Airport Rating ****
Reception of locals *****
Founded initially as a Roman Colony, Valencia has architecture dating back two thousand years with Roman, Arabic and Spanish influence all mixing to create a modern city with traditional roots and the third largest city in Spain.
Its the location of Valencia, coupled with its climate and recent growth that has seen it become a popular location for stag parties over the past couple of years. A city that offers experiences similar to nearby Barcelona for a fraction of the price is always going to be a popular choice. I made two different trips to the city over a 3 month period, staying in both the old town and by the beach and both experiences were quite different although tied together by the amazing City of Arts and Sciences
The Old Town
The streets of the Old Town date back to Roman and Arabic periods of rule over the city and winding alleyways seem to transport you to another time period. Unlike nearby Barcelona and its famous Gothic Quarter, the core of the Old Town is relatively small, but every few steps there is something that takes your breath away.
During my first trip to the city I stayed in the middle of the Old Town, a stones throw away from the Cathedral. Built in the 13th century in a Gothic style, the Cathedral had elements added to it over the following centuries so it also has Baroque and Neoclassical influences. The Cathedral is the most impressive building of the Old Town and its style is very unique and memorable.
The Torres de Quart or Serrano Towers are defensive towers built in the 1400's. They are large, imposing towers and you need to stand a fair distance away to really view the full structure. The towers have a large footprint but still seem to fit seamlessly into the surrounding architecture.
The Old Town is a fantastic place to stay, in terms of views from my apartment, not many beat the one I had in Valencia's Old Town. Sometimes you see an apartment online and it fails to live up to expectations, other times, this happens...
My first trip to Valencia coincided with the spectacular Valencian festival of Las Fallas. I can honestly say I have never experienced anything quite like it. The festival has pre-Christian origins and is used to welcome in Spring. The festival is held every March and is one long continuous party for five days and five nights and during this time you are never quite sure what to expect. On one occasion we heard the sound of gunpowder shots and fireworks during the day, as we walked down our apartment I saw a huge crowd gathered, unlike anything I have seen before. Although you cant see the fireworks in the day, the goal of the show is to make as much noise as possible. The weird thing was within the minutes the crowds dispersed almost as quickly as they had got together. All day there was singing, dancing and bands playing across the Old Town, it felt very surreal.
It was at night when things really got interesting. As we walked towards a restaurant we saw a parade making its way through the streets. We didn't think too much of it and headed inside to eat. Within minutes we could hear the sound of fireworks and believe me when I tell you, I have never heard anything so loud. It felt as though the whole building was shaking, in fact, I think it was. I rushed outside to see the loudest, most spectacular fireworks show I have seen. The night sky had been turned to day with the sheer volume of fireworks and the lights were borderline blinding. The show continued for a fair while too which had me wondering how much money they were spending on fireworks. Honestly, if you ever get a chance, make sure you experience this festival, it's something you have to see.
During my second trip the Valencia I stayed near the beach and had a totally different experience. This felt more like a traditional stag destination with many bars, a large beach and a relatively modern feel, worlds removed from the Old Town. The beach is quite big, although there is less to do on the strip in comparison to Barcelona's beach. The strip itself is home to a number of small bars and they are quite open to letting large groups of people in. In fact, similar to Barcelona, one of the bars let us connect our music to their system and played Bhangra over the sound system. Unlike Barcelona, this venue was very busy and filled with people of all nationalities, all of whom started dancing with us, including a British soldier who said he served with a Sikh and absolutely loved us, even the bar staff got involved in the dancing. It also made me realise that I have managed to do Bhangra in quite a few cities now.
The beach and port area is also home to the Valencia 15k Nocturna night race. My second trip coincided with the race event although I didn't realise it at the time. The sound of loud music and a crowd gathering got my interest and as I walked closer I could see the start line with competitors ready to race. It was only after walking past the start line that I realised how popular this race was as the number of participants snaked their way through the streets, there must have been at least ten thousand people and it felt like as though the whole city was taking part in the race.
The area around the beach was slightly more expensive than the Old Town area, although both were cheaper than Barcelona. The cost is one of Valencia's big selling points and I found myself spending much less here than comparable cities in Spain or Europe.
City of Arts and Sciences
The nightlife is based around the City of Arts and Sciences, a large complex not too far from the beach. Its hard to explain in words just how visually surreal the whole complex is, with large buildings rising from the ground in strange shapes and styles. The venue was also my connecting point for the two trips as on both occasions we went here at night. L'Umbracle, an open air oceanographic park by day, becomes one of the largest clubs in Spain, and Europe, during the night. Believe me, if you lose one of your friends here, chances are you won't see them again for the rest of the night.
Sometimes you see bold architecture around the world and you wonder how gracefully it will age. Some buildings, such as the Gherkin in London or the Costanera in Santiago were controversial during conception but have won plaudits since then and look like they will be just as admired 50 years from now as they are now. Others may not be so fortunate and I think this complex is one. Sure its bold, brash and eye catching now but as I was driving past the complex to the airport on the last day, I couldn't help but think that in 20 years time, this style may seem extremely dated.
I can definitely see why Valencia is one of the fastest growing cities in terms of numbers of visitors. With a traditional core and the lure of a beach coupled with a lively nightlife and a low cost of living, this city has a lot to offer. On the plane back to England, I got chatting to a French woman who told me she quit her job to set up a consultancy business in Valencia and has absolutely fallen in love with the city and I can see why.
Locals are relatively friendly, although there are very few (if any) Sikhs in Valencia. I had a lot of inquisitive looks, but nothing overtly aggressive. I had Salai issues at the airport but this was due to poor judgement on my part. I usually wrap it up in my clothes and put it in my hand luggage, however this time I had left it out. I was questioned about it in London and eventually allowed to pass through, but my luck ran out in Valencia on the way back. Despite explaining to security personnel what it was, he apologetically said I couldn't take it with me. To be fair he was a nice guy, but I'll be taking my Salai wrapped up in my clothes the next time I go away.
British Sikh, born in the Midlands, based in London, travelling the world seeing new cultures.