As the temperatures drop, it is time to boost your immune system with a good dose of Vitamin C and there is no better place to do so than Valencia. Blessed with fertile soil and a sunny Mediterranean climate, the plains around the city, stretching up to the aptly named Costa de Azahar or orange blossom coast in Castellon, produce tons of citrus fruits every year. Some of these may even reach your local greengrocers or supermarket in the UK, but they will never be as sweet as those left behind in Spain…
From November, when the first clementines appear, to the late navel harvests in May, Valencia is a true orange feast! Oranges are everywhere: in the streets, in the shops, in the menus… even in hotel spas and cocktail bars!
Valencians start the day with a typical breakfastof coffee, toast and freshly squeezed orange juice which you can find on offer in countless bars throughout the city for just a few euros. At lunchtime, many places will also include fresh oranges as dessert in their menu del día, sometimes served sliced and sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon and a drop of liqueur.
But possibly the most popular way of enjoying Valencian oranges, certainly amongst visitors, is by trying the delicious local cocktail: Agua de Valencia. This dangerously quaffable concoction is a mix of fresh orange juice, cava, sugar and other spirits – each bar has its carefully guarded secret ingredients! It is traditionally served in half a litre or one litre jugs, with champagne glasses. Just remember it is not as innocent as its sweet taste suggests!
Agua de Valencia was reputedly created in the 1950s at the Café de Madrid, a true Valencian institution located just a few doors from the extraordinary baroque façade of the Marques de Dos Aguas Palace (home to the Ceramics Museum). This classic café has sadly been closed for a while, but will reopen in spring this year as part of the new Marques House luxury hotel, serving once again its most famous cocktail.
Many bars serve Agua de Valencia, particularly in nightlife hotspots like the districts of El Carmen and Ruzafa, but quality may vary. Beware of special offers as sometimes that means a watered down version of the drink. A good, and very atmospheric place to try is the Café de las Horas near the cathedral.
The antioxidant properties of oranges are also exploited by spas in Valencia to offer beauty treatments with a twist. The spa of the boutique five star hotel Hospes Palau de la Mar, for example, offers an orange massage to treat cellulite which also helps digestion and acts as an antidepressant – a real boost for body and soul! Similarly, the Caroli Health spa at the Westin Valencia hotel offers Orange Blossom and Citrus Fruits Cocktail massages to nourish the skin with the benefits of Vitamin C.
And it is not just the fruits that are used. No Valencian bride would go without some orange blossom in their bouquet – a symbol of eternal love and purity. Agua de azahar, a liquid made with distilled petals, is used in many recipes for cakes such as the roscón de Reyes eaten for Epiphany. And many chefs swear that a paella cooked over an open fire using wood from orange trees has extra flavour and a special aroma. You can try it at restaurants like Casa Carmela in Valencia.
Finally, you can’t miss the orange trees as you walk around Valencia – there are 14.000 of them in the city and at this time of year they are laden with fruit. But don’t be tempted to pick the oranges – the trees are purely ornamental and their fruit is bitter and with very little flesh, so you will be sorely disappointed!
Instead, head to Valencia’s Central Market, for example, for the best fresh oranges or order several kilos online from suppliers like Naranjas del Turia. In some neighbourhoods and villages around Valencia, you will also find locals selling bags from their own crop at extremely affordable prices.
You can also enjoy delightful walks through orange groves around the city, or even take a guided tour to learn more about the importance of this product in the region. You may even get the chance to pick a fruit straight from the tree and eat it… you will never find an orange so sweet back home!