The sweet aroma of orange blossoms welcomed us as we stepped off the train in Valencia, Spain. After our first week here, the country’s third largest city has proven to be a veritable feast for the senses.
The city’s Central Market is an overflowing cornucopia of flavors. At nearly 90,000 square feet (8,160 square meters), this early 20th century iron and glass structure houses over 900 vendors selling a vast array of irresistible tidbits to tantalize the taste buds.
From the Central Market, we picked up some picnic supplies and headed down to Valencia’s Turia River Park, the largest inner-city park in Europe. Completed in the re-routed Turia riverbed, this 6-mile (10 km) long sunken greenbelt provides pedestrians and cyclists with a tranquil way to traverse the city below street level.
Arguably, vision is the most important of the five senses, and Valencia has no shortage of worthy sights. Walking to the eastern end of Turia River Park, we spotted the City of Arts and Sciences, a futuristic ensemble of six museums and performing arts venues designed by the famed Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava.
Contrasting with the space-age constructions of Calatrava’s creations are the ancient winding streets and historical sights of Valencia’s old town. Over 2,000 years old and 420 acres in area, it is one of the oldest and largest historical centers in Spain.
Within the historic quarter and throughout the city of Valencia, we have seen many building facades, doorways, and window frames decorated with glazed and colorful ceramic tiles. First introduced by the Moors in the 13th century, the production of these lustrous ceramics continues to be an important local trade.
The fine local clay first attracted ceramicists, but the area’s sand lured us to Valencia’s outstanding beaches. Touched by the sun’s caress and a gentle Mediterranean breeze, we walked along marvelous Malvarrosa Beach, and passed a line of beachside restaurants serving Valencia’s signature dish.
Paella, Spain’s famous rice dish, was first conceived in Valencia. Originally prepared with the meat of marsh rat and freshwater eel, Paella Valenciana is now mercifully made with chicken, rabbit, and sometimes snails. The best savory paellas are simmered over an open fire, until the flavors are fully suffused with the sweet smoke of smoldering orange branches.
At lunchtime on the first 19 days of March, another kind of smoke can be seen rising in Valencia. Each day at 2:00 pm, in anticipation of the city’s great Las Fallas festival, a five-minute explosion of large and deafening firecrackers called mascletàs erupts from the main plaza.
Except that our hearing may be in peril, our first week in Valencia has been a smorgasbord for the senses. From the fragrance of its orange blossoms and flavors of its local delicacies, to the touch of its bright and breezy Mediterranean climate and sights of its ancient town center, the month of March in Valencia is going to be sensational.
Feature Image: Feasting on Paella, La Cerámica Valenciana, Manises