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I chose Valencia on the spurr of the moment when I found out Ryannair were offering free flights, just pay taxes and charges.
I left on a cold, wet dark London day and must admit not awfully excited to be journeying away on my own but I was in for a pleasant surprise.
First view was onto the azure blue Mediterranean sea, with 8 cargo and container ships dotted near the shore... we made the turn for a straight path into the airport. Over a massive port we flew, where tiny little containers looked like dolly lollies, tidily stacked ready for export; a very large ship was berthed at the portside with four gigantic cranes busy loading; now a school came into view, set amid a neighbourhood of orange/earthy coloured homes, a huge graveyard and thousands and thousands of industrial buildings followed ....with what looked like market gardens and orange groves spattered all around.
Its a tidy and interesting approach to Valencia Airport and the start of a short break to Spains third largest city, one steeped in history and nowadays mainly a commerce centre for a vast range of commercial and industrial enterprises as well as those working the La Huerta ( the green belt of most fertile land which sees up to four harvest in a year of a huge range of vegetables, fruit and of course oranges).
After such a pictorial airways entrance to Valencia the airport is a bit of a disappointment: it is messy all around the runway and the terminal a bit tired but it was a quick pass through the immigration and a long wait for luggage but then it was time to get into Valencia and explore its many historic and modern attractions.
The flight took around an hour and a half and then I took a taxi into the city but it is easy to take a train or bus and at a reasonable cost too. This was a budget holiday so I stayed in a hostel on the perimeter of the Old Centre and I am really pleased I did.
The brochures say you dont need to use the public transport as its easy to walk around the old city but if you want to there is a metro and buses. I actually walked, and walked and walked until I just about dropped. This is easy to do as you can get your bearings using adequate maps (mostly in Spanish though but decipherable to get to the main attractions.)
I went in late November and the weather was just right: not too hot, not too cold and most pleasant strolling along and finding skinny streets, little shopping blocks hidden away until I got to the main streets. What a joy the exploring was, even though I was on my own.
Valencias old centre is quite compact so you can walk easily, best to concentrate on the three main squares: Plaza de la Reina, Plaza del Ayuntamiento and Plaza de la Virgen (my favourite!). The area is roughly determined by the rails of the tramway - and inside here you will find historic monuments dating from the time of the reconquest of Valencia from the Moors when in 1238 Jaime 1 started what has been determined as the citys most blooming epoch.
Some highlights visited and photographed include:
The Cathedral: mainly early gothic with some parts added in later times. The octaganol bell tower is quite unusual: no great paintings here, just a really attractive cream finish with carvings to suit the simplicity. Really quite stunning actually.
On my first day I looked in the door and thought it rather plain so decided not to visit. BUT, the hostel receptionist told me I really must go in, pay the three euros, (which includes the head-set to listen to the exceptionally fine information it affords) and be prepared to be impressed. Well, she was right, I moved along the route advised in the little map, and learned so much. It was extremely beautiful in the side altars, interesting to see what is purported to be The Holy Grail (the cup Jesus took his last communion in at The Last Supper), as well as a huge, gold monstrance in the museum. (I will write a separate review about the Cathedral at a later date because space will not allow me to do it the word justice it deserves.) Well worthy of mention as an attraction when in Valencia.
The Basilica: Basilica de la Virgen do los Desamparados:
Now this is a MUST see when in Valencia. I venture to say it is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen in my travels. This is a free attraction and the hostel receptionist said if I saw nothing else I should go here.
There are two doors to choose from: luckily for me I chose the left one and had a stroll around the back of the basilica, past a priest hearing confession: both he and his parishioner were talking Spanish so I can not share any sins with you!
Then I walked into the church part of the Basilica - and was gobsmacked. It takes your breath away - the altar is a most beautiful presentation of Mary and Jesus as a babe. They share a halo of gold and precious gems. Above them is a larger halo, the rays of which are just so beautiful. From the floor up are white flowers amid two massive, hanging gold lamps and two striking chandeliers......In words I cannot achieve the beauty of this memorable altar..... I tried taking a photo to share with you but there were so many lights, candles and other shining aspects that it would not photograph clearly for me. I had to settle for a postcard but like my words here, it does not do it justice.
There are two beautiful pieces of art on the side walls, depicting Jesus, in this small but truly impressive holy place.... do go if in Valencia. Go to the Plaza de la Virgen (behind the Cathedral) to see the Basilica which is stunning whether you see the outside in daylight or dark. I liked this plaza the best - it has a lovely statue-water-flowing feature set to one side and cafes all around.
This old market has been serving Valencia since 1928. Its worth a visit if you like to see a wide variety of what is grown locally - some fruit and veges I had never seen before. A colourful place to visit if you dont mind the smell of fish - be hussled amid stalls of meat, fish, fruit and vegetables as well as a couple of things youd not expect to see in such a market: a key stall and household cleaners!
Church: Iglesia de los Santos Juanes:
I popped in here one lunch time - it looks so plain and old from the outside but inside it is a gem... a holy place with the most amazing wooden, carved altar at the front and several side altars of gold, gems, statues as well as important wall paintings of Palamino, all quite mind-blowing. While there the bells tolled and a priest came out so I quite quickly got the message that a mass was about to be said at midday - I quietly left but was so pleased I had been able to experience this church, one of 14 parishes in the old sector where you will also find 45 convents is you have a stroll around.
When in Spain do as the Spanish do - eat paella. I liked it enough to eat it but wont be rushing to dine on paella again. Paella Valenciana is the favourite. Named so because Valencia is the home of paella. The one Valencians like most is the Marinera: rice with saffron, seafood and vegetables. Sometimes chicken is added and thats called Paella Mixta. (This is the one I had, okay, but not fantastic!)
Paella is placed in a Paellera (a flat pan) and cooked over a charcoal fire - so it figures you can buy variations of the pans as souvenirs, all over Valencia.
After eating its time for a walk - a very long walk if you do the many kilometres of the Turia Park. It used to be a river but after a major inundation catastrophe, in 1957, city fathers turned it into a park. Its about as wide as a soccer (football!!) field and is an open air place used by thousands of visitors and locals for recreation, leisure and sport. As you walk down you go under some rather impressive bridges: I particularly remember the Puente de Serranos with its 15th century towers which were part of the old town-walls, it now stands proud amid more modern buildings around.
There are playing fields, childrens play areas, cafes, fountains, lakes and other interesting attractions as you stroll along. If you start at the city end you walk out towards the sea and it is here you get quite a surprise. Its the La Ciudad de las Arts y de las Ciencias (The City of Arts and Sciences)... what an amazing site. The most modernistic buildings - to me the first one looked like a gigantic fish, others make up a water-bound futuristic city.
Here you will find four main buildings: LHemisferic - a planetarium and huge IMAX theatre; Museo de las Ciencias Principe Felipe has exhibitions of the latest in high tech; LOceanografic is the underwater world where you can walk through tunnels where sharks and other sea life look out at you and Palacio de las Artes with auditoriums for plays and opera. Four million people visit this area each year.
There are other gardens which I did not visit but look out for information on them if you do visit Valencia: Jardines de la Alameda as well as another 18th century park, Jardines de Monforte. The Zoological Gardens are in the Real Gardens and inside here you will find the ruins of an old kings palace.
There are many other places to go to, which I did not have time to do but Ill mention them from the map just so you learn a little more if planning to visit Valencia yourself. In Plaza Zaragoza you will find an unfinished 47m Gothic tower, dating back to the 14th century the Miguelete was recommended to me as a place to view the city. I saw the tower but did not go into it.
The Instituto Valencia de Arte Moderno has an impressive collection of Spanish modern art and the former Silk Exchange (La Lonja de Seda) was built in 1498 and is today a Unesco World Heritage Site. I did actually have a quick look in here but there was no silk selling that day.
Other historic buildings abound but I cannot tell you much about them as the map was in Spanish so my four days were spent asking for help with my lack of Spanish. That is a point I would like to make: when in other Spanish towns my lack of local language has never been a problem. People have happily helped me but I found in Valencia there was not the same attitude to tourists. I actually feel that it is a city which aims to serve its locals, industrial and commercial interests but has not yet dawned on the value of tourism and the money it brings in. I hope I am not being too negative here but let me explain just one example of this.....
I managed to tell the train ticket man that I wanted to go to Sagunta and return. He sold me the ticket and then I had to find out which train to get on. I asked three uniformed people who looked like they worked for the train station but all said no speak English so I went to the information office lady. She said something like Get on Casquoo. I said it back to her and happily set off thinking I would read this on the board....... there was nothing which looked like that so I went and asked a cleaning lady if she spoke English. She spoke a little so I told her I needed to know which train to get on. Thankfully she understood me and pointed me in the right direction. Once on the train I could see what the lady in the ticket office was trying to say .... Castello. Now I look at it and wonder why I did not guess Casquoo was Castello but when traveling on your own you sometimes lack a little confidence.
While mentioning the train I must relate the theme of the train station - it is very old and has thousands and thousands of oranges painted into the beautiful walls as well as striking mosaic work. A lovely old building.
Night life is fantastic. In fact, I could not believe the little side streets, as well as the more busier thoroughfares were the same place Id seen in the day. In true Spanish style the night living starts late and goes on late. What a picture the little cafes, pubs, restaurants and the lit up statuary were..... superb, especially in the Barrio del Carmen district.
You can travel to Valencia by plane, train, bus or private vehicle and when youre there expect to be warm most of the year. January temperatures are around 10C with highs of 25C in July and August. Spring and autumn are the best times to go as it is not too hot. The sun shines around 300 days a year so it is really a great Mediterranean place to visit.
If driving, use the AP-7 motorway running down the east coast of Spain which connects Valencia to main European motorways and you can use the A-23 Sagunto-Somport or the A-3 Madrid-Valencia highway.
The train arrives at Valencia North Station, near the city centre, from national and international places as well as local provincial towns.
Planes fly in from many major European airports and there is a ferry from Port Valencia which takes visitors daily to places like Ibiza on a 3 hour crossing. Theres one crossing a week to Mahon which takes 13 hours. Going to Palma you will be able to take one of the 3 daily crossings which takes four hours.
Currency is the Euro of course and there are plenty of shops to spend them in. Ancient or modern areas, the shopping is diverse and as mentioned there are plenty of attractions to keep you busy and entertained.
On the Costa Brava, Valencia has plenty of beach life, its only a short bus ride out to the sea and all the recreation that offers.
This ancient city was first called Valentia and since then it has evolved as a busy, religious, commercial and industrial centre where festivals and culture abound and trade fairs offer Valencia an important place as a dynamic Spanish city. A place where you can easily spend three or four days exploring, shopping, wining and dining and meeting new friends. If you are there next year you can go and see the Americas Cup - during May and June, I think.
There is an Americas Cup village evolving - I ran out of time to visit but a man in the queue at the airport went and he said it was a great place to view dozens of cranes.... he doubted it would be ready but most big event sites have these wobbles and on opening day they stand tall and proud and the sport goes on as planned.
Valencia is a good place to use as a base to visit outlying areas. I went to Sagunta for the day and enjoyed its ancient castle and the new-old roman theatre which uses the ruins as a base and is re-built as it would have been all those years ago. Other places recommended in the tourism pamphlets are La Alburfera, a salt-water lake and Jativa which is a traditional manorial town with a fortress showing the remains of almost all periods of Spanish history.
Many years ago, Spains national hero, El Cid fought against the Moors in Valencia nowadays it is a place which is happening..... I believe it will further evolve to be a really interesting place for people to visit who want to experience Spain in a slightly different way to most of its other major towns. It presents as a busy city going about its business - the part tourists play is probably much more important than is currently realised but I do hope people who visit will enjoy it as much as I did.
Trust you enjoyed reading this review and learned some thing about Valencia .... do try the fresh orange juice ... its divine.... hmmm!!!
Valencia is in the south eastern region of Spain and only a 100kms or so from Alicante. It has so much to offer for a holiday but is better known as a business city and is relatively quiet in the summer months.
Valencia is not your normal Spanish holiday by the sea, as we are not really beach people. We found a central city hotel, the Expo; this is a 3 star hotel close to the old town and shopping centre in the northern side of the city. Easyjet flew us to Valencia from Bristol, which went surprisingly smoothly after all the stories you hear about and TV programmes that are shown (Very impressed with the service). I would highly recommend Bristol it was easy to find, easy to use the car park and buses, quiet and actually enjoyable. It added to the holiday rather than ruined in the way bigger airports can.
Arriving around 20 minutes early at Valencia airport our bags were ready to collect as soon as we got through passport control, amazing! Then for the next task, transport to the hotel, not a problem, it was very organised with a queuing system and an airport representative controlling it all. The only small negative point was not being able to find a MPV for 5, so we had to take two cabs. The journey took around 25 minutes to the hotel costing £17 for each taxi. On departure the hotel was unable to find a MPV for us so we have to assume these are unavailable.
To be honest we became a little nervous as we entered the city, and thought to ourselves what have we done, as the main road into the city is surrounded by industrial units and poor housing, which is not very pretty at all.
The Hotel Expo - Three Stars
This hotel was very clean and well maintained with a smart roof top swimming pool, which was ideal to cool off in at the end of a day exploring the city. We had to opt for two rooms as they were unable to provide a proper family room to accommodate five. After searching the web we were unable to find any family rooms in the city. The rooms were clean with a double bed and sofa bed, a bathroom, fridge and a television with English news channels. Being adjacent we were hoping for a connecting door so we could put the kids all in one room (bit of a negative point).
We decided to go for the B&B option as we planned to be out for most of the day and evening; the breakfast was excellent with a wide range of foods for all nationalities, this would keep us going until mid afternoon when you could choose from one of the many cafes/restaurants (didnt find a bad one).
Sunday is still a day of rest and although tourist attractions were open the surrounding shops and restaurants were mostly shut.
There was a wide range of shops available, we had a large complex right next to the hotel filled with clothing and department stores that stayed open until 10pm. There were also plenty of places to eat snacks or three course meals right across the shopping centre. Our boys were happy because there was a McDonalds but our daughter being elder was keen to be more adventurous and eat local dishes. There were numerous paella dishes, some jet black! The mall had a small fun fair and the children loved the torros ride, a bull attempted to throw them off while jigging to music.
Site seeing and travelling
We decided to be brave and use the bus and tram, what an excellent choice, absolutely brilliant, but be sure you have the correct change or buy a weekly pass. The buses and trams were used by the locals and rush hour was best avoided as they got very busy and I am sure we got in the way!
The old city of Valencia was filled with beautiful buildings, churches, housing and a castle. It had a very pleasant atmosphere; sitting at one of the many cafe/restaurants watching the world go by became a favourite pastime for us all.
Wherever we walked we were not far from a stunning fountain, the children enjoyed the shooting water and we found one that shot water in different directions and they loved dodging the water and anticipating the next set of water manoeuvres.
The dried up river bed of the Turia has been made into a public park, with a multitude of different functions all openly accessible. Football pitches, athletics tracks, childrens playgrounds and cafes stretched through the whole of the city and bridges crossed the park at very regular intervals each one different and each one very interesting.
LOceanografic aquarium was spectacular surrounded by stunning modern architecture and pools of beautiful water with foot bridges. The aquarium was an incredible experience with Perspex shark tunnels and huge glass walled tanks containing hundreds of different breads of fish.
There are nine underwater habits holding over 42 million litres of water, some have underneath walkways and others huge tanks. There is a large Seal and Pelican area in the centre of the complex, which can be seen from the centre restaurant. There is a large Dolphin aquarium and display area with an excellent show that all the kids enjoyed (Highly Recommended).
There were also good souvenir shops with clothes and gifts from a pound, and plenty of drinks stands as each day reached over 30 degrees and drink was essential.
Museu de les Ciencies Principe Felipe
The Science museum allows you to take part in present-day and future science and technology, which is a great experience for child and adults alike, again it is housed in a stunning new building that takes your breath away.
LHemisferic (IMAX 3D Cinema)
The whole family enjoyed the SOS Planeta movie (Saving the Planet), with multi language headphones, but it could have done with 3D glasses. This another stunning building surrounded by water where the locals race their model power boats.
There were some beautiful parks dotted with fountains cooling the air, which were clean and well maintained. Some had little streams with stepping stoned across and modern sculptures to admire and little islands waiting to be hopped on.
The beaches were clean, vast and crowded and about half a mile away from the sea, not really our thing. Saturday morning half the city descended on the beach and set up camps to spend the whole day relaxing and meeting friends.
Excellent cafes and restaurants surround the old square offering a wide selection of lovely fish dishes, from Paella to Sea Bass, pizza was also a regular option. The waiters were very friendly they made you feel very welcome and spoken very good English, but would let you practice your Spanish. We visited one restaurant where no English was spoken and we had a great game of charades going through the menu and actually had one of our best meals, the waiter was charming and was giggling as he made sheep sounds and blender noises to explain lamb chops and soup!
The one area that let Valencia down was the zoo, located in the middle of a park; it was not suitable for the large animals it housed. We expected a few flamingos and such, who in fact had a lovely sheltered area, but the donkey was alone with no shade and looked very forlorn and the lions and tigers were in small glass fronted cages with no access to the outside and paced back and forward repeatedly. The hippo had a plunge pool just big enough to turn around in and was on its own. The rhino had a concrete space no bigger than a suburban garden. It was a sad end to a great day.
Valencia is the capital of the Spanish autonomous community of Valencia and its province. It is the third largest city in Spain with a population of approximately 1 million.