Valencia……..where do I start. This impressive City, now regarded as Spain’s third Capital, is huge and spread out and you will need a week just to get your bearings! I’ve been here 5 days and I still haven’t. I know several of my non-motorhoming chums are planning to visit here in the near future. My advice is thus. Claire – bring plenty of money, raid your piggy bank and pinch Matt’s credit card. The shopping is just fabulous. Valencia has really taken off in the fashion stakes. Some of the little boutiques selling bits from local Designers made me drool. You will love the quirky little cocktail bars and gin joints in the old quarter. Janet – make sure you have comfy shoes and choose the right hotel! Get as Central to the historic part as you possibly can as many of the hotels are over the bridge and out of the way. Both – do a bit of homework on the internet so you have at least a rough idea of the layout and what you want to see and if you can, print out a map before you arrive, if not, straight to Tourist Info once you get here. Also I would strongly recommend investing in a decent guide book. Valencia is an elegant combination of historic and modern architecture. From the gothic ‘La Longa de la Seda’ (Silk Exchange) building to the giant, space age complex, Cuidad de las Artes y Cuenca, City of Arts and Sciences. The modern buildings can easily give La Defence in Paris and Canary Wharf a run for their money. The City is alive with noise and colour. Valencia’s mantra is ‘live without sleep’. Sadly, it’s not mine, I’ve only been here five days and Im worn out! There are two large market buildings, both of which really must be seen. The Colon Market is a bit like Covent Garden and is filled with Arty crafty stalls and upmarket cafes then the Mercado Central which sells quality fresh regional produce daily. The two are both very atmospheric and buzzing with local life.
The Barrio del Carmen is the oldest part of town. There are lots of quirky bars and trendy cafes hiding in buildings which look like they’re crumbling and covered in graffiti. At night it comes alive, lots of music, very characterful. Estacion del Norte is the impressive railway station building. The Plazza del Toro Bullring is right at the side of it. There is a superb 13th Century Cathedral and a number of other beautiful churches and various interesting, well-curated Museums to visit if that’s your thing. The Gothic stone Towers/gateways of Serrano and Quart are a remainder of the ancient city walls. They are commanding features and have pretty amazing views from the top. One of my favourite buildings (not just because it was opposite Louis Vuitton !!) was the Rococo Palace of the Marquis of Dos Agua. It’s now a museum, it is so beautiful. The pistachio nut shaped Palau de las Artes is where you’ll find ballet, opera and classical music if you fancy a bit of culture. Over the bridge and heading out of town is the Parque Oceanografico, one of the world’s largest aquariums. The old bridges are still in situ, quite confusing as the river has been diverted following a series of terrible floods. As I mentioned earlier, the city has a vibrant fashion culture. It has its own fashion week these days. Many of the small boutiques sell their own, unusual, glamorous, gypsy inspired pieces at affordable (I didn’t say cheap, they are designer after all) prices. I absolutely loved the shopping. No change there then. The shoes and bags are to die for, many handmade. I seriously need a lottery win! Mark is going to buy me a dress tomorrow. I am SO excited! Ladies bring your pennies, boys hide your plastic! When you tire of shopping, there are so many eateries to choose from to suit all tastes and pockets. From street food and tapas to über classy restaurants. The regional food is Paella. This is where the dish originates from. The street cafes sell it from huge Paella pans all over town. The rice is grown here so it should be good. If you want to sample the real deal, jump on a number 25 ‘hop on and off’ bus and head to La Albufera or El Palmar, both a short trip away towards the coast (about 15-20 minutes). You just pay €1.50 and go as many stops as you like. Albufera is on a lagoon surrounded by rice fields. The villages of El Perellonet and El Palmar are apparently where you will sample the best Paella in Spain. We are going there for Sunday lunch. In Valencia City, you must try Horchata, a local drink made from chufas (tiger nuts) and Agua de Valencia, a traditional cocktail served by the jug and made with fresh oranges, vodka and cava. Both are delicious. The Marina is 20 minutes out of the centre by bus or metro. It is well worth the effort and the adjoining promenade has many quality seafood restaurants.
For our fellow Motorhomers, the best places to stay are out of the bustle of the City and around the coastal resort of El Saler, again on the 25 bus route. Look at Camping Valencia, Albufera Bungalows or if you want a proper site, Devesa Gardens. This does doggie daycare for €4 if you want to spend longer in town. If you have a big van like ours make sure you double check they have a big enough space as we almost came a cropper. Room is tight on these small sites. The bus takes around 15 minutes into the city. They run every 20 minutes or so. It’s approximately €15 for a taxi if you prefer. El Saler has good dog walks and an ok beach. It has a few small restaurants and a supermarket.
We came to Valencia initially to catch the Las Fallas Fiesta. Not for the faint hearted this one! It is totally bonkers! It’s one of the biggest festivals in Spain. 800,000 people descend on the City over the festival period. The Falleras and Falleros dress in traditional attire and parade the streets in their thousands, bearing floral tributes to their patron ‘Virgin’, their offerings placed on and around the towering statue.
Each town and village has its own band. It’s a sea of magnificent flora and finery, the costumes are amazingly elaborate and must cost thousands of pounds. I’ve never seen as many flowers. You can smell them from streets away. The townsfolk spend all year building huge paper machier satirical/comic figures, the size of houses. They are sanded, painted and stuffed with gunpowder. Every one has a separate set of ‘ninots’ or puppets which are paraded and judged over the weekend. On the final night of the festival, they burn them in the streets, all apart from the winning entry. The City literally burns! It’s a crazy assault on the senses, the twice daily firework display, ‘La Mascleta’, Concert of Gunpowder, in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento is deafening. I’ve never heard anything as loud. The daytime 2pm show is just audio fireworks with coloured plumes of smoke ,the louder the better whilst the night time display is more visual. Over a million quid goes up in smoke apparently. It’s all about noise, awakening everything after the winter sleep. The firework finale is designed to resemble an earth quake and is so loud that the earth does literally shake. This is called La Nit de Foc. You can hear the explosions for miles around. The children throw bangers and firecrackers on every street corner, you have to watch where you walk. It’s like a health and safety nightmare!! The noise starts at 8am and goes on constantly until the early hours. On a serious note, if you have a nervous dog this one is definitely not for you. Luckily Dylan couldn’t care less but I know some people on the campsite have had problems with their pooches. The fireworks are constant throughout the day and night, it’s like being under siege.
We arrived in El Saler on Friday and after getting settled on site made our way to the City. The bus ride was very easy. Make sure you have a timetable.
Choose a memorable place to get off so you will be able to recall where to get back on for your return journey. We chose the Plaza de America. The various bridges are a good landmark although a little confusing as, as I said earlier, the river has been diverted and the riverbed turned into municipal gardens. There are so many exquisite buildings, monuments, statues and fountains. Every which way you turn there is something of interest.
We miraculously stumbled upon an Irish bar on Friday afternoon and were amazed when they had racing on the big screen from Cheltenham! What a bonus, never thought we’d get to see the Gold Cup live this year. What an atmosphere! Thank heavens for my online Paddy Power account! Saved the location on MapsMe so Mark could enjoy a Guinness on St. Patrick’s Day tomorrow!
And so we get to Monday. The final day of Las Fallas. As if the Nit del Foc wasn’t dramatic enough, tonight we have La Crema. The burning of the ninots. We didn’t venture out until 6pm to catch the first evening parade at 7pm. It was crazy, a bit scary but totally fabulous! What a finale! The whole of Valencia seemed to be on fire!They burn the smaller ‘infantile’ figurines first then the massive ones later. The largest in the centre of town is saved til last. They blaze and collapse, no fire risk assessment here Kev! The Bombeiros, Firemen, douse the buildings in water so they don’t go up in smoke too, The street lights are dimmed and then boom! It’s mad! There are yet more fireworks, fire breathing dragons, flame throwers dressed as devils and demons , the works. It’s an incredible spectacle. The Spanish don’t do things by halves.
We followed the crowds from fire to fire, each one bigger than the last. We bumped into friends, Nicky and Stuart, Sandra and Ian and arranged to meet up for drinks but then got totally lost and couldn’t find them again. My phone died so no Google Maps either. Oops! Makes you realise how much you rely on technology. Valencia is a bit like Diagon Alley. It’s a maze without a map. At 2.30am with very tired feet we gave up the fight and flagged a cab back to camp. Got back to base and then couldn’t get in the sodding locked gate. It was pitch black, I’d forgotten the torch and I had no phone to shine a light on the combination lock. I’m sure I’ll laugh about this in the morning but I’m far from amused at present. I’m cold and I need my bed! I have discovered that I can now say F**k in at least four languages. After a further 20 minutes farting around and swearing at the intercom, I noticed that the lock wasn’t actually set (ahem, I let Mark think I’d cleverly unlocked it). Boy oh boy, never have I been more grateful for a large mug of steaming hot tea and my electric blanket. How I ever got through my ‘clubbing’ years I have no idea.
And so today we say a fond farewell to Valencia. My conclusion is this. It’s a fabulous city, full of life and vitality, unlike my good self this morning. It’s fantastic for a city break with your partner or better still, the girls with your partner’s credit card. The comfort of a hot bath in a nice hotel room are a far more attractive proposition than queuing for a peasant wagon to take you back to the campsite. Ok, call me a diva but I’m just being honest. I personally much preferred the more typically Spanish cities of Seville and Jerez. That said, I wouldn’t have missed Valencia or Las Fallas for the world. It’s been a crazy week. If I never hear another firecracker in my life it won’t be too soon. Now for some quiet beach time and a new book!
Hasta la vista baby!