Like Its Famous Paella, Valencia Has a Blend of Classic & Modern Flavors
By Gerrie Summers
If your idea of a trip to Spain only involves a visit to Barcelona or Madrid, you’re missing out. As I recently found out, Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, as well as the region of Valencia, is filled with stunning landscapes, ancient architectural treasures, exquisite cuisine and much more.
If your starting point in Spain is Barcelona or Madrid, it’s a one hour flight from both cities to Valencia or a 3 1/2 to 4-hour drive. (The high-speed train will get you there in a little less than two hours.) Once there, be sure to explore the city and then the surrounding area via bus or car to discover the charm of the medieval towns and villages.
Valencia is located on Spain’s eastern coast, at the mouth of the Turia River. It is the capital of the Valencia province as well as the autonomous community of Valencia, which encompasses the provinces of Valencia, Castellón, and Alicante. There are so many cultural influences to be found in the region of Valencia dating back to the periods in which the Iberians, Romans, Visigoths, and Muslims ruled the land. King Jaime I of Aragon’s conquest in the 13th century, ended Muslim rule, creating the Kingdom of Valencia and marked the beginnings of the Valencian people.
First Stop: Valencia Province
Arriving in Valencia city, my group hit the ground running with a guided tour with Turiart. One thing you notice right away is bilingual signage. Two official languages are spoken in Valencia — Spanish, and Valencian, a dialect of Catalan. You’ll see road signs in Valencian with Spanish translations underneath, and Valencian used for toponyms, streets, and squares (they can appear either with the Castilian name, Valencian name or both.) This makes it interesting for visitors (especially when you’re using an app to find locations.)
In the heart of the city are three architectural works of art. The Mercado Central (Central Market), designed by Alejandro Soler March and Francisco Guardia Vial in 1910 and completed in 1928 by Valencian architect Enrique Viedma Vidal, is one of the largest markets in Europe. A stained glass dome, ornate iron beams, colorful ceramic tiles surround more than 1,000 stalls of fresh produce, cheese, meats, spices, fish, seafood, and all the ingredients necessary for traditional dishes, like paella, a rice dish with meat (chicken or rabbit) or seafood, that was born in Valencia. You’ll also see Valencian oranges, still the most popular orange throughout the world.
Across from the Central Market is Lonja de la Seda (The Silk Market), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which began construction in 1483 as a project of master builder Pere Compte. The Valencian Gothic style building was originally used for trading silk and consists of three distinct structures: The Contracts room (Trading Hall) displays the wealth of the city’s Golden Age in the 15th and 16th centuries, with eight impressive columns supporting a domed ceiling and marble tiled floors; Consulado de Mar (Consulate of the Sea) room which can be entered via the Patio de los Naranjos (or “orange patio” or “courtyard of the orange trees”); and The Torreon (Great Tower) which housed jails for defaulting merchants and a small chapel dedicated to the Immaculate Conception on the ground floor. The Baroque style Iglesia de San Juan del Mercado or the Church of Santos Juanes, is next to the Central Market and was built over a mosque in 1240.
The Cathedral of Valencia has several architectural styles—the Romanesque gate of La Almoina was built in the 13th century, the gothic gate of the Apostles was built in the 14th century and the Baroque Hierros gate was built in the 18th century. The temple contains a chalice believed to be the Holy Grail, that was gifted to the city by King Alfonso the Magnanimous (Alfonso V) in 1424. At the foot of the cathedral is the octagonal shaped bell tower Miguelete (Micalet in Valencian) built in Levantine Gothic style. If you climb the 207 steps you’ll get a wonderful view of the city. The Cathedral is linked to the Basilica of the Virgen de los Desamparados through a corridor.
There are only two gatehouses that remain from the original twelve that existed in the historical walls. The Serranos Towers, erected in 1397, were the main entrance to the city and used for ceremonies and official entrances for kings and ambassadors. The Quart Towers, were built between the years 1441 and 1460 in late Gothic style.
After seeing other sites in the Old Town, we stopped in for lunch at Colmado LaLola, which is right by the Cathedral, a surprising find — an authentic tapas spot in the heart of a rather touristy area (and where my overdosing on olives would began). Tapas also originated in Spain. Legend has it that the origin of tapas comes from King Alfonso X (Alfonso the Wise) who had a serious illness and could only take in small portions of food with a small amount of wine.
Then we were off on a bike tour with Doyoubike to work off the calories and see more sites in Valencia. After being assured I would not become roadkill (I’m terrified of riding bikes in a city. Thankfully this was nothing like New York City, so I was fine), we embarked on the two-hour tour that included a stop at the Colon Market, designed by architect Francisco Mora and built between 1914 – 1916, and a ride through Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (the City of Arts and Sciences) by the River Turia, one of the largest scientific and cultural complexes in Europe. The complex is made up of Hemisfèc, (IMAX Cinema) the Principe Felipe Science Museum, the Reina Sofia Palau de les Arts,(Palace of the Arts) the Āgora, (concert and events space) the Umbracle (a landscaped vantage point, with sculptures, gardens, walkways and a nightclub during the summer months) and the Oceanogràfic (Europe’s largest aquarium).
Later in the evening, I returned to the Colon Market to try horchata (a tiger nut milk beverage) with fartons (bun-like confectionary sweets) at Daniel. We learned about horchata and fartons (which you dip into the milk) at the Central Market, so it was a must. And yes, I did ask the question and the answer is — if you have a lot of horchata and fartons, you will fart.
The Colon Market was originally a market for produce, fish, and meat and now houses cafes, shops and holds events and live performances.
Just steps away from the City of Arts and Sciences and L’Oceanogràfic is the newly renovated AC Hotel Valencia. Info: https://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/vlcva-ac-hotel-valencia/
Next up — our bus ride to charming villages and towns in the Castellón and Alicante provinces.
For More Information:
Visit Valencia https://www.visitvalencia.com/en
Colmado La Lola https://lalolarestaurante.com/colmado
Gerrie Summers is a New York-based freelance writer and has been writing professionally for several years in the areas of entertainment, beauty, lifestyle, travel, and wellness. She is currently the Style Editor for New York Lifestyles Magazine where she also writes about wellness and travel, and a regular contributor to Real Health magazine and Sisters from AARP. Her travel features have appeared in Luxury Living Magazine, Foxnews.com, Trip Savvy, For the Bride and Today’s Black Woman. She also writes the blogs SummersRetreat and The Tranquil Traveler.