- Eat some paella
- Visit the Albufera and rice farms
- Take paella one step further - try fideua
- Soak up the sun in El Saler
Being the third largest city in Spain, Valencia, which is located in its own community, seems to have a mix of big city bustle and small town laid back charm. Known for its paella and beachy atmosphere, it’s a distinct Spanish destination.
A brief history
Valencia was originally a Roman military colony called by the name of Edetania, and was eventually occupied by the Visigoths, Moors, Catalans and Aragonese. Architecturally the influence of the Moors still remains in the city, from its old walls to the cathedral tower (which was the minaret of an old mosque). Similar to Cataluña under Franco’s power, it was prohibited that people speak or teach the language of Valencian, where as now it is a required part of the curriculum.
What to see
Valencia’s historic quarter can easily be seen by foot. If you can though, venture out of the city to the Albufera – the large fresh water preserve right next to the ocean that serves as drinking water for the many, many rice farms. If you drive through the area near the Albufera, you will find yourself in a maze that weaves between rice farms. Depending on the time of year, the water may be high such that you feel you are floating in a massive lake, while during other times, once the rice has grown, you are amidst lush green fields. When I went, I was lucky enough to go with someone living in Valencia and they took us to a town called El Palmar, which was nestled between several of these many fields. Walking along the canals your nose is acosted by the smell of rice – who knew the smell could be so potent?! Having paella there, in that little pueblo, surrounded by rice fields and in a cloud of the smell of rice, must have certainly been the very best place to try the traditional dish. For me, this is a must-see, must-do, must-experience.
Surely there are other things to see and do in Valencia, like soak up the sun at the beach, but for me, visiting the rice fields is certainly the highlight! If you’d like to get out of the city to some prettier beaches, stop in El Saler, which is near the Albufera – make it a day trip!
What to eat
I think you probably already know the answer to this – paella. This is the mecca for paella. The dish, known around the world, is famous for its flavorful rice. What makes it so especially yummy in Valencia is the type of rice. The city, which is surrounded by rice fields, has a round and short type of rice that absorbs liquid, and therefore flavor, more than the rice we are used to. As if a simple heavenly paella dish weren’t enough, in Valencia you will find a slew of different paella dishes featuring different ingredients (meat, fish, etc) as well as paellas that are even made with the ink of squid, thus leaving the paella dark as the night. Don’t be intimidated by the concept, they are incredibly delicious. And as any Spaniard will tell you, the best part of the paella is the crusty part on the bottom – if the paella doesn’t have a good crusty bottom, then it does not pass the test.
Another dish that you must try is fideua. Sadly, this dish seems to get overshadowed by the more popular paella, when really, dare I say it, I think it is better! Fideua is nearly the same thing as paella (in terms of ingredients and flavors), but made with pasta noodles called fideos, which can either be thick or thin. I’ve been told by Valencians that the thin version is the very best. Can you imagine the scrumptious flavors of paella with pasta? Yeah, it’s worth a try.
Experiences from my blog