Once a year, my Mum, Sister and I plan a short getaway together – some time and space to connect, catch up and have some fun while exploring a new place. Last year we visited Amsterdam, and had an absolute ball wandering along the canals and visiting the Anne Frank House (a must if you are visiting Amsterdam).
This year we fancied a little bit of sunshine before Winter enveloped us completely here in Northern Ireland, and so, courtesy of bargain Easyjet flights we headed off for a 4-day break in the delightfully vibrant city of Valencia on the southeastern coast of sunny Spain. I don’t think I have ever had such a straightforward journey…it was so stress free! Or maybe that’s just how it is travelling without kids in tow! Anyhow, we departed Belfast on the 6.30am flight, arriving in Valencia 2 hours and 20 minutes later, not bad! Stepping off into the heat is always a treat, especially when leaving behind a cold and damp Northern Ireland. We collected our 72-hr Valencia Card from the Tourist Information point, which we had pre-purchased online meaning we could use public transport with ease, enjoy many free and discounted attraction entries as well as a couple of free tapas and drinks (really really can’t recommend this highly enough), then we headed down the escalator to the Metro which took us directly into the city. Not normally a fan of metros and tube lines, I was pleasantly surprised to find the airport line uncrowded and odour-free! Within 20 minutes we arrived at our stop (Alameda) and enjoyed a pleasant walk to our hotel along a short stretch of the spectacular 9km long green urban space known as the Turia Gardens.
Formally a riverbed whose route was diverted due to flooding (mind-blowing!), this wide space has been transformed and put to such good use. It is a real haven for people and wildlife within the city landscape, providing leisure facilities, cycle routes, play areas and museums as well as linking up various ‘must-see’ points across the city. We were instantly impressed with the cleanliness of the Turia Gardens as we wandered along pulling our suitcases towards our hotel – the lovely Eurostars Rey Don Jaime. We had decided on this 4-star hotel as our base based on 3 things. 1. It’s location between the city centre and historical sites and the beautiful sprawling white sandy beaches meant we were easily situated to experience a little bit of everything during our short break. 2. It has a small but perfectly proportioned roof top swimming pool with views across to the coast – perfect for cooling off in the heat! 3. The breakfast pictures looked really good! (it’s super important to fuel up for sightseeing afterall!)
Once checked-in we headed out for lunch at the nearest Il Corte Ingles (a vast shopping precinct) where we were able to tuck into paella and a glass of wine on the house thanks to our Valencia Cards all while enjoying stretching views across to the Arts and Science quarter of the city.
Impressive modern architecture houses a science museum, oceanographic centre, auditorium – all surrounded by water twinkling in the scorching heat. A trip through this area on our walk back to the hotel for a dip in the pool deepened our new-found love for the bustling yet laid-back city of Valencia. Everywhere we looked there was evidence of an urban environment built for people to enjoy. We couldn’t quite digest just how much open space there was, how easily people were able to move about, how polite cyclists, dog-walkers, people on scooters were to one another – so refreshing!
That evening, we took the bus to the marina and enjoyed a stroll around the harbour before eating dinner at a small bar – Cerveceria Costa Blanca, where we were treated so warmly and kindly and the food was great! A half hour walk took us back to our hotel where we slept soundly after being on the go non-stop for 22 hours!
The breakfast in the hotel was everything the pictures promised it would be – apologies I have no photographic evidence but I was hungry! There was SO much to choose from – fresh fruit, cereal, yoghurts, cold meats, cheeses, eggs, bacon, sausages, breads and pastries galore as well as a cute kiddie’s corner which had little fruit kebabs and fresh finger foods alongside a small play area – parents get to dine in peace! We ate our full before departing to the historic quarter of the town where we bought discounted tickets for 15 Euros (thank-you Valencia card) for the 2 hop on hop off bus tours – one historical and the other maritime. We took our seats on the open top deck and plugged in our headphones, relaxing in the sunshine as we travelled around the city learning about its ancient and more modern history along the way. Guided tours like this are a great way to get your bearings in a new place as well as allowing you to pick out places you would like to return to and visit in more detail. We thoroughly enjoyed the trips, being able to chill out while marvelling at some of the stunning architecture was just lovely and definitely money well spent in our opinion.
Lunch alongside the Turia Fountain, complete with Sangria, was an idyllic way to spend a couple of hours chatting, people-watching and generally embracing our precious free time together before exploring the old part of the city on foot.
Narrower streets lead to various squares where modern cafes, bars and restaurants are dotted in among old buildings. Quirky boutiques and attractive shopping arcades were bustling and inviting, meaning it was possible to wander around for hours on end soaking up the atmosphere, and yet, not once did it feel overcrowded or too touristy. The pace was leisurely and everywhere we wandered we were made to feel so welcome – with one lovely local lady even buying us some sweets she saw us admiring in a shop window! How thoughtful!
On Monday, we headed out of town on the bus to the expansive beaches of Valencia. These palm-tree lined sands are so beautiful and we easily managed to find a quiet spot to soak up the sun for a few hours. I am not much of a beach-goer ordinarily – much preferring to wander around, but on this occasion I did really enjoy relaxing on the spotlessly clean Malvarrosa Beach with my Mum and Sister, chit-chatting and pondering the meaning of life! Once we had had enough sun we headed to Can Luca – a gorgeous little restaurant on the promenade where we enjoyed a delicious, fresh 3-course lunch with wine for less that 15 Euros – such a bargain!
Later, we relaxed by the pool to spend some time reading under the brilliant blue sky, hoping that the memory of it would get us through the winter months! A quick trip on the bus took us into town in the evening where we listened to local buskers play while savouring some tasty ‘bocadillos’ and a jug of Sangria. Well, when in Spain…why not?!
On our final day, we visited the Valencia Cathedral which was consecrated in 1238 by the first Bishop of Valencia, Pere d’Albalat. It is a magnificent building, vast with its vaulted ceilings and many chapels and is richly decorated with stained glass, carvings and sculptures. A linked museum section also houses artwork, treasures and sculptures not to be missed and the audio guided tour meant we learnt of the Cathedral’s history while we walked around. For 8 Euros, it is more than worth allowing several hours to take in the Cathedral, which also houses what is believed to be the Holy Grail – the chalice used by Jesus at the Last Supper.
Once outside, we made our way to the Central Market to wander along the colourful food stalls lining the huge indoor market. We bought some olives to take out with us, eating them outside on the steps alongside others who had the same idea! Our trip was almost at an end – a final walk along the Turia Gardens to collect our luggage, a quick coffee and slice of cake and our city break was over.
Valencia truly astounded us all – there is so much to see and do – and so much of it we would definitely come back for, this time with kids. There’s the Bioparc, Science Museum, Oceanographic Centre, all of which would be a lot of fun to explore with children.
Above all, the relaxed and friendly vibe was what struck us most of all. Beautiful and interesting buildings, the inviting climate, great wide-open spaces to enjoy, ease of getting around, clean beaches and delicious tapas make Valencia a destination I would highly recommend visiting.
Muchas gracias Valencia!