A local’s guide to Valencia: home of paella, one of Europe’s best food markets and a unique green spaceLaurence Lemoine
Architect and graphic artist Juan Suay on the city’s rainbow-coloured market, bistros, bars and its unifying riverbed greenbelt.
The Valencia region is well known for its citrus fruit, seafood and rice, but “gastronomy” has grown fast here in recent years. Compared with my girlfriend’s home town in France, though, a great meal isn’t madly expensive. A huge shellfish fideuà – a Valencian paella made with pasta instead of rice – costs €10.50 at Restaurante Yuso in the old city.
More often, we’ll go for tapas on the terraces in the Benimaclet district, near the university. La Negri opened two years ago and does Valencian specialities such as ham croquetas and truffled eggs, but the cooking isn’t all orthodox: they also experiment with red-shrimp gyoza and hoisin-beef bao.
Mid-morning, people stop for almuerzo, our version of brunch, dating from when workers needed a break from the fields. I usually have a pastry with a rum-spiked coffee we call cremaet.
Music has an emotional hold over Valencians, and everyone can appreciate it as it’s affordable. On Sunday mornings new bands will play free live shows at bandstands in parks such as Viveros/Jardins del Real and at La Pérgola at the marina. And a lot of bars host jam sessions: on Monday nights La Vitti invites instructors from the Valencia campus of Boston’s Berklee College of Music on stage (the €5 entry includes a beer).
Another of my favourite venues is Festinar, a cafe in El Cabanyal, an old fishermen’s district by the beach, known for colourful tiles on its buildings. Festinar puts on Thursday-night jazz concerts with pizza and beer: book on Instagram.
Valencia is a great city for cycling, so hire a bike and visit Ruzafa, a barrio just south of the neoclassical bullring. You will probably recognise Ruzafa from photographs of the covered produce market, with its rainbow-coloured window louvres, though it’s better known for its small bistros and bars, and for the vintage shops on Carrer de Cadis. There’s a calmer vibe around here than in the centre, which can get chaotic, and it has become so cool since it started gentrifying 15 years ago. The cafes seem to compete for Instagrammers, and every corner has a terrace for after-work cocktails – I like Cafe Tula for its ginebra (gin) list.
After floods practically destroyed Valencia in 1957, the city diverted the course of the Turia River, leaving the old riverbed that ran through the centre of the city empty and derelict. At one point the government wanted to turn it into a highway, but the community protested – it was amazing to see the power for change.
In the 1980s a massive landscaping effort began, and now the entire city centre is united by this green belt. Keep your hire bike and follow a route through the gardens, which run for six miles. At their eastern end is the famous City of Arts and Sciences, a complex of ultra-modern concert halls and museums designed by local architect Santiago Calatrava.
Valencians divide their nights into three parts: a post-work drink, then dinner, then serious drinking. It’s easy to dip into any of these, but I usually go out after work and stay out. We do have a late-night scene, though the clubs play mostly commercial European dance music and mediocre techno. The best venue by a mile is Barraca in Sueca, a small town 20 miles away in Albufera natural park. It’s reachable by bus, train or taxi, with beachy nightlife nearby before you head to the club – well worth the journey for a Berlin-style techno night.
Hotel Marqués House (doubles from €125) is in a restored manor in a central location. The bar – designed by local ceramic maker Lladró – makes a powerful agua de Valéncia, the city cocktail, with gin, vodka, cava and fresh orange juice.