Valencia | 48 Hours
This was the view I woke up to every morning during my stay in Valencia–the rising sun creating a gorgeous tangerine hue over the city. Returning to Spain is always a pleasure for me; I’ve seen more of this country than any other. The early mornings were always my favourite time of day. Coffee and a pastry on a warm sunny cafe terrace, as I watched people around me ready themselves for the day ahead is such a relaxing way to start any morning. Valencia, renowned for its festivals and famous cuisine, is also known as the orange blossom coast, and if you are really lucky and happen to be there at the right time of year, there is a beautiful hint of orange blossom filling the air. This was a short weekend visit, so I stayed in an Airbnb in the centre of the ciutat vella (old city). The host was friendly and knowledgable about the city, and provided me with a city map, and gave a detailed description of all the major spots to see during my stay. Valencia is Spain’s third city after Madrid and Barcelona, and was once regarded as the ugly sister of the three, but not any more.
It is a beautiful, intimate city, easily accessible on foot or bicycle. It has the ease and vibrancy of other Mediterranean cities but without the mass tourism. Its architecture, a fusion of cross cultures, shows its diverse historical past from centuries-old Muslim, Roman and Christian buildings to the iconic and very impressive centre for arts and science, Ciutat de las Artes y las Ciencias created by local architect Santiago Calatrava. Praised for their highly individual festivals such as the week long Las Fallas and art galleries displaying works from the gothic, baroque and renaissance periods, Valencia is a must for art and culture lovers. In the centre of the city is the river Turin, which has been drained because of continuous flooding and is now a lush green park that creates a welcoming coolness and calm in the humid city heat.
Valencia is fast emerging as a modern gastronomy destination, and although my stay there was very brief I managed to sample a little of the local traditional and modern cuisine. Here are a few places I tried and loved.
Where to eat
Sesame – Carrer d’En Bou, 10
This is my favourite style of restaurant–a cozy, eclectic-style bistro with an equally eclectic mediterranean menu. I had the layered aubergine dish garnish with bacon and my husband had steak, both dishes were superb and so was their wine recommendation.
Restaurant Jaume 1 – Carrer Derechos, 11
If you love steak, you’ll love it here. Located in a busy side street not far from Avenida de Maria Christina, this restaurants specialty is mixta de carne a la piedra, an assortment of meats that you cook of a hot stone right at your table. And, of course, paella de Valenciana is also on the menu.
Los escalones de la Lonja – Carrer Pere Compte, 3
This is a cute little tapas bar with a large, busy terrace. The papas bravas and calamari, were perfect for a deliciously light lunch.
Horchateria de Santa Catalina – Placa de Santa Catalina, 6
This beautifully tiled traditional Horchataeria is a must-see while in Valencia. Tiger nuts were introduced to Valencia by the Moorish Arabs and Horchata was made from them. Cooling and refreshing, this sweet, milky drink is served over ice and is very welcoming during the humid summer heat.
Paella by the beach
Although Paella is one of the great iconic dishes of Spain, it is actually a regional dish of Valencia. Rice was first grown there in the surrounding Huerta agricultural area by the Moors, who also introduced spinach, saffron, artichokes and, of course tiger nuts from which Horchata, the deliciously refreshing milky drink, is made.
An old story goes that the servants of Moorish kings would create rice dishes from the food left over from banquets to take home with them. Paella is said to derive from the Arabic word baqiyah meaning “leftovers.” Yet another story says that Paella was created by farmers who used to cook their lunch in fields using whatever combination of ingredients were at hand–rabbit, snails or duck–and that Paella or “la paella” actually refers to the pan that the rice is cooked in and not the dish itself.
The ingredients in paella are now endless including, fish, seafood, duck, rabbit or chicken. Whichever variety of paella you choose heading to El Cabanyal or Playa de Malvarrosa for paella while taking in the sun and sea is a must. Because Sunday is traditionally the day Valencians meet family and friends over paella, restaurants are very busy, so be sure to book in advance.
Where to Stay
Airbnb Ciutat Vella
Take a look at the website of author Jason Webster for more on Valencia’s rich history.