Renowned for the sumptuous juiciness of its oranges and the unspoilt splendour of its expansive beaches, Valencia is a city unlike any other. The capital of its self-named region, which boasts its own dialect (albeit one that bears a very strong resemblance to both Spanish and Catalan) and a very strong sense of cultural pride, the city’s present day appearance is a credit to the manner in which it has been both preserved and added to.
As befits a city of its fame, Valencia has more than enough to keep sightseers snap-happy. The food on offer is also a significant attraction, with some delicious tapas going at a reasonable price. And for anyone for whom the aftermath of a meal out doesn’t constitute a return to bed, the vibrant centre is well equipped to allow party-goers to make a night of it. So well equipped, in fact, that my early-morning flight home may have had one very sleepy and somewhat inebriated passenger on it…
But enough about my staggering into an airport-bound taxi at the conclusion of an all-nighter. The sights to see, the waves to swim in and the nights to be spent on the tiles lie in wait for any who add Valencia to their holiday lists, but there are also some less common attractions that you won’t find anywhere else. Here are some of the unique features that make this city the only one of its kind…
Garden of the Turia
Thanks to some ingenious ideas on how to make the most of a seemingly undesirable situation, the former bed of the River Turia is now the scene of luscious greenery. Adapted into a park and embellished with varied vegetation, marked footpaths and outdoor cafés, the Garden of the Turia makes for an undisturbed nature trail like no other. Those enjoying a stroll or a less leisurely form of exercise through the long, narrow park will find the surreal experience augmented by the novelty of knowing that the ground on which they stand was once under several feet of water, with every overhead bridge a reminder of this astounding fact.
It’s difficult to say whether a walk through the now-dry Turia is more about the journey or the destination, with both constituting contrasting forms of splendour. Following the route once followed by the flow of water will lead one to the spectacular City of Arts and Sciences, an assortment of modern architectural wonders. With a three-night stay not sufficiently long to turn over every Valencian stone, the planetarium-cum-IMAX cinema, the whale skeleton-shaped science museum and the two event venues will have to wait for another trip, but the building and outdoor area dedicated to aquatic wildlife simply couldn’t be missed…
To label L’Oceanogràfic as an aquarium almost seems insulting when the vastness of what’s on display is taken into account. Part museum, part zoo and part entertainment venue, it is so much more than an aquarium. That’s not to take away from the staggeringly impressive tanks, which can be explored via tunnels, enabling the surreal experience of being in the midst of brightly-coloured exotic fish and fearsome sharks.
For knowledge freaks hoping to learn what they can about life beneath the surface, L’Oceanogràfic’s information boards and static exhibits will fill them with fascinating facts and gory details. Outside of the buildings lies a worldly maze of watery enclosures where various breeds of penguin, seal and turtle frolic in their respective pools and enjoy the glorious sunshine.
What impressed this visitor most about Europe’s largest oceanarium was the chance to not only see dolphins, but to see them in action. With a large oval-shaped pool flanked on one side by a fully-seated stand, a team of acrobatic wetsuit-clad swimmers and a team of long-nosed sea mammals join forces to stun audiences with their display of synchronised leaps, twists and somersaults. The agility and zeal of the dolphins, and the sheer heights which they reach with their seemingly-magical springs out of the water, draw continuous gasps from the crowd, all of whom will leave feeling as if they have caught a contagious feel-good vibe.
Anyone familiar with Spain will know that gastronomy plays a starring role in its cultural treasury, and this city is one of its most prized jewels. The birthplace of the now world-famous paella, a thriving exporter of oranges and a seafood haven, any who go hungry or thirsty in Valencia have only themselves to blame.
Despite the widespread fame of some of the region’s delicacies, there is one local speciality the Valencians have been keeping to themselves. Never having even heard of horchata before my visit to its homeland, a few sips left me feeling that I had been missing out for all these years. Made from locally-cultivated tigernuts, this thick, creamy drink brings refreshment and delight to the senses at the same time. Its distinctive taste might take some time winning over some people’s taste buds, and it might never do the trick with others, but it was an instant hit in some quarters.
Having enjoyed a walking tour, a meander around the zoo, a visit to an archaeological museum and a live flamenco show – as well as the aforementioned experiences – all within a short stint in Valencia, I can safely say that it has more than enough for everyone. Deservedly considered one of Spain’s finest locations, the opportunities to walk in a sometime river on the way to marvelling at a collection of buildings housing marine wildlife, planetary displays, scientific knowledge and artworks, whilst stopping along the way to contentedly sip a blend of tigernuts, sugar and water give it a character that won’t be found or matched anywhere else.