Spending the last few days of 2019 in Valencia, Spain included just the right mix of museum hopping, serious eating, coffee stops and meandering the decorated plazas and narrow streets of the Old Town. The history of Valencia is a fusion of cultures. Founded by the Romans in 138 BC, it was invaded by German and Iranian tribes before a Muslim conquest and a later Christian Reconquest in the 13th century.
We started the explorations with some artsy fun at the Valencian Institute of Modern Art (IVAM) before enjoying an outdoor lunch at the nearby Convent Carmen. This 400 year old convent, San José and Santa Teresa, is now a cultural space with films, performances and workshops. Restaurants in its gastronomic market serve from cargo containers while patrons dine at tables throughout the large open courtyard.
To take in views of the neighborhoods, we climbed the two remaining medieval gate towers (Torres de Serranos and Torres de Quart) which were part of the defensive wall around the city. For more on the history of the gates, read this.
A stop for a cáfe con leche at Almalibre Acai House found this inspirational quote:
As always, some of the best vacation experiences evolved from unplanned encounters. We luckily happened upon the Corpus Museum of Valencia – The House of Rocks. The museum houses the large figures and other religious objects used in the annual Corpus Christi procession. (See photos from this amazing event here!)
From the outside, La Almoina Archaeological Museum doesn’t reveal it’s underground secrets. Below the calm water of the outdoor fountain is an excavation of early Valencia. You can see the two main streets from Roman times, 2nd century baths, the courtyard of the old Muslim city and various excavated artifacts.
Visiting during the holidays allowed us to partake in some of the celebrations. As in many Spanish cities, several places displayed traditional nativity scenes. The Spanish word for these displays is belén which literally translates to Bethlehem. Here is one we admired in the City Hall.
The Church of Santa Catalina provided a simpler backdrop to enjoy its nativity scene as well as other beautiful art.
We always try to visit food markets wherever we are. These markets give insights into the daily lives of locals and we always see interesting and different culinary delights. The Central Market housed in a 1914 Art Nouveau building is one of the larger markets in Europe. It had its own towering nativity scene. For more on this market and others in Valencia read here.
Valencia is the birthplace of paella. Our local friends did not hesitate to recommend the Alqueria del Pou for our long awaited paella lunch. You could tell from the dining families and comfortably elegant decor that this is an establishment that is part of the fabric of the community. After already indulging in paella and dessert, the waitress then gifted us a plate of traditional bizcocho (cake) with mistela, a sweet dessert liquor.
The City of Arts and Sciences lives up to its beauty seen in photographs. The futuristic white buildings seem perfectly suited for this city by the beach. While here, you can explore the Museu de les Ciències or the Oceanogràfic which has Europe’s largest aquarium. We decided on a more leisurely choice, the Hemisfèric, to watch a 3D IMAX movie about energy.
Even in December, a trip to Valencia wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the beach. A short bus ride to Malvarrosa allowed us to breathe the Mediterranean air while taking a short, sandy stroll.
We ended the holidays ringing in the New Year with the locals. With fireworks and music we welcomed 2020, not realizing that it was going to be one of our least favorite years ever! In retrospect, we are grateful that we shared that night in a crowd of happy revelers.
If you want to be transported to this sunny city on the sea, follow our friends @lovevalencia for beautiful photos each day.
There is nothing like planning a trip where you can reconnect with old friends over a homemade dinner in their home. (Marcos, Ali and Nico…seeing your smiles and hearing your laughs were the true highlights of the trip!)