In Spain’s third-largest city, explore Europe’s biggest aquarium, witness a 1,000-year-old tradition and marvel at exquisite specimens of architecture, says Manjulika Pramod
We know Madrid, the capital of Spain, as a city of elegant boulevards and immaculately manicured parks and Barcelona, the cultural hotspot, for its exquisite architecture and artistic grandeur. The two most well-known cities in Spain, Madrid and Barcelona, attract the largest number of tourists as well. But allow me to introduce you to València, a city that not only boasts a thriving culture but also an equally vibrant culinary scene, not to mention a colourful nightlife. Infinitely Mediterranean at heart and uniquely contemporary in outlook, València enjoys a strategic position on the Spanish coast.
Located around 300 km from Barcelona and Madrid, quaint València has, for the longest time, allured visitors with its towering medieval buildings and unique contemporary designs. So my guide and I begin our escapades in Spain’s third-largest city from the Del Carmen neighbourhood. Situated in the city’s old quarters, this 1,000-year-old emblematic locality is considered to be the historical centre of València.
I lose myself in the labyrinthine cobbled streets here and marvel at the magnificence of the Serranos and Quart Towers that represent the city’s most iconic medieval remains. The main attraction of this bohemian area, however, is the impressive frescoes of the San Nicolás Church, which is considered to be València’s version of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. If you happen to visit this area in the morning, pick up some fresh gourmet produce from the famous Sorrel Market here. But no matter at what time of the day you plan to stop by, you’ll always find happy faces here.
We spend a good few hours at Del Carmen and my guide does not rush me. “You cannot be in València without enough time in hand,” he smiles. The city has a vibe that
instantly makes you feel at ease – the people are warm, the weather is pleasant and the food, delicious.
We stroll towards Plaza de la Virgen, one of the oldest quarters in the city, where more architecturally-valuable Valèncian facades are waiting to impress me. Every Thursday, this site hosts the 1,000-year-old Tribunal de Las Aguas – the Water Court. Eight democratically-elected farmers meet and decide on water disputes. The farmers sport traditional black blouses and sit in a circle on wood and leather 17th century chairs, and make their rulings. As tourists gather around, the group gives its rulings in the local language and which are final! The tradition is listed in the UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
I take a quick tour of the stunning sights around – València Cathedral (Saint Mary’s Cathedral), El Micalet and Basilica of the Virgin. Keep a good amount of time in your hands if you wish to explore them all. Walking is one of the best ways to both go around the city as well as soak in the city’s lively spirit. After nine hours of both visual and olfactory delights, I retire for the night.
The following day, València’s futuristic designs overwhelm me. Created mostly by local architect Santiago Calatrava, the modernistic structures are awe-inspiring yet simple. His most popular work, a cultural complex of buildings called City of Arts, is one of the most Instagrammable sites in the city. This stunning complex is spread over a 3,50,000-sq m piece of land on the old Turia riverbed. Inside the complex is a series of spectacular buildings. I am left gawking at five picture-perfect creations – Hemisfèric (a digital 3D cinema with a massive 900-m concave screen), Umbracle (a sprawling, open-to-all garden covering more than 17,000 sq m), Príncipe Felipe Science Museum (an interactive science and technology museum where visitors are allowed to touch the exhibits), Oceanogràfic (Europe’s largest aquarium) and Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía (opera house). At Oceanogràfic, families gather to watch the playful dolphins and belugas, the cuddly sea lions, the adorable penguins and the handsome sharks! It takes at least a day, if not more, to take in every aspect of this neighbourhood.
Many consider València’s San Nicolás Church as the city’s version of the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel
I end my day with a stroll at the El Cabanyal Beach, one of the several sandy shores in the city. As I watch the sun set over the water, the aroma of delicious paella and fish stew wafting from the nearby restaurants teasing my tastebuds, I realise València offers a complete package: the sun, the sea, mouthwatering food and a taste of la vida Española – the Spanish life!
The author is a travel enthusiast and the views expressed here are her own
1. The Turia Fountain at Plaça de la Reina
2. A mascleta (pyrotechnic event) during Fallas (March 1-19, 2020), one of the most popular festivals of València
3. Colorful paper mache figures in the Fallas festival
1. View of the sea from Pope Luna’s Castle in Peniscola near València
2. Interiors of the San Nicolás Church