Twenty years ago, no tourists came to Valencia, according to city tourism official, Miguel Angel Perez.
But, over the past 10 years, Valencia apparently realized that leisure business is good business and turned itself into a bustling arts and sciences destination in the middle of Spain’s Mediterranean coast.
The city has welcomed around two million foreigners this year, said Perez, with the largest groups coming from Italy, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, France, the US, Russia, Japan and China. Approximately half of those visitors come on business and the other half for leisure.
Whatever takes you there, consider some of the following activities when you happen to be in town:
Stroll the historical center
Home to Valencia’s main heritage sites, Plaza de la Virgen is arguably the busiest part of the city as well as a popular meeting point among locals, according to tour guide Alejandro. One of its gems is the Valencia Cathedral, which sits on the site of an ancient Roman temple that later became a mosque. Dating back to the 13th century, it features a combination of architectural styles, from Romanesque to Baroque. The Holy Chalice, said to be the one that Jesus used during the Last Supper, can be admired in one of its chapels.
The nearby 15th century Gothic civil building Lonja de la Seda (the Silk Exchange) is also a must-visit, said Alejandro. Also known as the Merchants Market, it used to play an important role when Valencia was a business hub, especially for the silk industry. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996, the building features impressive spiral columns in its Trading Hall and wood-coffered ceilings in the Consulate Chamber.
Valencia Cathedral (thejakartapost.com/Keshie Hernitaningtyas)
Trading Hall of the Lonja de la Seda (thejakartapost.com/Keshie Hernitaningtyas)
Explore African and marine wildlife
Conveniently situated inside the city, Bioparc is home to more than 4,000 exclusively African animals from 250 different species. According to tour guide Martha, you should spare at least two to three hours to explore the entire place, which includes four re-created African ecosystems – Savannah, Madagascar Island, Equatorial Forest and Wetlands. School students from all over Europe regularly flock to the park, especially during April and May.
Dubbed the biggest recreational and cultural center in Europe, the City of Arts and Sciences features notable architectural design – which looks particularly picturesque at night – as well as other interesting attractions. The latter includes the continent’s largest aquarium, called Oceanogràfic,that hosts 45,000 marine creatures from some 500 different species. The marine mammal belugas (Delphinapterus leucas), also known as “sea canaries” because they love to sing, is one of the main attractions, said Oceanogràfic’s marketing officer Carmen. “We also offer special activities such as diving with the sharks and sleeping surrounded by them,” she added.
Bioparc (thejakartapost.com/Keshie Hernitaningtyas)
Go museum hopping
For those visiting Valencia outside of March 15 to 19, when the Fallas Festival takes place, the Fallas Museum offers a glimpse of the festivities. Said to be a celebration of carpentry in commemoration of Saint Joseph, the festival centers on the expression of art using hundreds of large wooden structures covered with painted papier-mâché and other materials. The event climaxes with lighting Falla monuments on fire. Since it is also a satirical look at various issues and themes, you can have fun by trying to guess the meaning behind the ninots indultats, or mini monuments that have been saved from the flames and showcased at the museum.
Fallas Museum (thejakartapost.com/Keshie Hernitaningtyas)
Nestled in a 15th century Baroque-style palace, the National Ceramics Museum is a favorite holiday snap spot among tourists due to its unusual alabaster entrance. Inside, you can find a vast collection of ceramics from prehistoric, Roman, Greek and Arab eras to contemporary works such as those by Picasso, all displayed in an appropriately elegant setting.
National Ceramics Museum (thejakartapost.com/Keshie Hernitaningtyas)
Culture you can taste
The Colon Market and Central Market are arguably the city’s most recommended spots for gastronomic pleasures with Mediterranean-influenced Valencian cuisine as its focal point. While visiting the Central Market, try the city’s traditional cold summertime beverage, the horchata, made of tigernuts, sugar and water, which is ideally enjoyed with long pastry sticks called farton. “This is one of the best places in the city to enjoy the beverage,” said Alejandro.
Learning to cook Paella, one of Spain’s most famous traditional dishes, at the Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana can provide a unique yet fun experience while you are in town. Opt for the morning course since it includes shopping at the traditional market for locally-grown ingredients including Valencia rice, chicken, rabbit, snails, beans, tomato, saffron, olive oil and garlic. According to Chef Benedicto, back in the day, the locals usually put various other meats into the dish including eels and frogs. But since Paella became more and more popular, it was agreed that only chicken, rabbit and snails should be considered part of the traditional version. The word paella itself is the name of the large pan in which the dish is cooked. The traditional way of eating the dish is to scoop it directly from the pan with a wooden spoon and combine its rather salty yet savory taste with Valencia wines.
For sports fans, there are at least two destinations to visit in Valencia as it is home to the Circuito de la Comunitat Valenciana Ricardo Tormo, which is chosen year after year to host the final race of the MotoGP championship, and also the Mestalla Stadium that was inaugurated in 1923 as the headquarters of the Valencia Club de Fútbol.
The stadium, set to be modernized in 2019, is reportedly the country’s third most visited stadium after the Camp Nou and Santiago Bernabeu stadiums. “One of the highlights of the stadium is that fans are able to get really close to the field, since there are no running tracks surrounding it,” said tour guide Paula. She added that the stadium’s unique design created an amazing atmosphere of sounds from the spectators that led to a certain psychological pressure for the opponents.
Mestalla Stadium (thejakartapost.com/Keshie Hernitaningtyas)
Those not really interested in touristy activities may want to consider the advice of Marc Insanally, owner of the artsy chic Café de Las Horas. “There are actually many little underground festivals in the city including alternative art events in abandoned places. Visit local bars to get information on such street activities,” he said.