As the days start to shorten, a new cycle begins in the Albufera. When the rice harvest is over, water floods the fields once again and fishermen take to their boats. Thousands of birds return to spend the winter in the Valencian wetlands, or stop to feed on their migration to warmer shores. Autumn is, without doubt, a special time to enjoy the magical atmosphere of the park… and the local cuisine too!
Just half an hour south of Valencia, the Albufera Natural Park offers locals and visitors alike a wonderful respite from the hustle and bustle of city life. This is an area to enjoy nature at its best, with different ecosystems ranging from sand dunes and pine tree forests to wetlands, and unique species of flora and fauna.
The park is a magnet for avid birdwatchers, particularly in the autumn and winter months, when more than 300 bird species can be spotted. Common spoonbill, herons and flamingos share the marshes with many other smaller waders including snipe, little stint, lapwing and the occasional bittern, whilst gulls, cormorants and thousands of ducks of different types can be seen (and heard!) on the lagoon. Up in the sky, booted eagles and marsh harriers may be looking for their next prey.
A good place to start any visit to the Albufera is the Raco de l’Olla Visitor Centre. Here you can learn about the park’s diverse natural environments and enjoy a bird’s eye view from the top of its observation tower. Afterwards, you can follow a short trail (Red Route) into the park, stopping at the Tramuntana and Las Cuadras bird hides. Just beware that the Visitor Centre is only open in the morning, until 2pm.
If you fancy a longer walk, or want to explore the park on two wheels, there are two other routes you can follow. The circular Na Molins trail (Green Route) takes you deeper into the paddy fields and the traditional way of life of the Albufera, but being 25 kilometres long is best tackled by bike or even by car. A shorter option is the Port de Catarroja-Tancat de la Pipa trail (Blue Route) through the northern marshes.
Those of a less active disposition may prefer a gentle boat trip on the Albufera lagoon, a perfect way to unwind and enjoy nature. The largest freshwater lake in Spain is also rich in fauna: birds flying above, fish swimming in the waters… and eel lurking at the bottom. This is, in fact, the most precious catch, and something you will find in menus in the local restaurants.
A meal in the village of El Palmar is the perfect way to finish a morning of sightseeing in the Albufera Natural Park. With more restaurants per square kilometre than any other town in the Valencian region, you are truly spoilt for choice! Make sure you try local specialities such as all-i-pebre (eel cooked in garlic and paprika) or the espardenya (a rice dish with eel and chicken). And of course, paella – this is, after all, the very spot where the dish originated!
Getting to the Albufera Natural Park couldn’t be easier. If you haven’t got your own transport, try the Albufera Tourist Bus which departs at 10.46h and 13.21h, Thurdays to Mondays, from Plaza de la Reina. Or, if you prefer public transport, the number 25 bus will take you from the centre of Valencia to the town of El Perellonet, by the park, in less than an hour and for only 1.50 euros (or free if you have a Valencia Tourist Card).
Nature, gastronomy and traditional culture… three excellent reasons to include the Albufera in your next trip to Valencia!