Luxury Break in Valencia by Alan Douglas Journalist/Broadcaster
Off to Valencia, Spain’s third largest city after Madrid and Barcelona , but this time it wasn’t for work, so instead of taking in the launch of a new car, it was purely for relaxation. The positive side was that I had plenty of time on my hands to take in the sights of this delightful city. The downside was that I had to make my own way there and organise my own transport.
The direct EasyJet flight to Alicante was straightforward but the problem then was how to make the 120-mile journey north up the coast to Valencia. The flight arrived half an hour after the last high speed train and a taxi charge of almost £175 was out of the question so I investigated car hire, even though it was unlikely I’d use it much during my few days in the city.
After favourable experiences in the past, I organised car hire online in advance through Rentalcars.com and again they came up with the goods through the Spanish company Rhodium who handed me a brand-new Toyota Yaris with only a few kilometres on the clock. I’d already paid the rental charge in advance but as that was less than £30 for five days, I went for the optional extra insurance which for another £35 covered me comprehensively for any damage or accident without the chance of being hit by a £1000 excess.
By the time we headed out of the airport it was dark but the drive up the motorway was trouble-free with little traffic and for fast jam-free driving it cost less than ten Euros in tolls. What wasn’t quite so straightforward was finding our pre-booked hotel, Vincci Mercat. We knew it was in the heart of the old town and even with the full address programmed into the sat-nav, we drove round for some time amid bustling restaurants and bars fruitlessly searching for it.
Eventually, we stopped and I took the bold step of entering a pizzeria to ask directions, only to be told that we were just round the corner from the very hotel. I got the car into the hotel’s underground car park (£10 for every 24 hours) and with the clock nudging 11pm we were lucky to find a restaurant still open and willing to serve a steak and a bottle of Rioja. The next few days were a mix of shopping, eating and sightseeing and there’s plenty to see.
Valencia is a big city with around 800,000 residents but we stayed in the bustling old town with its mixture of narrow side streets and wide main thoroughfares with major department stores. It’s not exactly quiet – traffic is noisy and non-stop – but there’s a great lively atmosphere and stacks of cafes, bars and restaurants in which to take refuge. You’re just a few miles from the sea and the port which is one of the busiest in Europe and handles the most number of containers on the Mediterranean, a reflection of the importance of the agricultural economy and the variety of industries in the area, including a huge Ford Motor Company assembly plant.
I actually enjoy watching the traffic – from a professional viewpoint – and I spotted some crackers, not least a massive Cadillac taking up several parking spaces in the street. At the other extreme, I found a delightful child’s pedal racing car for sale in a small basketwork shop. Sadly I knew it wouldn’t fit in my airline hand luggage.
The city has a stunning collection of beautiful buildings. At almost every turn is a magnificent example of Spanish architecture but a good central point is the Plaza del Ajuntament which was only a short walk from our hotel. On its western side is the sprawling City Hall with its central clock tower while on the other side is the enormous central post office which competes for attention. It’s not a square as such – it’s actually triangular or wedge-shaped and heaves with bars and food stops, almost all of which offer vast plates of tapas or traditional paella which Valencia claims as its own with the rice coming from the neighbouring huerta, a fertile zone of market gardens.
For some peace and quiet we headed to the seclusion of the Turia Gardens, an amazing long strip of parkland which is laid out on the drained bed of the former Turia River which was diverted in the 1960s after severe flooding. You can still hear the city traffic but it’s a wonderful haven of fountains, playparks, sports fields and woodland. It’s a popular spot for walkers, joggers and cyclists and you can hire segways to get about if the walking proves too much.
At the eastern end is the ultra modern architecture of the centre of Arts and Sciences which contains an opera house and performing arts centre, a science museum, an IMAX cinema and planetarium and an oceanographic park. Several miles away at the other end of the park is the Bioparc zoo.
By chance I stumbled on the Museo Historico Militar, tucked away in a side street near the Turia Park. Laid out on several floors in a former Army barracks, it was delightfully quiet and has an amazing collection of weapons, armaments and military equipment going back over many centuries….and admission is free. The city is very much a focus for foodies and it would be true to say that you really are spoilt for choice but we found a couple of cracking places.
A top spot is Vuelve Carolina, a very modern white-wood restaurant which is proving hugely popular as a trendy place serving fabulous food. It was difficult to choose between the superb seafood like scallops and octopus or the selection of meats including pork, ham and delicious foie gras. It’s essential to book but if you can’t get in, the owners have opened a second restaurant El Poblet, right next door. Another fun place we found near our hotel was Vino Tinto which is huge with a battalion of red-braced serving staff producing wonderful dishes under a wacky ceiling covered in upturned wine boxes.
We loved the city, but some words of warning. Like every big city, you have to watch out for your belongings and especially beware of hanging bags or jackets with valuables on the backs of or under chairs or keeping cash in outside pockets. Having said that we found the locals were welcoming and happy to chat…and tipping is not expected and even 5% of the bill is considered generous.
Contributor Informed Luxury
Journalist and Broadcaster