What makes a Perfect Mini Break?
Sunshine, culture, good food, easy transport system, friendly locals? Valencia offers this and much more. Easy to reach from the UK, a 3hr flight from Edinburgh or 2.5hrs from London. The crowds tend to head for Barcelona and Malaga, and you will find Valencia a breath of fresh air even in June for a holiday or mini break.
Most locals speak very good English but the official language is Valencian, a dialect of Catalan. This beautiful city, the third largest in Spain is also the official home of Paella, you are guaranteed an inexpensive freshly prepared meal with delicious local wine whenever you dine out.
A min break in Valencia is guaranteed to fascinate you with its stunning futuristic City of Arts and Sciences. This has to be seen to be believed. The scientific and cultural complex consists of six structures with family entertainment, a cinema and planetarium and outdoor activities for everyone. Set in the old riverbed, the Turia gardens stretch for 9km of beautiful gardens with water fountains, playgrounds, statues and pathways to cycle or walk along. As if that’s not good enough, this city is also blessed with miles of golden beaches…to see all my photo of Valencia click on Shutterstock here.
Valencia is halfway along the Mediterranean coast and is part of the three provinces that make up the Valencia region. Castellon, to the North and Alicante to the south with Valencia in the middle. A choice of taxi and buses from the airport guarantee an easy arrival to the city within 20 mins or take the metro line 3 or 5. The Aerobus is the cheapest option and runs every 20 mins till 10pm.
Things to see and Do
For a Special Treat or birthday occasion try the rooftop tapas and wine dinner, with a tour of the City of Arts and sciences before the gourmet fun begins. Run by Sea Saffron, this was the highlight of our trip to Valencia.
We booked online a week previous after reading so many positive reviews. Our fellow travellers (12 in total) met in a nearby hotel where we started a short walking tour of the Turia Park Science centres which was very informative and manageable with my dodgy knee. Touring later in the evening meant that it was a lovely temperature to walk around and explore the science buildings and history of the Turia gardens.
After the tour we were escorted to the mystery apartment on the 33rd floor for the 10 course ‘Dinner and Wine Experience.” Sea Saffron staff talk you through each course and why they have chosen each specific wine, which my husband loved.
Sitting outside round a large table, watching the sunset over Valencia city was truly memorable and transport home was provided. We didn’t use the taxi home as our group headed into the old city for cocktails! Naughty but nice..
Our mini break covered a 3 day period. We started our adventure with a cycle tour of the city to get an insight into the best attractions and landmarks. We choose a 3 hour cycling tour from the city centre to the beach and back. There were plenty of stops and interesting historical facts and places of interest.
The city is fairly safe to cycle through, and for the most part, the cycle lanes are beside or on the pavements. I did not enjoy being last in the convoy especially getting stuck at traffic lights and preferred to ride up near the front. We were a mixture of ages from 19 to 60 yrs.
After a busy cycling morning, where we covered most of the main attractions, it was definitely time for a siesta. The main sights we covered included: Torres de Serranos, Plaza de la Virgen, Puento de la Flores, Turia Gardens, Plaza del Ayuntamiento, Science Park, central market and Plays de la Malvarossa – (Beach). Don’t worry about your fitness levels, as you stop at each location for up to 5/10 mins. You are not cycling for 3 hrs straight.
Also look out for the Bat in the Town square. It is claimed that a bat flew onto the helmet or flag of the advancing army of King James 1st of Aragon, which was taken as a good omen for the battle for the city of Valencia. The bat has featured on Valencia football team since 1919 and is recognised throughout the world.
Our quaint hotel, the Marques House Hotel was a great location with a cool cafe bar downstairs, the Cafe Madrid. The cocktail are quite famous, especially the Agua de Valencia and I love the quirky interior. Centrally located with easy access to the main shops and the Old Town. One of my top tips for a boutique hotel is a rooftop area. After a hot day sight seeing, there is nothing better than heading upstairs to relax on a lounger and catch the late sunlight with a gin and tonic. These rooftops are never large or crowded but they are on my list of must haves. The Marques House Hotel does have a roof area and bar.
The Cathedral, built on a Roman site dating from the 13th century, has endured more battles over the years, becoming a Mosque before returning to its current state as a Cathedral. The Cathedral has been recognised by the Vatican as one of the world’s eight holy cities and a city of the Holy Grail, which attracts many pilgrims. On our visit there were many tourists, nuns and school children. Choose your visiting time wisely.
From April till October The Cathedral, is open to 6.30 pm and audio guide is included in the entrance price. I would say this is one of the top places to visit. If visiting the Bell Tower then remember that it is a spiral staircase with 207 steps..the octaganol bell tower known as the Micalet offers views across the city. The Cathedral can be accessed from the Plaza de la Virgen and after enjoy a stroll through the square with cafe and the beautiful Triton fountain.
Valencia has plenty of tapas style bars and restaurants. The beach area restaurants are very popular but as many of the locals eat around 9/10pm, we Brits are usually fairly lucky to find somewhere around 7.30/8pm.
Popular tapas restaurants include Casa Montana and for Paella – Casa Carmela, both should be pre booked as walk in may have a long wait. Ruzafa district was recommended to us by our local cycle guide as hip and happening with cool craft beers, Moroccan and Turkish food, aromatic coffee shops, cafes and late night dining. We had no problems eating out but I was told that the exception to this rule is during Fallas in March.
Fallas Festival Spain
Valencia is very busy in March as people travel to see the Fallas festival, huge papier mache models, which can take up to a year to make are paraded through the streets and burnt at the end of the week. An old age tradition originated from a carpenters tradition of burning wood to celebrate the arrival of spring.
There can be up to 700 Fallas sculptures on display and the festival starts on March 15th to 19th 2021. It is a very noisy place with firecrackers going off and fireworks during the day, the mascletta is around 2pm daily. During this festival it is recommended to pre book your restaurants and hotels in advance as the city gets very busy with thousands of tourists and visitors.
Valencia also has its own ‘Banksy’ style graffiti artists, leave some time to stroll through the winding streets and discover some street art.
I was surprised and a little apprehensive that my husband had booked a 5 hour Paella cookery class… 5 hours of my precious holiday…I was not thrilled at the prospect of staying indoors but I have to say it was amazing.
We had the funniest chef and another great group of travellers. The cookery school is well established and our class began with a trip to the oldest food market in Valencia, the Mercado Central. Here we are given a list of ingredients and shown how to choose the best ingredients for a true Valencian paella.
Back at the cook school, we were fitted out in our aprons and after our health and safety talk we were escorted into the kitchens. Paella, I discovered is not a fast dish. In true Valencian style there was lots of chopping, caramelising, pouring stock, leaving it to simmer, adding more stock. I never realised how long you should leave chicken to brown before turning it over! All those lovely smells certainly stimulated the taste buds. Thankfully a sit down tapas lunch and wine was included while we waited for the paella to cook.
The cook school that we used was Escela de Arroces y Paella Valencia. Details down below.
Another great day in Valencia and tomorrow we would head out for a relaxing day at the beach. El Cabanyal or Las Arenas. Valencia beach areas offer beautiful clean wide walkways to stroll, jog or cycle along with a great selection of restaurants. The beach area is an unusually long walk to the sea, a bit like Venice beach in Santa Monica but there are plenty of sun loungers to rent and umbrellas for us lily white Scots. All in all, Valencia is a very easy city to soak up the sunshine and enjoy some amazing attractions.
GOOD TO KNOW…
The Tomatino festival
The annual Tomato food fight is held on the last wed in August in a town 38km west of Valencia, called Bunol. It is a ticketed event, restricted to 20,000 and many people stay in Valencia.
Bunol is easily accessed by train or bus and sadly due to Covid 19 – the 2020 festival has been cancelled. The dates for 2021 Tomatino Festival are August 25th, last Wed of month. Participants are known to wear goggles and masks and many shops are covered up to protect them from tomatoes. 120 tonnes of the stuff!
People love to wear white and basically pick up as many tomatoes as they can and throw them at anyone! The fight starts with water canons and usually runs for one hour. People can wash later in the river before heading back.
Getting around Valencia
Valencia has good transport system with underground metro and good bus system. You can also hire a bike using Valenbisi bikes. Download the app. Valenbisi.com
Mercado Central website: http://www.mercadocentralvalencia.es
Paella cook school: http://www.escueladearrocesypaellas.com
The Palacio del Marques de Dos Aguas houses the Ceramic Museum and is a stunning 15th century palace. The Ceramic Museum also houses porcelain, ceramics, tapestries and decorative furniture and paintings. The exterior of the building is exquisite, made in Alabaster and this stunning Rococo palace is free with the Valencia tourist card but for tours I would pre book. Saturday evening and some Sundays is free entry. Closed on Mondays. From July-Aug night visits from 8pm to midnight.
Valencia Tourist Card
This is a combined card that offers free public transport and discounts in Museums, leisure activities, shops and restaurants, during 24, 48 or 72 hours. This is within the Valencia zone, ABCD and includes to the airport.
Conclusion: We had a fabulous 3 day break in Valencia and I would definitely go back . For safety, great food, lovely locals and a fabulous mini break Valencia ticks all the boxes. Valencia main train terminal make it a good location to travel around Spain and a mere 1hr 46 mins to Madrid. If you love photography or architecture you must see Valencia.