Valencia, the third largest Spanish city is literally perfect in every way you could imagine: it’s affordable, cute, modern, lively, located directly at the coast, surrounded by plenty of nature, easy to reach, always sunny (always burning with sun, in fact) and offers spectacular sights and a lavish cuisine.
Here’s the core element that makes Valencia such an underdog: it’s small and compact, but definitely not as provincial as other cities of that size (short of a million).
A rough guide to Valencia
The rough guide to Valencia would be the following: forget about public transport and rent a bike for the days you’ll spend. Get from the city center to the beach in a few minutes, visit the incredibly impressive City of Arts and Sciences, and ride through the dried out riverbed – the Turia Gardens – that, in its sheer uniqueness in the world, is a heritage as valuable as the former airport Tempelhof in Berlin. Turia Garden is a 16km long, dried out riverbed that stretches through the city and which has been turned into a huge public park, full of sports, games and picnics.
Undoubtedly, Valencia is calmer than other European cities. There’s no hustle like in Barcelona or Madrid. The beach is enormous and beautiful and the promenades aren’t as overcrowded as you’d expect them to be on the typical vacation coastlines of Spain.
Mathias and I were jokingly saying that Valencia feels as if we’re on holiday in a Spanish coastal town- without the German tourists. I’m trying not to use the word “authentic” as much, because authenticity always includes one’s own projections of the meaning (what is authentic to me is not authentic to you), but it seemed to me as if being a tourist was perfectly embedded into the lifestyle of Valencias citizens, i.e. everybody who lives in Valencia eats, sees and hears the same thing as someone who is just visiting. This easy access to the heart of the city culture provides a secure feeling of being somewhere where the world keeps turning, with no regard for time or self-marketing, with no division between foreigners and residents.
Valencia: From partying to fine dining
Valencia used to be a techno stronghold, too, as Marc Insanally, the owner of the legendary Café De Las Horas had us known while drinking the legendary Valencia Water (“Agua de Valencia”), a juicy cocktail for long summer nights. Well, Techno it isn’t anymore, so if you’re looking for an underground nightlife scene you’re probably better off back in Berlin.
So many good restaurants with a twist on the traditional tapas variations, whether in set menus or á la carte, have definitely broadened my horizon in terms of Spanish cuisine. Whether snacking fresh, local produce and strawberry juice at the Central Market or diving into the menu at Casa Montana (a traditional bodega in the former docklands).
While it easily takes days to discover a new city, Valencia feels like you don’t need a set itinerary. Whether it’s the rustic and timeless city center or the old dock lands, the boho quarter La Rufaza or the mesmerizing tour through the Oceanografic: you will neither ever get bored nor stressed out while in Valencia. I mean, how can something so astounding and beautiful as the City of Arts and Sciences be here? If there had to be only one reason to return to Valencia, it would be this magical place of modernist architecture.
I think Valencia is as close as one gets to that special California Dream Holiday in Europe. Yes, it’s a washed out summer dream, full of beaches, laughs and serenity; with soft road trip music in the background and faded polaroid colors. A perfect holiday spot for a couple of days, and absolutely an underrated escape.