15-17 October 2007
A perfect location for an autumn weekend trip – sunny, smallish, historical, interesting architecture, nice parks, great food – and Zara!
Ca Sento – hotel reception was suitably impressed by our lunch booking at the best restaurant in Valencia, holder of a Michelin star. Located in an unprepossessing suburban street with a white shard-like exterior, the mysteriously hidden door led into a small hushed dining room decorated with brown shag pile (!) on the ceiling. It was possibly my most intimidating restaurant experience – we were seated at an enormous icy-tundra like table for two, the open kitchen showed a bunch of unsmilingly efficient chefs, and as we didn’t speak Spanish we dared not ask what we were eating during our degustation (including whether the butter was for the prawns or the bread). The food was extremely good – particularly impressive was the chef’s take on paella and the rockling fillet (skin carved perfectly so that the fillet curled just so). And the toilets were really witty!
El Rall – nothing better than Sunday lunch under the tree-shade in a little Spanish square. Its paella reputation was well deserved - good flavour and texture, and lots of locals. And friendly smiling service!
Le Pepica – The most famous paella restaurant on Arenas beach, and Hemingway’s favourite, as designated by a massive photo of him on the wall. The restaurant seemed to serve nothing else as the multitude of waiters dashed past with enormous paella pans, scraping and serving the rice at lightning speed.
Hotel Neptuno – glamourous bar/restaurant facing Arenas beach with equally glamourous (aka high) prices. Great place for lounging and people-watching.
Horchateria Santa Catalina – horchata is a cold nut milk made from crushed tiger nuts. There are little ‘horchaterias’ which specialise in the drink, and you normally have it with a fried doughnut. This place is the most famous premises, although our tour guide said that she prefers the one across the road.
Mercado Central - the large market where the locals shop for their fresh food and vegetables. Saffron at amazingly cheap prices, bizarre looking seafood and chorizo everywhere! We managed to smuggle a chorizo stash on the plane and have been having home-made paella ever since.
Zara – the best high street fashion in the world and cheapest in Spain and Portugal. Tim and I set ourselves an afternoon to battle the frenzy at Zara Men and Zara Women. Hectic but well worth it. Apparently the more exclusive boutiques are in an area just off Calle Colon.
First of all, buy a Valencia Tourist Card from Turis Valencia - the card will get you unlimited public transport (necessary if you’re visiting the beach and America’s Cup port) and discounts at some sights/museums, including 50% of the highly recommended walking tour (see below).
Walking tour run by the Valencia Tourist Information office – a 2 hour informative walking tour which explains some of the history and buildings around the old town, including the Cathedral, La Lonja and the market. Plus you can always find out local information like where to find the best tapas and the coolest shopping.
The Holy Grail – yes, the pope-endorsed cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper is installed in Valencia’s cathedral, which itself is interesting for its mélange of architectural styles.
Climb the octagonal cathedral tower, La Miguelete (Micalet) – a great vantage point for seeing the Valencian rooftops, major monuments poking up from the landscape and the Turia cutting through the heart of the city.
America’s Cup port – only if you’re into sailing or on a million-dollar yacht. Otherwise it’s just a bunch of sheds with sponsor’s names on them.
Walk or cycle along the Jardin del Turia, the city park which used to be the riverbed of the Turia river (now diverted due to flooding). Watch the locals enjoy the sports fields, playgrounds and cafes in the sun. You'll end up at City of Arts and Sciences a futuristic sweeping complex of buildings inspired by Valencia's maritime location. All those curves are really photogenic! And the weekend we were in Valencia, it was hosting the Pro Tour of Magic: The Gathering - the tournament for some sort of card game played by rows and rows of smelly teenage boys wearing black t-shirts.
Ca Sento: Méndez Núñez, 17
El Rall: 2 Calle Tunidores, T: +34 96 392 20 90
La Pepica: Paseo Neptuno, 6 46011 VALENCIA, T: +34 963 710 366
Neptuno Hotel Valencia: Paseo Neptuno, 2 46011 Valencia, T: +34 963 567 777
Horchateria Santa Catalina: Plaza Santa Catalina, 6; 6001 Valencia
Zara: Calle Colon (and other locations)
Turis Valencia, Plaza de la Reina, 19 46002 and other locations