One of the lesser-known but most original of Valencia’s attractions is La Huerta – the Green Belt of the City. Comprised of 40 municipalities and a handful of villages over 23,000 hectares, La Huerta is also home to vast orchards and large, fertile green space. This site holds a wealth of history and enhances Valencia’s importance as a unique tourist destination.
As one of just six peri-urban orchards left in Europe, the gardens that surround the north of the city originated during Roman times and developed significantly during the Middle Ages. They have witnessed the development of Valencia over hundreds of years with many features still standing today as a symbol of past centuries and an exhibition of the ancient way of life. A maze of small dams and canals were built when the land was under Islamic rule to create an intelligent river infrastructure. These constructions still stand today.
The water irrigation system that was implemented in the Middle Ages is also still in use, with canals, dams and ditches that can be seen particularly around the part of the River Turia that flows through the west of the city. The Valencia Water Court is a treasured cultural institution and a UNESCO Heritage Site that has a special relationship with La Huerta. It is the oldest standing justice institution in Europe and is recognised as an integral part of the Valencia region’s culture, with its fluid, efficient irrigation systems and fertile surrounding valleys taking water from the Turia River out into the wider regions through eight drainage systems. The court’s model of justice has been imitated in some of the most important water institutions in the world and guided tours show visitors the delights of such a revered institution.
Today the landscapes take in a range of urban and rural features with agricultural land, small dams, organic gardens, traditional houses, farms and water mills. The local people are extremely proud of La Huerta and its cultural and historical legacy and significance. The gardens are part of Valencia’s identity and a symbol of the ancient Mediterranean culture. Their position is so revered that they have even been referenced in popular film, literature and art.
The land of La Huerta has been carefully cultivated for hundreds of years. The land is extremely fertile and a seasonal rotating crop system is in place. Local farms are one of the most common features on the landscape and a variety of produce is grown here including rice, artichokes, potatoes, raisins and onions. You can also see Valencia’s famous oranges growing in the sprawling orchards. La Huerta is also the site where some of Valencia’s finest beers and ales are prepared, and tours of the area offer the opportunity to sample the latest brew. The fruit and vegetables grown in La Huerta are known as ‘zero-mile products’ as they are harvested right outside the city, ensuring the freshest produce.
Some of the best companies that offer guided tours around La Huerta include Valencia Guías, Turiart, Discovering Valencia and Libertours. Most tours begin from Almassera metro station (L3 – red) and include a visit to the tiger nut fields, where the crop is grown that makes up the region’s signature drink – horchata. There is also the opportunity to see the origins of some of the most well-known Mediterranean diet staples with a tour of the local olive groves and a taste of Valencia’s famous tomato crop.
There are many lovely places to dine and stay around La Huerta, allowing visitors to enjoy an extended experience of this historic area. The baraccas are traditional Valencia community buildings and dining in one is a real experience. The Montoliu Barraca offers traditional local cuisine including paella cooked by firewood, blood sausage and snails from hazelnut trees. The building contains an ethnologic museum and is surrounded by colourful flora and fauna, which guests can enjoy in a ride by horse and carriage. You may also see a part of the ancient Via Augusta, the pathway that linked the Roman cities of Valentia and Saguntum.
Hotel de la Playa has gorgeous views of the area and the coastline, while La Mozaira is a renovated farmhouse that sits in the heart of La Huerta. Its regal and romantic rooms are bathed in serenity, and the hotel also includes a gorgeous onsite restaurant, pretty gardens and a swimming pool. Another accommodation option is the Hotel Olympia, which is situated just five minutes’ train journey from Valencia’s Old Town and fully equipped with a swimming pool, fitness centre and luxurious spa with hot springs and Turkish baths.