We caught the train from Ronda to Malaga, of which we saw nothing other than the train station and airport, then spent hours in transit and in an aeroplane getting to Valencia, followed by a long taxi ride through the industrial areas to our AirBnB apartment in the old city. This was the most tedious part of the whole trip. It would have been a much more pleasant journey by train, but there’s no direct connection.
We arrived at our apartment at 10pm, in what we at first took to be a slum or ghetto area. Our host, Ferran, though, assured us that it was a safe neighbourhood, and directed us to somewhere to eat (pigs’ snouts, among other things!) Next morning the area was transformed! We had a relaxed breakfast in the sunshine outside the cafe / bar on the corner, the shutters rolled up on the shops, the streets were teeming with people, including lots of university students, and we discovered that were staying in the beating heart of the old city!
Valencia was founded by the Romans in 138BC. It was occupied by the Moors in 714, the Christians from 1092 to 1102, under El Cid, the Moors again until 1238, then the Catholics again, who expelled 50,000 Moors. The city had a hard time in the Middle Ages, with the Plague and various other epidemics, as well as sundry local wars. From the 15th century it flourished as a trading port, especially due to the silk trade. The Silk Exchange, built in 1482, is a glorious construction. Valencia has had its political and economic ups and downs in the centuries since, but is a booming city now.
On the edge of the old city is an 8 kilometre long park, running along the old river bed towards the port, and finishing at the City of Arts and Sciences, a cluster of magnificent, modernistic edifices, where we rode on the bicycles provided with our apartment.
The Mercato, or food market in the old city is not to be missed. Beautiful produce, huge piles of pimenton (smoked paprika), saffron by the kilo, an astonishing variety of fish , shellfish and custaceans, butcheries with pigs heads and trotters, rabbits, and wagyu beef, jamon, of course, and hundreds of different cheeses.
We ate very well in Valencia! Most notable was a wonderful degustation at a restaurant called Karak, accompanied, naturally by a bottle of the local rosado. Valencia is justly famous for it’s paella. The local version is traditionally made with a combination of chicken, rabbit and seafood, with perhaps some snails thrown in!
The architecture is simply splendid. The Church of San Juan del Hospital, 800 years old, is built over a 2000 year old Roman temple. The old Roman ruins can be seen around the corner, at the Almoina archaeological centre. There are several magnificent old churches, including, of course the cathedral. Remnants of the old city walls remain, and a couple of monumental city gates. In one, the Torres de Serrans, many of the precious artworks from the Prado, in Madrid, were safeguarded during the Spanish Civil War.
Speaking of art, in Valencia, and in all of the cities we visited, there are wonderful works of street art adorning doorways, security shutters, construction sites and the walls of houses. I don’t think we saw any graffiti. Waling to lunch at Karak, we passed a group of elderly citizens painting a mural on a construction hoarding, with an interested audience of locals and tourists, offering comments and taking photos.