Vibrant and vivacious Valencia

Vibrant and vivacious Valencia

by Stacy Roman
Stripes Europe

As travel opportunities slowly expand and reopen, Spain’s sun-drenched coastline is beckoning. Warm, turquoise waters lap the golden, sandy beaches stretching as far as the eye can see. While many visitors flock to the touristy hotspot of Barcelona, if you head further south along the coast, you’ll find a marvelous mix of history, hipster conviviality and enchantment in Valencia.

Things to do

With more than 300 days of sunny days annually, Valencia is the perfect spot to laze around near the surf, hike in the marshy wetlands of Albufera National Park or simply enjoy being outside. Cabecera Park is a unique green space that was once part of the Turia River. As it shifted over time and the city constructed a stone wall to prevent flooding, the vegetation blossomed into the beautifully diverse park of today. For a little extra fun, check out the skyline from the water in one of the giant swan boats. Visitors can walk the park from the northeast edge of town down to the busy shipping port. As Spain’s third-largest city, the port offers easy ferry service to the Balearic Islands of Ibiza, Mallorca and Menorca.

Valencia is a visual sight to behold, from exquisite architecture dating back to the Middle Ages to gravity-defying designs. The Valencia Cathedral is built upon the ruins of a Roman temple and, later, a mosque. Inside, the ornate detailing of the arches and columns is breathtaking. Colorful frescoes adorn the walls and ceiling of the main altar. However, it is the Chapel of the Holy Grail which draws most visitors to the church. This part of the cathedral is home to what many believe to be the original Holy Grail — the chalice Jesus used in the Last Supper.

The city also boasts a UNESCO World Heritage site near the cathedral, the Lonja de la Seda, or Silk Exchange. Harkening back to Valencia’s days as a significant player in the silk trade, visitors can retrace the history of the luxurious threads and see some of the elegant pieces created and worn at the adjacent museum. Or head over to the Plaça de Bous de València. This 19th-century bullfighting ring in the middle of the city is still in use today. If you don’t wish to see a traditional bullfight, tours are available when the arena is not used.

For art nouveau and design lovers, the Ciudad de las Artes y Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) is well worth a visit. The immaculate park is lined with palm trees, orange groves and a vast array of lush greenery. Peering out from the garden are incredibly futuristic structures that house a sizeable oceanarium, museum and IMAX theater. Even if you don’t make it inside, the area surrounding the complex is simply amazing. You could easily spend an entire day here.

Good eats

Paella may have been informally adopted as the national dish of Spain; however, the savory rice dish originated in Valencia. Although you may be more familiar with the seafood or chicken and sausage versions (or a combination of the two), the Valencian variation must include certain ingredients for it to be considered authentic. Rabbit, chicken, beans, tomatoes, rice and saffron construct the fundamental backbone of this delicious dish.

To taste some of the best local paella, head to El Carmen, a neighborhood in the city center. With vibrant street art found on the sides of old-world buildings and lively entertainment, it’s easy to get lost in the charm of this area. Off-the-beaten-path restaurants such as Yuso and Restaurante Yuso II offer a variety of traditional Valencian paella and more modern takes on the dish. If paella seems a bit too heavy, head to one of the many tapas bars for lighter bites and drinks.

Valencia is a refreshing and worthy option on any travel bucket list with so much to see and do.

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