Flavours of Valencia: a surprise around every corner
Valencia is both one and many. The city represented by Ciutat Vella, site of its origins; that of urban beaches, which seem to stretch on forever; that of the City of Arts and Sciences, reaching into the future from the present; that of the municipal markets, with the best locally sourced products … The sum of all these parts lends the city its characteristic aroma and diversity, to the surprise of many visitors. One experience we highly recommend is enjoying the local gastronomy as you visit one of these specific Valencias. The result is a style of tourism that combines visiting places of interest with the pleasures of local cuisine. So, get ready to become a culinary tourist or ‘food-rist’! And what better place to do so than Valencia?
This tour ‘pairs’ with the many restaurants, tapas bars, rice restaurants and other shrines to food that provide an experience for the enjoyment of all your senses. To make things easier for you, we have divided Valencia into seven major areas: Ciutat Vella; Eixample and Russafa; City of Arts and Sciences and Alameda; Poblados Marítimos District, Marina and Beaches; Cabecera Park and Bioparc; L’Horta; and L’Albufera. Let’s get started!
This is where it all began, over two thousand years ago, when Roman Valentia emerged in the year 138 BC, continuing what the previous Iberian inhabitants could not. The greatest artistic treasures are found in one of the largest and best-preserved historic districts on the continent. As you admire the Micalet bell tower, or the other treasures of the cathedral (Holy Grail included), sink your teeth into the delicious victuals at La Lola, Mediterranean and fun; the virtually raw fish and seafood at Crudo Bar; and the Italian options at San Tommaso. If you prefer Valencia’s Lonja (Silk Exchange), part of the World Heritage List, chose Vaqueta Gastro Mercat or Central Bar and its reinterpretation of local tapas, right in the middle of the Central Market, with its brightly lit stalls. If your destination is the former Santo Domingo Monastery for a look at the stellar vault in the Chapel of the Kings, opt for the minimalism of Lienzo. Other delights include the two Michelin-starred restaurants by acclaimed chef Quique Dacosta in El Poblet, the 19th-century charm of Agricultura and the irreverence of Federal Café.
EIXAMPLE AND RUSSAFA
When Valencia tore down the medieval walls constraining it in the mid-19th century, there was a huge push to extend the city into the area beyond the walls. The Eixample (expansion district) dates from this period, with its characteristic precisely laid out blocks and wonderful examples of Art Nouveau and Secession style architecture. Leixuri and its cuisine rooted in the Basque Country; the distinctive offerings at Saiti; and Baalbec and Shija, featuring fare from the eastern side of the Mediterranean and the Balkans, are just a few good excuses to eat your fill in this area. But Colón Market is the masterwork that combines the fusion of art and gastronomy like no other, with a slew of restaurants: Ma Khin Café offers Asian-style slow food and Habitual is home to the Mediterranean offerings of famed chef Ricard Camarena.
Russafa is the city's on-trend neighbourhood, the most modern and cosmopolitan. Filled with an abundance of exhibitions and expressions of both culture and counterculture. Proudly multiracial. A global place, yet also deeply local. Its municipal market supplies the innumerable eating spots that emerge with the cadence of bees engaged in the pollination process. Of every variety. Of every colour, aroma and flavour. Here you can choose among a Michelin star winner, La Salita by Begoña Rodrigo; the excellence of Doña Petrona, a Hispano-Argentinian blend styled by Germán Carrizo and Carito Lourenço; or the decadence of Nozomi sushi bar.
CITY OF ARTS AND SCIENCES AND ALAMEDA
In the heart of the urban Turia Gardens, a green wonder for the pleasure and enjoyment of runners, bikers and other outdoor exercise tribes, we find Valencia’s most recent landmark. The city of the future we can all enjoy today. The sculptural structures of Santiago Calatrava and the marvellous roofs at Oceanogràfic bequeathed to the city by Félix Candela are even better if you combine them with the fruits of the kitchen at Submarino, a restaurant that makes you the object of curiosity for the fish, gazing in at you from the large circular aquarium as you give yourself over to the pleasures of a nice meal. Magnificent views of the City of Arts and Sciences and stupendous haute cuisine can be had at Vertical, as well as Contrapunto Les Arts, located right in the complex's shrine to opera. In the area around the Alameda and the mansions that hearken back to the 1909 Valencia Regional Exposition, the offerings are varied and many, from the mastery and personality of Alejandro del Toro and Apicius to the bucolic Jardín Bar at The Westin València hotel, along with more affordable options such as Jauja and La Gula.
POBLADOS MARÍTIMOS DISTRICT, MARINA AND URBAN BEACHES
Valencia’s coastline boasts abundant charms. Kilometres of golden sand, fishing villages and neighbourhoods of days gone by and the magnificent Marina. It is tremendously rewarding to finish off a day at the beach by engaging in all the synonyms of ‘wolf down’ just a few metres from the seashore. Rice dishes and fresh fish cooked to perfection at Balandret, long-established spots La Pepica and Casa Carmela, and Casa Isabel. At Brasserie Sorolla, located in the Hotel Las Arenas Balneario Resort, you can also experience the Valencian version of Turkish luxury. If you're a fan of visiting the city's former fishing villages and enjoying the many locally sourced products the sea in these parts has to offer – which you can find at Cabanyal Market – be sure to stop at Bodega Casa Montaña to get your strength back with its magnificent selection of salted fish. But don't overlook the contribution of the America’s Cup to the city’s physiognomy, the Marina. Fine food awaits you there, accompanied by the best cocktails, at El Camarote & The Roof. And treat yourself to the experience of sampling the finesse of a dynasty of local restaurateurs at La Marítima, from the iconic Veles e Vents Building by David Chipperfield and Fermín Vázquez.
BIOPARC AND CABECERA PARK
The Turia Gardens extend their green silhouette westwards into a 170,000-square metre space known as Cabecera Park, the natural appendage to Valencia’s green lung at the entrance to the city. Its structure recreates the original river landscape, giving water the importance it deserves. Wooded areas and playgrounds for the little ones lend this spot a special charm. This is also known to the many cyclists who explore its paths upstream, linking up with Turia Park. Just alongside sits a small piece of the African continent which, as if by magic, has travelled here. This is Bioparc, a sort of nature reserve where the most popular animals from our neighbouring continent comfortably roam the more than 333,000 square metres of parkland. The list of large and small mammals, gorillas, elephants, rhinoceroses, lions, giraffes, lemurs, meerkats, is endless. Along with birds and reptiles. But humans do not live on vegetation and fauna alone, and another highlight is a modern building with a powerful personality: the Conference Centre, by famed British architect Sir Norman Foster.
Rounding out the leisure options in these natural oases are the wonderful nearby culinary offerings. Kaymus is a fine example of high-quality market cuisine, while ONE VLC opts to highlight excellent ingredients with something for every palate in a recreational setting, Casino Cirsa. Slightly further away, you’ll find Ricard Camarena Restaurant, but its two Michelin stars make it well worth the walk … and a tribute.
Once upon a time, this area was Valencia’s largest vegetable bank. An almost infinite field of fresh vegetables, ready to pick and take home. From the Roman period, the fertile land was farmed with great care, but it was the Arabs who introduced practices so ahead of their time that many have survived for almost one thousand years. This habitat, ideal for relaxing, strolling, and giving body and soul a bit of fresh air, is struggling to survive around Valencia's built-up area. In this green belt, which smells of tiger nuts, spring onions, lettuce and tomato, it is possible to enjoy meals that will bring a bon appétit to your lips. As traditional as L’Horta, with freshly picked ingredients from the nearby fields, and located amid the typical cottages used by local farmers, known as barracas. This is the case at Bergamonte and Toni Montoliu and La Mozaira as well. Their integrity and loyalty to deep-rooted customs never disappoint.
A freshwater inland sea a stone's throw from the centre of Valencia. A wealth of native fauna together with birds of passage, alongside the Mediterranean pine woods of the Dehesa de El Saler. All integrated into an ecosystem of wild beaches dotted with dunes. A landscape with one highly significant constant for the history of Valencian cooking: paddy fields. Amid the local cottages and docks. This is the birthplace of paella, along with all-i-pebre (eel stew flavoured with garlic and pepper). Enjoy these two dishes at any of the various spots serving them up with expertise and professionalism. Casa Quiquet in Beniparrell, near L’Albufera, and La Ferrera on the promenade at Pinedo Beach. If you'd like to combine a meal with a boat ride, there is no better choice than the establishments in El Palmar, in the heart of the nature reserve: El Palmar, Nou Racó and Mateu.
And so we come to the end of our list of suggestions. Making it your own and improving it with new discoveries is down to you and what you are up for. Visit València website has other good examples of marvellous kitchens. Over to you now.