By Rob McGillis
There is a Mediterranean treasure that often passes under travelers’ radar – Valencia – a perfect weekend trip from Madrid or Barcelona. This coastal home to Ciutat de les Arts i de les Ciènces (City of Arts and Sciences). This seemingly ‘23rd Century’ structure, with L’Hemisfèric (plane-tarium), L’Oceanogràfic (Aquarium), and the Palau de les Arts (opera house), is Valencia’s most popular attraction, and is located in the riverbed of the former Río Turia. The river was diverted due to flooding issues and is now a beautifully landscaped park.
Cafés abound, along with restaurants that rather zealously take part in the city’s obsession with seafood. Paella Valenciana is an absolute must – a pan-cooked medley of saffron rice and the best seafood in the Iberian peninsula. The omnipresence of seafood in Valencian life can be seen at El Mercado Central (Central Market), where hundreds of vendors come together under one roof to sell fish and other mariscos (seafood), as well as freshly harvested fruits and vegetables. The unofficial beverage of Valencia is Orxata, a very exotic drink made from the juice of pressed xufas (tigernuts). Its taste is indescribable, but nevertheless is highly recommended.
The streets of the old city, though now a bit decrepit in certain areas, continue to highlight the city’s golden age. An especially beautiful area of the city can be found around the palm tree-lined Plaza de Ayuntamento (City Hall Plaza), the Xàtiva area by Estació Nord, the train station, and the city’s bullring. The central, old section of the city is home to almost all of the tourist at-tractions, but the outer neighborhoods are worth the trip to escape the flashing cameras of other tourists and to soak up some local flavor. For the young traveler, (or the young at heart), most of Valencia’s popular bars and clubs are found in the area surrounding the university.
Valencia has an enormous port. It is an extremely busy commercial shipping center, explaining why the water around the city is not as clear as one might expect from the Mediterranean, nev-ertheless the city has some of the best urban beaches in the region. For a more secluded, intimate beach atmosphere, one can take the commuter rail to any number of small waterfront towns in the surrounding area.
Madrid will always be Spain’s capitol city, and Barcelona will perhaps always be Spain’s second city, but if you find yourself with time to spare, be sure to adventure out into Valencia, Spain’s third largest city and a worthy excursion.