Triumphal arch in Valencia, Spain
This picture was taken in early September in Valencia and features two of the Calatrava designed buildings at the City of Arts and Sciences. The one on the left is L’Hemispheric, an IMAX cinema, planetarium and laserium, while the one to the right, El Paulau de les Arts Reina Sophia, is an opera house and centre of performing arts. The buildings form part of the 12 wonders of Spain and respectively were the first and last of a cluster of buildings to be built in Valencia on the former riverbed of the Turia. The buildings look like something you might see in a Star Wars movie but the architect was in fact inspired by the massive skeletons of dinosaurs. Either way, I love that the buildings are reflected in the surrounding ornamental pool.
My beloved had raved about Valencia ever since he’d seen the America’s Cup there with a former boss who was a keen sailor. I was keen to visit and while the City of Arts and Sciences is magnificent, as are its miles of sandy beach, Valencia is a bit of a curate’s egg – good in parts. I’d go back there but only to watch the MotoGP season ending race in November or maybe football match at the Mestalla.
In truth our trip didn’t get off to an auspicious start. First, my beloved scraped the right rear side of the hire car on a pillar in the hotel car park. This was despite the car having one of those 360 degree warning systems – thank goodness for excess insurance. Then, having put the address of the destination into the car’s GPS, he proceeded to ignore its instructions. Why do men do that? What’s the point of having GPS if you’re going to blithely ignore it? After 20 fruitless minutes driving around in circles, we were heading out of Madrid on the right road. It was a clear, bright, sunny day with relatively quiet roads so it was an enjoyable drive.
Close to Madrid the fields had been harvested and the landscape was a patchwork of autumnal shades, reinforcing the impression that summer would soon be over. As we drove south the countryside gradually became greener particularly as we neared our destination. It was so green that I feared we might be heading north, towards the Basque country.
We drove straight to our hotel, just inland and to the north of Valencia. A beautiful old Spanish finca that had been massively extended and repurposed by its owners as a wedding and conference venue now attached to a small, traditional hotel. We enjoyed a delicious snack lunch in the bar area which way exceeded my expectations and meant we didn’t have to travel far in the evenings for sustenance.
Our room had a large enclosed balcony seating area – perfect for a spot of work – and a sizeable traditionally decorated Spanish bedroom with plenty of closet space and a spacious bathroom. Despite the hotel being fully occupied, the rooms were quiet and the hotel had a tranquil air, perfect for some rest and relaxation.
Sunday, we drove into Valencia to explore its City of Arts and Sciences, a huge futuristic entertainment-based, educational, cultural and architectural complex designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava and Felix Candela. It’s surrounded by water and sited within a picturesque, sunken, landscaped park, the former Turia riverbed. My beloved felt it looked very Star Warsish. Unsurprisingly, it’s been designated one of the 12 Treasures of Spain.
I loved that the design of the buildings and walkways were based on animal skeletons and covered in white and blue mosaic tiles. It’s a lovely place to just walk around and there’s some interesting and, no doubt expensive, real-estate overlooking the complex.
Thereafter, we walked through the park to the marina and along the beach, which has to be one of the longest, widest, sandy beaches I’ve ever seen. We found a lovely spot for lunch before walking the six km back to where we’d parked the car. Our drive back took us past Valencia FC’s ground the Mestalla which is right in the centre of town.
Monday morning we worked before heading up into the hills which formed part of stage 6’s route in this year’s Vuelta a Espana. It’s a great area for cycling with good roads, little traffic and spectacular views. We lunched with locals at a popular spot and, once again, were blown away by the great quality and low prices. In the afternoon, it was back to the drawing board before some tapas in the hotel bar much later that evening.
Tuesday followed a similar pattern but we ate lunch in yet another great local restaurant pretty much in the middle of nowhere. We’d been in Valencia a few days and still hadn’t eaten paella, a dish which hails from here. This restaurant was an Arroceria so we decided to eat a squid based paella, black from squid ink. It was delicious but could easily have served four rather than two.
On Wednesday my beloved had a business meeting at the university, giving me an opportunity to fully explore on foot Valencia’s extensive Old Town. Or it would have, if only my beloved had a) checked the location of the University and b) left on time. The particular bit he was visiting was 10km out of Valencia and we left so late he didn’t have time to drop me off so I had to wait in the car. Despite the air-conditioning, I dropped off to sleep and woke cranky.
The Old Town has plenty of grandiose buildings and a seemingly endless supply of churches and cathedrals for us to gaze at and after a brisk walk around, with no time for me to dawdle and admire the architecture, my beloved set about hunting for a spot for lunch. It’s as if he’s got to race around at break-neck speed to prove his leg is now fine. Finally, he found a lovely Basque restaurant near the old market, now home to numerous bars and restaurants though none took our fancy, where I was much mollified by a lobster salad.
I mentioned paella above but as we drove around the area I kept wondering where’s the rice grown? I’d seen plenty of fruit, olive trees and vines but no rice fields. The answer is south of Valencia in the La Albufera national park which I discovered also has a gay nudist beach – don’t ask! It’s also an area popular with cyclists as it’s pan flat. Aside from the rice fields, there was lots of untamed forest, a massive inland lake and loads of restaurants offering paella for the tourists visiting in droves on coaches.
Of course, all this rice made us think about lunch and we found yet another great restaurant in a surprising location. The important thing in Spain is not to judge a restaurant from its exterior. Always check out the interior. Sated we headed back to our hotel oasis to continue working with one eye on the final few stages of this year’s Vuelta.
The professor my beloved visited at the Valencia dental school is Italian and his wife and his brother run an Italian restaurant near the City of Arts and Sciences which we tried out on Friday. It was superb and we needed a long walk in the park afterwards to wear off a few of the (many) calories consumed, where we found a fabulous kids’ playground built around a prone statue of Gulliver (from Gulliver’s Travels) which comprised endless slides and climbing frames. Of course, I wanted to have a go but tricky when you don’t have a kid in tow. Friday evening we couldn’t even manage a few tapas in the hotel bar, we were still full.
Saturday we rose early to drive back to Madrid and fly home. We’d enjoyed our time in Valencia but found it a bit of a curate’s egg, good in parts. The beach, the Old Town and the City of Arts and Science are all well worth a visit and can easily be enjoyed over a week-end. If we come again, it’ll only be for the MotoGP season finale and a footie match at the Mestalla.