Rachel Webb offers some background information about Valencia and what you must do and see on a short break.
Since the arrival of the Romans, Valencia, with its average temperature of 16.7C has appealed to many different types of visitor. With a year-round enviable Mediterranean climate and more than 100 km of coast with many blue flag beaches it’s a perfect family destination.
Valencia is both city, one of the largest in Spain, and autonomous community which includes the provinces of Castellón Valencia and Alicante. This long strip of land hugs the coastline with Valencia city roughly halfway along its stretch of coast and just 4km inland making it an ideal location for exploring the whole community.
This coastal city has plenty to offer tourist and visitors whatever their age or interests, it’s an amalgamation of culture and languages that make it a unique base to experience all it offers.
For history and culture it’s a rich source of inspiration with Roman ruins and Muslim treasures, for the younger generation this university town is reputed to be equal to Madrid and Barcelona for nightlife. If a more leisurely holiday is your style why not relax in the Botanical Gardens or wander through the Moorish Palm forests and gardens of Elche.
Another of Valencia’s claims to fame is the paella, it started out as a humble peasant dish – midday lunch cooked over an open-fire with freshly caught meat or fish and the abundant and readily available local crop –rice.
Many versions are now available but try and find a restaurant that cooks paella to order over a wood-fire and you won’t find better anywhere else. A handy tip is to ask how long the paella will take – anything less than twenty – twenty-five minutes and you’ll be getting a warmed-up dish, not the real thing.
Valencia became a prosperous area during its Roman occupation; it was then taken by the Visigoths in the 5th and by the Moors in the 8th century. They established it as an independent kingdom and left an enormous legacy of beautiful buildings and farming techniques.
Oranges, grapes, rice, almonds and dates are among the produce that the Moors successfully grew and exported to North Africa during their occupation. When these lands were won by the Catholic Kings in the Reconquista Valencia was a wealthy city.
Valencia today is a thriving modern city that wonderfully blends its historical past with modern-day technology. A definite must-visit is the incredible City of Arts and Sciences project – a futuristic city that draws together the vast talent in the area, artists, scientists and painters.
What to do in Valencia
The City of Arts and Science
First opened in 1998, it now comprises four different buildings: L’Hemisferic, the Museum of Science Principe Felipe, the Oceanographic Park and the Palace of Arts. This is a real must visit, buy a combined ticket which allows you access over three days, that way you won’t have to miss anything.
The Basilica de la Virgen de Los Desamparados
The Basilica de la Virgen de Los Desamparados is a glorious baroque church in the old part of the city which was constructed in honour of Mare de Deu dels Desamparats the city’s patron saint and is connected by a gothic arch to the cathedral.
The Cathedral has three main doors each of differing architectural style. Building began in the XIII, was finished in the XV century and went through major renovation works in the XVIII. So you can now choose to enter via Palau street and its Romanesque door, Plaza de la Virgen for a Gothic entrance or the Plaza de Zaragoza for a Baroque welcome.
The Botanical Gardens
The Botanical Gardens are the oldest gardens in the city; they contain around 3,000 plant species and more than 7,000 palm trees, exotic trees and shrubs. It’s also said to be the best Botanical Garden in Europe for its collection of vegetables from around the world.
The Central Market
The Central Market is one of the most beautiful in Europe. The building was begun in 1914 and has since then been the prime source of fresh food in the city, with 959 market stalls in an area of 8000sq m.
Marques de Dos Aguas Palace
Marques de Dos Aguas Palace is the best example of XVIII architecture in Valencia, with a hand-carved white marble facade. Most of it’s interior has been preserved and is worth a look while visiting the National Museum of Ceramics Gonzalez Marti which is inside.
Ferias and Fiestas in Valencia
One of the most famous of all the Valencian festivals has to be Las Fallas which take place from 15th – 19th March. This is a week long celebration of light, colour and fireworks. At the beginning of the festivities around 700 fallas or enormous wood and cardboard puppets are transported to the town. These satirical figures are then set alight on the Nit del Foc or Fire Night along with millions of fireworks.
Semana Santa or Easter Week is sometimes called Sailor’s Holy Week here along the coast. Many processions take place, often one from each church or chapel parade the streets. Often processions take place in the sea or foot or in boats.
Virgen de Los Desamparados is a religious celebration which takes place the second Sunday in May. This is one of the most idolised virgin who is transported from the Basilica to the Cathedral. The moving mass of people who follow this pilgrimage of the Virgen of the Homeless is an amazing sight.
Feria of San Vicente is the second Monday of Easter and is particular to Valencia. Live representations of the miracles performed by Saint Vicent – the Saint of Orphans take place in the open-air.
Corpus Cristi is one of the most important religious marches where many of the Old Testatment characters are represented. Live theatrical performances, dancers and enormous giant puppets also parade the streets.
Noche de San Juan which takes place on 23rd June is also known as The Night of The Witches. It traditional to dip your feet into the sea and proclaim your wishes. This is followed by bonfires and feasting on the beaches.
The Lladro Factory is an enormous complex where you can see the beautiful Lladro porcelain figures being produced, visit the ceramic museum and find yourself a bargain at one of their factory shops.
Getting around Valencia
The underground metro enables easy access into the city centre, once in the city the more accessible tram system travels around the city and out to the beaches – by far the best method of getting to where you want to go.
For a tourist route bus ride take The Bus Turstic, you can hop on and off wherever you like throughout a 24-hour period. Another choice is the Albufera Bus Turistic which runs from Plaza de la Reina out to the Albufera National Park, the ticket includes a boat ride to see the local flora and fauna – depending on the time of year you might see herons, storks and flamingos.
As a holiday destination Valencia’s diversity is hard to beat.