Culture and gastronomy in historical Valencia

An increasingly popular, and more economical, weekend break for those tired of Barcelona…

Valencia is a city of contrasts. Its grand cathedral sits alongside a distinctive Moorish past and although a formerly industrial city, Valencia now boasts some of the world’s most exciting public architecture. It is a thriving and fascinating destination and is becoming an increasingly popular, and more economical, weekend break for those tired of Barcelona or Madrid.

Food and drink

Food is at the heart of Valencian culture. There is a strong culinary tradition in the Valencian region boasting local delicacies such as horchata, paella, fartons, fideuà and turrones. The most obvious manifestation of this is the city’s magnificent covered food market – Mercado Central (7am – 3pm, Mon to Sat). Here you can buy almost anything from snails and pigs’ ears to coconut-flavoured slushies. But rest assured; the market is not just for tourists – locals can be seen popping in for specialty items, or indeed doing their weekly shop.

A great way to experience the market is to take a cookery lesson from a local chef. This class/tour takes you to the Mercado Central to buy ingredients and then off to the kitchen where you learn how to cook the perfect Valencian paella.

Alternatively, if you want to kick it up a level, Uemura offers a similar market tour, but then a private cooking lesson with a Michelin-starred chef preparing local specialities.

For those who don’t necessarily want to get their hands dirty, you could take in a tour of the City of Arts and Sciences, a stunning modern architectural complex in Valencia’s old-riverbed-now-park. Afterwards, dinner is served on a 29th-floor terrace taking in the stunning views of the city.

For the largest number of restaurants per square metre, head for the El Carmen district in the centre of town, where you’ll find a huge selection of small independent venues. Or for more innovative dining try the trendy Rusafa neighbourhood behind the station.

Dedicated gastronomes should check out Ricard Camarena’s Canalla Bistro, Quique Dacosta’s Vuelve Carolina, or the gastrobar Casa Montaña in the Cabanyal, the old fishermen’s quarter by the sea.

Places to visit

Like many destination cities, Valencia boils down to a marvellous combination of beach, food, shops, nightlife, museums, and churches.

Driving in town is notoriously tricky for the uninitiated, so use public transport or taxis if you can. Much of the city is served by the metro network, which also goes all the way out to the airport from the Estació del Nord train station. Alternatively, taxis to the airport take around 20 minutes and cost about €25.

Buses run further afield and serve the beach and the City of Arts and Sciences complex. This architectural marvel, designed by Santiago Calatrava, is made up of a planetarium, science museum, opera house, and aquarium, and is open daily.

Controversially, the Valencian region still has bullfighting – the bullring being situated right next to Estació del Nord. There is also a museum should that kind of thing float your boat.

Another less divisive part of Valencia culture is the Fallas. This is a traditional celebration held in commemoration of Saint Joseph and is distinguished by the giant effigies that are constructed and then burnt at the end of the festival. The Fallas runs for 4 days up until the 19th of March, so be prepared for higher hotel prices at this time of year, as well as impromptu fireworks throughout the day and night.

Valencia’s cathedral dates from the 13th century and is on the site of a Moorish mosque and perhaps a Roman temple to Diana. It houses many stunning artworks including two paintings by Goya as well as relics such as the arm of Saint Vincent and a chalice which is claimed to be The Holy Grail (10.30am – 5.30pm Mon-Sat; admission €7).

Reading List:

To get you in the mood, or indeed to read whilst in Valencia, here are a few of our recommended reads featuring Valencia and its rich history:

A death in Valencia – Jason Webster

Inspector Max Camara gets caught in a web of lies and corruption when a body washes up on the beach. In true Valencian style – the victim is a famous paella chef!

The Borgias – The Hidden History – G.J Meyer

Meyer traces the Borgias from their roots in the Valencia community through to the blood-drenched Italian Renaissance period. Amazing research brings the family back to life – and you can still see much of the legacy described in Valencia today.

The Perfume Garden – Kate Lord Brown

A London perfumer is determined to restore a crumbling house in the hills above Valencia left since the days of Franco. This uncovers a tale of lost love family secrets and the art of creating perfume.

easyJet flies London Gatwick to Valencia from £50 return.