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A Local’s Guide to Valencia: Home of Paella, One of Europe’s Best Food Markets and a Unique Green Space | Holidays in Valencia

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Food

The region of Valencia is well known for its citrus fruits, seafood and rice, but the “gastronomy” has developed rapidly in recent years. Compared to my girlfriend’s hometown in France, a good meal isn’t wildly expensive. A huge seashell loyalty – a Valencian paella made with pasta instead of rice – costs €10.50 at Restaurante Yuso in the old town.

Most often, we will eat tapas on the terraces of the Benimaclet district, near the university. La Negri opened two years ago and offers Valencian specialties such as ham croquetas and truffled eggs, but the cuisine is not entirely orthodox: they are also experimenting with red shrimp gyoza and hoisin beef bao.

In the middle of the morning, people stop to almuerzo, our take on brunch, dating back to when workers needed a break from the fields. I usually have a pastry with a rum coffee called cream.

Inspiration

Music has an emotional hold on Valencians, and anyone can enjoy it because it’s affordable. On Sunday mornings, new bands will play free shows at bandstands in parks such as Viveros/Jardins del Real and at La Pérgola at the marina. And many bars host jam sessions: on Monday evening, La Vitti invites professors from the Valencian campus of the Berklee College of Music in Boston to the stage (the €5 entry includes a beer).

Another favorite of mine is Festinar, a cafe in El Cabanyal, an old beachside fishing district known for the colorful tiles on its buildings. Festinar offers jazz concerts on Thursday evenings with pizza and beer: book on Instagram.

Piece

The famous Mercado Central in Valencia. Photography: travelstock44/Alamy

Valencia is a great city for cycling, so rent a bike and visit Ruzafa, a piece just south of the neoclassical bullring. You’ll probably recognize Ruzafa from photographs of the covered market, with its louvered rainbow-colored windows, though it’s best known for its little bistros and bars, and for the vintage shops on the Carrer of Cadis. There’s a quieter vibe here than in the center, which can get chaotic, and it’s become so cool since it started to gentrify 15 years ago. Cafes seem to compete for Instagrammers, and every corner has a terrace for after-work cocktails – I like Cafe Tula for its ginebra (gin) list.

View of Valencia from the Serranos gate.
View of Valencia from the Serranos gate. Photography: Leonid Andronov/Getty Images

Green area

After floods all but destroyed Valencia in 1957, the city diverted the course of the Turia River, leaving the old riverbed that ran through the center of the city empty and abandoned. At one point the government wanted to turn it into a highway, but the community protested – it was amazing to see the power of change.

In the 1980s a massive landscaping effort began, and now the entire downtown area is united by this green belt. Keep your rental bike and follow a route through the gardens, which stretch for 10 kilometres. At their eastern end is the famous City of Arts and Sciences, a complex of state-of-the-art concert halls and museums designed by local architect Santiago Calatrava.

Night life

Valencians divide their nights into three parts: an after-work drink, then dinner, then a serious drink. It’s easy to tap into any of these, but I usually go out after work and stay out. We have a late night scene, although the clubs mostly play commercial European dance music and mediocre techno. The best place within a mile is Barraca in Sueca, a small town 20 miles away in the Albufera Natural Park. It’s accessible by bus, train or taxi, with seaside nightlife nearby before heading to the club – well worth the trip for a Berlin-style techno night out.

To stay

Hotel Marqués House (doubles from €125) is set in a restored mansion in a central location. The bar – designed by local ceramicist Lladró – makes a powerful Valencia waterthe city’s cocktail, with gin, vodka, cava and fresh orange juice.

Juan Suay moved to Valencia five years ago. His computer graphic practice, Four Caps, contributed to Valencia 360 – an exhibition to be launched the city as World Design Capital 2022