Often overlooked in favour of its larger, more popular neighbouring cities, Valencia is a beautiful weekend escape with a lot to offer. Whether you want to relax on the beach, feed your cultural appetite or eat yourself into oblivion, Spain’s third largest city caters to each desire. Unlike touristic Barcelona or hectic Madrid, Valencia requires no more than one weekend to unearth an appreciation for this underappreciated Spanish city.
Start your day with a leisurely rise and head to La Mercado Central, Valencia’s famed covered food market and the largest fresh food market in Europe. The stained glass windows and impressive dome which adorn the building make the space seem almost religious, a Cathedral of food if you will. Spanish culture revolves around eating, and the grandeur on show at La Mercado Central celebrates the importance of food in Spanish life. It is still a place where locals shop on a daily basis, whilst tourists search to discover new flavours. Be sure to try Horchata and Fartons, a traditional Valencian breakfast, at a small café in the centre of the market called La Huertana. I can only describe Fartons as slender ice buns which are dipped in the thick, creamy and slightly grainy Horchata drink; bland when consumed separately but a sweet and tasty morning snack when devoured together. With breakfast on board, take the opportunity to prowl about the market in search of some true delights. I sniffed out some Jamόn de Aragon, a slight variation of the overly abundant Ibérico, this ham is slightly softer, a little more like Palma ham and my favourite cured meat to date.
Once satiated, make the short walk to The National Ceramic Museum which is housed in a Late Baroque palace and is said to be Valencia’s answer to Versailles. Although not as grand as Versailles, this well presented collection of ceramics make for pleasant viewing. Downstairs, lies a collection of contemporary art produced by local artists. These pieces may have been superb, but modern art is lost on me.
For supper, take a tram to the beach. The seafront is bustling with bars and restaurants but many of these are tourist traps; serving poor quality food for big prices. Get off the tram at Grau, a few stops before the beach, and head to Casa Montana. This ancient restaurant oozes history; enormous wine barrels block the pavement outside and crooked beams cling to the ceiling. I would advise you order the deep fried anchovies, stewed broad beans, tuna stuffed peppers and garlic prawns. Often only visited by locals, this restaurant is a secret sanctuary for those who would like a taste of tradition.
English poet Joseph Addison believed that, ‘Sunday’s clear away the rust of the whole week,’ and what better way to clear the mind than a trip to the beach? Valencia is as much a city vacation as it is a beach getaway. Miles of fine sand trace the coast and with temperatures still in their twenties during November, the sea is nearly always warm enough for a dip. I am jealous of Valencians, who can so freely leave the claustrophobia of city life and feel the sand between their toes.
After an invigorating morning of waves and sea air, you may be in need of a siesta. For those opposed to daytime naps, however, take a stroll around Jardín del Túria. Once a river, this 9km stretch of greenery, which encircles a vast proportion of the city, is decorated with trees and sculptures and was designed to provide a park space for both active Valencians and tourists to enjoy.
For your final meal, I urge you to visit Taberna Jamόn Jamόn. Although Valencia does play host to four Michelin starred restaurants, Jamόn Jamόn offers a traditional tapas menu which gives you a taste of real Spain and doesn’t leave you skint. The Spanish staples, patatas bravas and padrόn peppers were simple yet executed perfectly and the grilled goat’s cheese served with a membrillo jam was amongst my favourite dishes of the evening. You must not, however, miss the delicate foie which was delightful when smeared across crispy Melba toast. Similarly, it would be sacrilege not to order the crispy yet mind-bogglingly tender octopus tentacles. We accompanied our meal with a couple of bottles of local Crianza, just ask the attentive waiting staff for a recommendation, their knowledge and enthusiasm is astounding.
The laid-back lifestyle, excellent food and its proximity to the beach all add to Valencia’s charm. Although a little limiting, Valencia is the perfect city to visit for just a few days. It is not overpopulated with tourists like Barcelona and gives you a real flavour of traditional Spain. If you are considering a Spanish city-break don’t discount Valencia.