The International Writers
Valencia leaves you
perplexed. When you see the vastness of its treasury, you cant help
but looking for a catch. Valencia is such a multi-dimensional city, truly
sporting everything you could ever ask for from a destination (and at
a top scope and level, not just a promotional token), that you simply
feel lucky to have found it on your way. Many of the much more popular
European locations dont have a half of what Valencia has, yet here
it is all business as usual, consuming you into its culture, forcing you
to leave yours behind and truly banning all tourist conventions. This
is a real journey and definitely one of Europes best kept secrets.
The City That Has It All
is such an ultimate travel destination that anything worth seeing
has already been triple-packed. It is practically impossible to
find a place that has major attractions yet has retained its innocence.
And, out of all countries, Spain the place where annual tourist
head count overtakes that of its residents is a very unlikely
candidate for such location.
The basic attraction of any European city is its historic core
the Old Town. Valencias is a rich kaleidoscope of styles, spanning
8 Christian centuries of its history. Not just architecture on the streets,
but spectacular monuments worthy of any important European city
two pairs of gigantic Gothic city gates, a Gothic castle-like palace,
gorgeous Basilica one of the first Baroque buildings in Europe,
elaborate Cathedral sporting a mixture of styles and cultures (plus the
only viable claim in the world to hosting the Holy Grail), and not to
forget La Lonja one of the most spectacular European Gothic structures
protected by UNESCO. There are even Roman ruins. These are just some of
the highlights amongst a myriad of other beautiful churches and building
from all epochs.
These riches reflect Valencias history it is a place that
has always been a city, ever since the concept of the city was formed
in the early Middle Ages. A curious place, Valencia has always been somewhat
of a runner up perhaps not one of the major European centres but
definitely one of the most forward-looking and dynamic ones. The printing
place entered Spain through Valencia, the Renaissance had its first Spanish
roots here, the Enlightenment found its Spanish core here, the shock of
the French Revolution was felt here the most, the coronation of the first
constitutional monarch in the First Spanish Republic took place here,
and it was here that the Second Republic centralised to fight Franco in
in the 15th century the Golden Age of Valencia it
was the most populous, prosperous and cultural city in the whole
Yet when you walk around all this legacy here, there is no sense
of distance, like in many other destinations. Here you remain close.
On the streets it is business as usual, as if the time stopped a
few centuries ago. Full of cosy corners and genuine snapshots of
the past, the Old Town is an insane maze of old Arabic streets.
Its impossible not to get lost but you accept this fate easily,
for you will be rewarded with stunning finds all the way and the
surprise element makes your walk that much exciting.
Part of Valencias charm is how green it is. I have heard it is one
of the greenest cities in Europe. There is always some kind of park, garden,
shady alley, anywhere you go. And the city is split in half by 9 km of
a wide green belt the Turia Garden which used to be a river until
it got diverted. The calm and tranquillity of a sunny Spanish afternoon
in that river of greenery, right in the middle of this metropolis, is
the essence of Valencia. Valencia is also called the City of Flowers
they are abundant everywhere and the locals make incredible things out
of them for their many fiestas.
They also call Valencia the City of Contrasts. Ancient monuments in the
centre are interspersed with some of the most spectacular and imaginative
XIX and XX century architecture. Even deeply residential districts tend
to sport something curious on their apartment blocks. In the recent years
a whole range of purely futuristic buildings has sprung up, culminating
with the mind-boggingly ambitious City of Arts and Sciences.
This thing, built by Santiago Calatrava, is an enormous educational-leisure
complex, that would have been selected as one of the New Wonders of the
World, had it been completed in time for nominations. A totally unique
idea, it takes you right into the 23rd century onto some distant
space base. Gigantic futuristic shapes are surrounded by crystal clear
water. And if you keep in mind that Calatrava bases his designs on skeletons,
this becomes an insane intergalactic graveyard of giant alien creatures.
More than just a pretty face, the City hosts the biggest marine wildlife
park in Europe, an ultra-interactive science museum, an IMAX cinema and
an opera house.
There are cities, like London or Paris, that embody the individual culture
of that nation. Then there are cities, like Jerusalem or Istanbul, which
embody the constant flux of cultures in mankind. Valencia is one of those.
Built by the Romans and taken over by the Visigoths, it later flourished
under the Moors (Muslims) for 6 centuries until it was finally re-built
Yet, curiously, throughout this process a strong Valencian cultural identity
emerged in, once again, the City of Contrasts. The locals see themselves
as an ethnic kingdom within Spain. What is spectacular, though, is that
here the traditional is still very much in fashion, preserved mainly in
music, costumes, customs and fiestas. A good third or so of Valencia proudly
sports regional costumes (said to be the most colourful in Spain) and
music on even the smallest occasion. That includes a lot of youth. Here,
it is still cool to be traditional in the 21st century.
These are falleros neighbourhood co-operatives, unique to Valencia
in the whole world. It is a bizarre concept clan-like, almost tribal
conglomerations, reminiscent of Medieval Muslims, they are the core of
the city, usually uniting for Catholic fiestas. There are around 350 of
fallas (co-operatives) and they have their heyday every year in the middle
of March, for 5 days of urban insanity named Las Fallas.
But thats not
all of it. There is always some kind of fiesta in Valencia. The locals
love noise, spectacle and party. Fireworks and petards are kept in kitchen
cupboards for daily use here. You get an impression they spend the whole
year making costumes, spectacles, floats etc for all those colourful fiestas.
And there is always plenty of music if you like Spanish wind and percussion
they call Valencia the Vienna of Spain.
and colourful effigies (monuments, sculptures) get built from wood
and papier-mâché on the streets of Valencia, around
800 in total, some as high as 25-30 metres. They are usually satirical
or provocative in their content. The whole city dresses up into
traditional costumes and takes to the streets with music and warzone
level of fireworks. Paella is cooked all over the streets, the crowds
party until dawn and on the last day all those effigies get burned.
All this love for noise and party doesnt just stay in the traditional.
The Valencians are some of the most hardcore party animals in Spain and
the nightlife here is nationally famous, going well until dawn (and in
some places until lunchtime!). They say people here go out from Monday
to Sunday. There are myriads of bars, discos and night clubs, as well
as concerts and live music nights.
The culture doesnt stay in the traditional either. The City of Valencia
seems to be hell bent on not letting Valencia turn into another Benidorm.
More and more, Valencia gets to be in the circuit of world music, arts
and cultural events. There is always something going on here, a truly
cosmopolitan and avante-guard spectrum of events. Add to it scores of
museums, theatres, art galleries, classical music venues resident in Valencia,
and you really dont have an excuse to be bored.
And yes, there is a beach, and its about the best city beach I have
ever seen. It might not be a deserted island, but it is large enough,
clean enough and lively enough, plus the climate is amazing, the water
is great and the sand is of top quality. Just to think that it is a mere
20 minutes from all the sightseeing and culture in the centre
right there on the beach you can have the famous Valencian cuisine. Paella
is a Valencian invention and here you can have the best of the best.
Yet with all of this, with all its buzz and ambition, and a million things
to offer, Valencia remains cosy and warm and friendly and laid back. The
people are still very welcoming and open, and the city injects a good
dose of tranquilliser into your veins as soon as you step off the plane.
They call Valencia "the biggest Spanish village". Quite extraordinary
and totally incomprehensible. Perhaps it might not last long. We will
have to see.
For now though, what else one could ask for from an urban destination?
For more information see http://www.valenciavalencia.com
Valencia Tourist Information- an independent resource on travelling in
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.