September 2019: Valencia: Sun, sand and city life

Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía Opera House, part of the Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias designed by Santiago Calatrava. located within the Turia Gardens. .

Introduction

Many of the places we visit in Spain — Bilbao [at a pinch], Cadiz, Malaga, San Sebastian have this combination of beach chill out and a lively city life. We attempt to blend into the life of the city as well as enjoy the beach. Noting that Ryanair fly direct from Manchester to Valencia, we hopped on board.

Valencia City Centre and surrounding area. Major roads, rail and Airport connections.

Orientation

Valencia is big — it’s the third largest urban area in Spain with between 1.7 and 2.5 million inhabitants[depending on definition]. A tightly knit warren of streets comprising the historical centre [Roman/Moorish/Mediaeval roots] is surrounded by 19th and 20th century boulevards with streets of ornate mansion blocks on either side of the Turia Gardens — the former bed of the River Turia. This was redirected in the 1960’s and is now a 9 km long linear park and the green lungs of the city. Valencia also the largest container port on the Mediterranean and is surrounded by agricultural lands producing food that has influenced the culture of the city.

Public transport

Valencia has fast trains to Madrid from the new[ish] Joaquim Sorolla station and a regional network from Valencia Nord. A Metro system, more useful for connecting to the suburbs and some tram lines. But more importantly for visitors, a great bus network. There is also a bike rental scheme ‘Valenbisi’ and many bike rental shops. Bikes [and electric scooters] are big in Valencia with numerous cycle paths in addition to cycling in the Turia Gardens

Accommodation

Valencia is not short of hotels: the Westin Valencia and boutique Caro top the list plus numerous chains: Barcelo, Melia, NH, Vincci and our choice the Hospes Palau del Mar. Housed in a large neoclassical mansion with a two storey contemporary extension surrounding an internal pation. The basement spa pool is an added attraction for chilling out! The Hospes Palau del Mar location is great: buses to the beaches stop right outside, the Turia Gardens are a few hundred metres away, plus the shops and facilities of the historic city centre are just a few streets away. 

Beaches

Valencia has beaches to both north and south of the port and marina. Just a short bus ride from the city centre, the Las Arenas and Malvarrosa beaches extend for miles north from the port and marina. They’re very wide with boardwalks to the beach kiosks and lounger concessions on the edge of the Med. Nearer the port the water has a lot of chopped up weed and balls of straw like material although cleaned up regularly by diggers and huge lorries trundling past the sun beds! The pedestrian Paseo Maritim runs parallel to the beach, initially lined with restaurants and a few hotels and shops, we have yet to explore further north. Beware the pounding beat of the music played all day [and night?] at the Marina Beach Club on the breakwater surrounding the marina.

To the south is La Garrofera beach which extends along the coast backed with sand dunes and few facilities to La Saler and beyond, part of the Natural Park surrounding the freshwater lake of La Albufera  — the home of paella! We alighted from the 25 bus at the Embarcardo de Paseos en Barca por la Albufera stop [where you can hire a boat and boatman to explore the lake] crossed the main and ventured through the woods and dunes to the beach: soft sand,. a clean sea and big surf. A cycle path runs from the city all the way through the woods and dunes to the village of Pinedo

Highlights

There’s so much to see! We hardly scratched then surface of all the wonderful things one can do in Valencia, so in no logical order here’s the highlights of our visit:

The Umbracle, another Calatrava edifice is an open access garden open at night in the summer for drinks under the stars.

The Hemisphéric is a digital cinema with a 900 metre concave screen.

• Turia Gardens

Without doubt the transformation of the former riverbed of the Rio Turia to become the 9km long Turia Gardens is a fantastic asset for city centre residents and tourists alike. Local joggers and cycling tour groups make prominent use of the pathways; the giant Gulliver slides and climbing feature is a great hit with kids and the nearby unpretentious bar/cafe a hit with adults. Elsewhere in the gardens a weekend long street food truck Hamburger festival was in full swing. At the end nearest the coast is the futuristic Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias designed by local hero and world renowned star architect Santiago Calatrava.

Mercado de Colon, designed by Francisco Mora and inaugurated on New Year's Eve 1916 and sympathetically restored and stabilised in the 1990's. It received a European Cultural Award in 2003.

• Mercado de Colon

A beautiful ‘modernista’ style building [quirky, Antonio Gaudi gothicism] repurposed as individual cafe bars on the upper floor and more formal restaurants and charcuterie/ food bar lowers down. A different take on the gastro-market concept: each option has its own seating. Very popular all day and all week, manic in the evening at weekends. Good breakfasts too. A useful VLC Tourismo Valencia information desk is near the entrance with maps and leaflets.

Upper image: The main hall of Mercado Central with World Paella Day hangings. Middle image: market stall offering vermouth from the barrel and incredibly cheap rioja. Lower image: Fishermen's wives mural painted on tiles in the Mercado Central.

A traditional horchateria near the Mercado Central. Horchata is a milky drink made from 'tiger nuts' [Cyperus Esculentus] also known as Yellow Nutsedge flavoured with sugar and cinnamon.

• Mercado Central

This is a huge facility devoted to all things culinary and remains a real food shopping venue in the centre of the historical city centre. However there are a few bars and take away food fac[ilities, plus [our favourite] a bar offering jamon iberico and vermouth from the barrel at €1 per glass and 3 bottles of Rioja for €9! As seen in the photo it was also International Paella Day too!

El Albero, tables on the street are at a premium!

• El Albero Taberna Andaluza

We love this bar/ restaurant on the corner of Calle del Conde de Altea and Calle de Ciscar offering typical Andalucian tapas including Tortellitas de Camarones [shrimp fritters] and excellent Solomillo [Pork Medallions]. In addition to Canas of beer and copa de vino, Manzanilla sherry was also a popular tipple. Really busy on weekend evenings when it impossible to reserve a table both inside and on the street. There are numerous other offers along .Calle del Conde de Altea and the surrounding streets.

• EMA Bus Card

EMA run the buses in Valencia. We took a lot of bus journeys to the beaches: the 25 went all the way to El Saler and beyond and the 95 to the El Arenal beach. We purchased a 10 journey card from a street kiosk that seemed to give us more journeys than we paid for!

• Restaurante El Menjar Amb Viracre at the Musee de Belles Artes

After an extended perambulation through the Turia Gardens and the Jardins del Real we welcomed the opportunity to sit down for a late [for us] lunch in the patio of the museum restaurant.The offer included a great value fixed price menu and reasonably priced wine all very efficiently served by the staff.

• Hotel Neptuno 

First on the block at the Paseo Maritim, the Neptuno looks like it’s had a serious recent update — very groovy with a Jeff Koons balloon dog sculpture among other artefacts. The restaurant overlooking the beach has a separate bar area with casual seating and reasonably priced drinks — great for chilling after all the effort of sunning yourself on the beach!

• El Corte Inglés

There’s a lot of these big department stores in Valencia. Or hotel was near the Carrer de Colón branch and eventually found our way to the top floor restaurant with open views of Valencia rooftops. A private function monopolised the best views on our visit — maybe next time! The lower floor supermarket had some excellent vermouths, so we topped up our supply for returning to the UK.

• Valencia Airport

'Small but beautifully made' another Calatrava construction, easy to get through and with some good facilities airside. The Pausa cafe/restaurant had some excellent looking offers for an airport facility: steak, pork and burgers cooked to order, a hot chicken pot meal and other hot meals. Drinks were reasonably priced too.

• Kiosco La Pergola

We happened upon this busy little bar on a busy corner of Paseo Alameda and Placa del Real opposite the entrance to the Viveros Gardens. The few outdoor tables were fully occupied when we had a welcome few beers. Further research has revealed the specialism is the 'Super Bon-Bon' a huge pile of food on a toasted baguette.

Future Visits

Knowing we were going to Valencia we looked for information and advice and discovered the crime novels of Jason Webster, an acknowledged authority on things Spanish [married to a Flamenco dancer!] and his take on the less salubrious side of life in Valencia. We loved the books and they certainly helped contextuaise our visit. The best blog on Valencia for visitors is in the 91 Days series by travel writers Jūrgen and Mike,  who have adopted the city as their home

Jason Webster recommends late Spring as a time to visit — not too hot, so maybe next time we'll get on our bikes and explore further afield. We really enjoyed the laid back vibe of the city, every square in the histroical centre and the surrounding city was busy with residents and visitors enjoying the outdoor life in bars and cafes or sitting in the sun, walking the dog or cycling on the designated pathways or in the parks. It was welcoming without pandering to visitors and thewarm evenings were wonderful!

The official city cycle route map shows how dense the cycle path network in for Valencia. There's numerous bike stands around the city for locking your bike.