Swapping one sun-drenched city for another, writer Robert Kidd moved from Brisbane to Valencia in 2017. After visiting the city on a whim the previous year, the freelance journalist decided this was the place to experience the celebrated Spanish lifestyle. When not searching for the perfect paella or working on rolling his Rs, he tells anyone who’ll listen why Valencia is Spain’s best city.
A typical weekend involves... the beach. Valencia’s vast stretch of sand is one of Europe’s best city beaches. In winter, couples come for a fresh morning walk along the promenade and in summer the sand and sea are the places to be. I like to stroll the length of the promenade from the marina down to Patacona, which is typically less crowded. Lunch is usually fried seafood at Llevant or a rice dish at Casa Navarro. Then it's back to the beach and, during the summer months, a caipirinha at one of the chilled chiringuitos (beach bars) on the sand.
When I have friends in town… I take them to La Lonja de la Seda. The Gothic former silk exchange is a grandiose introduction to the city’s history and an insight into the power and wealth Valencia enjoyed in the 15th and 16th centuries. A few doors down, in the shadow of the grand Mercado Central, Boatella tapas bar is a fine place to sample Valencia’s famed fresh produce. There isn’t much better than sitting in the sun with a plate of fried artichokes and a cold beer.
The city comes alive during… Las Fallas. The fiery festival in March sees about 800 elaborate, colourful sculptures displayed on the streets before all but two are burnt in a citywide bonfire. Visit the Museo Fallero if you want to see those pardoned in previous years. There are also daily mascletàs (earth-shaking displays of pyrotechnic power) and nightly fireworks that keep exploding until the early hours. Yes, it’s crowded, chaotic and impossible to get much sleep, but it’s also a lot of fun.
A local delicacy you can’t miss is… paella. Don’t let tourist traps fool you – traditional paella contains rabbit, chicken, snails, rosemary and garrofón beans. It isn’t wet, it’s only eaten for lunch and those crunchy grains at the bottom of the pan (the socarrat, or ‘Valencian caviar’) are the best bit. When I have a craving, I visit Casa Carmela. This traditional place does wood-fired paella so packed with flavour you’ll see what all the fuss is about. Better yet, try to snag an invite to a Sunday lunch paella – every Valencian’s mother apparently cooks the world’s best.
If I need some exercise… I run in the Turia Gardens. The 9km-long park is a former riverbed that runs like a green vein from one end of the city to the other. Running on the designated track, passing picnicking families and ducking under flower-filled bridges, a workout hardly feels like work. Valencia’s lack of hills also helps.
When I’m up for a big night out… I start with bar-hopping in the lively Russafa barrio (district). Its laid-back vibe, friendly staff and cheap cocktails make Cuatro Monos a good place to begin. There are plenty more watering holes in the adjacent, upmarket Canovas neighbourhood, including Doce Gin Club, which made it into the record books for its hundreds of gin varieties. If I’m still awake (most clubs aren’t pumping until 3am), L'Umbracle Terraza is atmospheric. The open-air space is dotted with palm trees and invites you to dance beneath the stars and until the sun comes up.
When I want to cook up a storm… I head to Russafa Market. It may not be as stunning a building as Mercado Central, but it is less crowded, cheaper and the produce is just as delicious. The store owners aren’t short of advice if you’re looking for something special in season. Cabanyal Market, in a traditional fishing neighbourhood, has some of the freshest seafood you’re likely to find.
When I want to see live sport… I’m in luck as Valencia has two teams in La Liga, Spanish football’s top division. Valencia CF play in the imposing, near 100-year-old Mestalla Stadium, while Levante UD’s humbler home is Estadio Ciudad de Valencia. Tickets are usually available for most matches excluding those against Barcelona, Real Madrid and each other.
When little ones are visiting… Parque Gulliver is always a winner. In the Turia Gardens, the free playground lets kids climb over and slide down a giant Gulliver. A short walk away, the futuristic City of Arts and Sciences precinct impresses all ages with its ultramodern buildings. There is a hands-on science museum, aquarium and activities like zorbing on the dazzling blue water for younger ones.
When I want to get out of the city… I jump on the bus or a bike and head for La Albufera. The national park is a peaceful escape with wild beaches, rice fields and a large lagoon. El Palmar is a pleasant town with traditional houses and plenty of restaurants. Before returning to the city, a boat ride on the lagoon is great for bird spotting.
One thing I hate about Valencia is… August. It’s stinking hot so most locals flee to the mountains or coast. The old town is packed with tourists enjoying summer holidays but the rest of the city feels empty.
I know I’m a Valencian because… I’ll challenge anyone who claims an authentic paella contains seafood or chorizo or is eaten at night. I’m also not fazed by daytime fireworks.
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