April 21, 2014
We wanted to get away for a weekend to a sunny place, preferably by the sea, preferably in Spain (my husband’s choice, we were going to celebrate his birthday.) We had already visited Madrid, Barcelona and Lissabon. It took some research, but comparing mainly accessibility and air ticket prices, we ended up choosing Valencia. It is famous for it’s good weather even in winter, there are only two real winter months: January and February. Many people said ‘Valencia really?’. But many who already visited praised it as a beautiful city, with a very lively atmosphere, not too touristy yet, great food, drinks and parties, and with all the good from Madrid and Barcelona, but without the tourists! And that’s exactly what we like: to go where the masses don’t go, or are not going at that particular time.
The plane was fully booked, but mainly with Spaniards, probably returning home for Easter holiday, that was at least the case for my two neighbours on the plane, of whom one snored all the way through the flight. Before arriving the captain promised us temperatures of 21 degrees in the evening! We had booked a B&B in Valencia where B&B and appartements seemed to offer better price-quality than hotels, and it was located in the old town, near all the tourist spots. From Valencia airport a metro line can get you to the centre, and the line 3 from the airport had a stop only 800 metres from our B&B, way to go! When we stepped out of the metro at Colon, and were surprises by a short heavy downpour. We took shelter and looked up where the B&B was. B&B Almirante was just 800 m away from the Colon stop, smack in the middle of the old city of Valencia. We entered the B&B through a huge wooden front door that you see on many old buildings in Valencia.
We were thirsty and decided to go and look for a place to drink aqua de Valencia, a refreshing cocktail invented in Café Madrid. Since Café Madrid was a bit further, and we were really thirsty we decided to try Café de las Horas in Calle de conde Almodovar, in a small street that comes on to the square with the Basilica. The café is decorated very boudoir like but stylish and it gives the place a great atmosphere.
And the agua de Valencia is ‘to die for’. We tried other places, but this place is by far the best place to drink Valencia’s famous cocktail. In many places They serve you something similar, but seldom is the taste this good, They use freshly squeezed orange juice , which many places don’t, so please only drink it only if they use fresh juice, in all other cases keep your money! We visited café Madrid where the cocktail was invented a day later but it looked closed down. We also tried it at cafe Infanta, but it was still not good enough. We had some of their tapas, go ahead, they are good!
We looked for a restaurant end ended in Tinto Fino Ultramarino. ( through tripadvisor) A great restaurant for tapa’s with a great atmosphere. The wine is also very good. Of you go on a popular night, best book a table ahead.We took some glasses of red wine together with Iberico ham, pulpitos ( calamari), and some anchovies. When you pay the bill they offer you a small digestive of your choice (ruco, limoncello or grappa). We only paid 35 euros for two. ( the waitress even stopped us from ordering more than three dishes, since it might be too much!) It was a great way to get introduced to Valencian quizine.
After breakfast (which was sober, but had what needed), we decided to discover the old city. Since the old city was so close to our bed, it was lovely strolling through the small streets seeing beautiful buildings around every corner. Many have art deco features, or are decorated with stucco and colourful tiles.We walked to Plaza de la Reina, the main square of old Valencia. This lively little square is sheltered by the 14th Century Miquel bell tower of the Catedral de Valencia, the beautiful domed Basilica de Virgen de Los Desamparados, and the 17th Century Palau de Generalitat. We drank a coffee (cafe con leche, typical Valentian coffee) in the sun at cafe Bri de Safra, being happy that it did no rain as they had forecast. We were lucky all day, since beside a cold wind, it did not rain on our first full day in Valencia.
We visited the basilica, which I think is more impressive on the out than on the inside, but the promise of Goya’s paintings and of course the holy grail made us buy a ticket to visit the inside! And apart from a mummified fore-arm from a long gone martyr, those are the (only) two good things to see here. A Roman temple stood on this site, then a mosque, before the cathedral was built between the 13th and 15th centuries, mixing Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque features. You can climb up the bell tower for a city view, but were put off a little by the fact that we had to buy another ticket to climb the bell tower. We decided not to, since the sun was luring us out…
It was getting close to lunchtime, so we went in the direction of the Mercat Central. It is a bit like those in Madrid and Barcelona, but more authentic, and full of locals. If you are looking to take a paella pan, Olive oil, Iberico ham, or some fruits or nuts home, this is where you will find it. We also came to have lunch at the Bar Central, run by a famous chef Ricard Macarena. The market is not like in Barcelona a place full of bars to eat and drink but a real market with fresh produce, and the Bar Central is the only real eatery. The market is also a good place to try horchata (or orxata) is kind of like a milkshake but is made with ground chufas (tiger nuts – similar to almonds), water and sugar, together with a basket of fartons, which are long, thin powder-sugared pastries.
But we came to have lunch at the Bar Central so headed to the back of the market! You might have to wait a little before you find a spot at the bar, but it is worth the wait. The waitresses are very outgoing. We took some (great) white wine, and since we couldn’t decide which wine to take, the waitress just let us taste it first! And yes you can choose another! We got some tasty olives while studying the menu. We also looked around and went for a plate of small shells, some grilled cuttlefish, some grilled gamba’s and a plate of small marinated anchovies. We were not disappointed!
We then visited La Lonja de la Seda opposite the Mercat. (this is the 15th-century silk exchange, an examples of Gothic civil architecture in Europe and has World Heritage status). The entrance is only 2 euros and you see a wonderful building, with a courtyard in the middle full of Valencian orange trees! It is a beautiful place to dream away a little, and the tree-covered courtyard is a welcome escape from the hot sun. It is open every day from 10 am to 7 pm.
Walking around we passed a building looking like a huge cream pastry, very baroque, all marble front. We decided to walk in, and it was the ceramics museum, located in a rococco palace from the 15th century, that used to belong to the marquis de Valencia (Palacio Del Marques De Dos Aguas). It is free so just walk in en enjoy. There are some (pumpkin) like carriages in the entrance, straight out of cinderela!
We took another afternoon coffee on one of the many small squares in the old town on our way to our B&B: in cafe Lisboa; Plaza del Doctor Collado, 9. It is one of the great things to do in Valencia, sit around in the sun on one of the many terrases in the city. We strolled back to our B&B for a siësta and get refreshed for the evening. We couldn’t help ourselves and went back to Cafe les Horas to get our aperitive: agua de Valencia! (With some nuts and ham)
While sipping our cocktail we tried to figure out where to have dunner. Tripadvisor gave raving reviews for the restaurant ‘Delicat‘ just oppositie the café. We asked the waiter and he also aknowledged it was a great restaurant. My husband walked over to make a reservations, but it was fully booked for that night and for the next night as well! It must be good….
We called some other restaurants with good reviews like Mood Food restaurant and Blanqueries with no luck. We then walked over to Almudin restaurant which was located very close to our B&B. It is a small eatery with no fuss, but the food is good! We took some tapas: mussels, the Queens (anchovies and sardines) and grilled octopus. And some red wine. All were tasteful and fresh, and the wines were surprisingly good. All for a small bill (around 35 euro for two) We wanted to have a night talk over a glass and headed for Calle Caballeros, where the night-life concentrates in the centre. I took an aqua de Valencia, and was hugely disappointed, this had nothing to do with what we had in café de las Horas. ( no fresh orange juice, no sparkle and sugar on the bottom of the glass!) We thus decided to inform ourselves before drinking it again the next day!
After breakfast we walked to DoYouBike, a bike rental shop two streets further on Calle del Mar. (They have two other locations, where you can also stop if your bike should have a defect , or you can rent in one place and bring it back to one of the other shops) You need to leave a deposit of 50 euro per bike, and the rent is 15 euro for a full day in the weekend, during the week you only pay 10 euro for a day. You can pay and leave a deposit by credit card. The bikes are maintained well, come with a large lock, have a basket in front and drive comfortably. It is a bit unclear where you can leave your bike in Valencia, there are no special bike parking area’s, so we just left them where we liked. We also often used the footpath (when there weren’t too many pedestrians) since there aren’t many bike paths. ( Valencians do the same) We started our day like the locals with a good cafe con leche in the sun while at looking at churchgoers carrying palm leafs as it was Palm Sunday.
We headed toward the green park; Jardins Del Turia, that runs all the way from the Zoo to the seaside. It was Sunday, so the park was full with walking, running and biking locals, people picnicking on the grass, children playing. We biked to the new city; The City of Arts and Sciences: a futuristic area with huge space like buildings, with large water areas in between. The city of arts contains 6 distinct zones or buildings: L’Hemispheric, El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe which is the Prince Philip Science museum, L’Umbracle which is completely free and is a landscaped walk of plants native to the area and various artistic and thought provoking sculptures, L’Oceanogràfic which is basically a small version of Sea World, El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia is the next part, which is a very under-used opera house and theatre, last and newest bit is L’Àgora which is covered exhibition space and sports arena. At the end there is the Calatrava Bridge, a sophisticated all-white suspension bridge designed by big shot Spanish architect, Santiago Calatrava Valls. You can cross the bridge to continue your way to the beach.
We didn’t visit any of the museums on the inside, just gawked at the splendid exteriors taking many pictures. We drank a coffee in one of the more design bar-restaurants in de middle, with great views of the surrounding buildings. You can kayak on the water if you look for refreshing activity. We continued further on our bikes towards the seaside, having seen the port area the day before (getting there by metro), when it was rather eerily quiet, but now headed for the next beach strip: Malvarossa. You can follow a bike strip starting at the port. We chose El Bobo restaurant to eat paella and chose the Valencian style traditional paella, which only has meat: chicken and rabbit with a glass of wine. I am sure this is not the best paella to find, and as many say, Valencians eat their paella at home. But it was pretty ok, and the frittered sardines were a good appetizer. The wine was a bit on the watery side, but they serve huge glasses. And you sit by the beach, so your holiday feeling is there in an instant. We walked the beach and enjoyed the warm sand around our feet. We happily biked back to the centre to have our siësta, and freshen up for the evening. But we first stopped at Plaza de la Reina to quench our thirst with a freshly squeezed Valencian orange juice.
After our siësta we decided to try out a new place for our agua de Valencia and ended up in café Infanta, where people on tripadvisor say you get the real stuff. Well they made it with fresh orange juice, but without the crushed ice, and the alcohol was not well balanced. We rang the restaurant Tinto Fino where we ate the first night before heading back to café de Las Horas to get another last pitcher of the real good stuff! We then headed to the restaurant for some great tapas and wine. Great end to a great sunny, yummy weekend!