below the modern city to its Roman foundations.
The great outdoors
With its year-round sunshine and lush parks, Valencia is a city where everyone makes the most of being outdoors. Its web of cycle trails means it is perfect to explore by bike, whether you want to freewheel through the Turia Gardens or pedal along the coast to a nearby beach for fresh fish lunch looking out to sea.
Relaxation: Valencia is the perfect place to enjoy a drink or a fresh fish lunch at the beach
It may be a coastal city, but Valencia is also surrounded by mountains, where you can hike among fragrant pines, discover picturesque villages, or go wine tasting in the Requena-Utiel wine region. A short bike ride to the south will bring you to Albufera, Spain’s largest lake and its most important wetlands. In this natural park, Valencia’s famous rice grows, and little boast take you out on the water to explore, finishing up in the village of El Palmar, where they say paella was born – ideal for lunch!
Further afield, the Valencian Community also includes the provinces of Castellon to the north and Alicante to the south. In Castellon, you’ll find long stretches of picture-perfect coastline and tumbledown castles to explore, while Alicante combines buzzing beach towns with charming villages hidden in the hills and sweeping natural parks.
A city for everyone
Whether you want to go shopping in the elegant streets of the Colon neighbourhood, explore the history of the old town, or simply enjoy the Mediterranean lifestyle in the parks and on the coast, Valencia makes the ideal city break.
Visit in the winter months for mild days and winter sun, or spring for Las Fallas and the city’s parks in bloom. All you need to do is pack your sunglasses, bring your appetite and get ready to explore Spain’s best-kept secret.
To find out more about Spain’s best-kept secret and plan your Valencia city break, go to visitvalencia.com/en
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