As sad as it was to leave Majorca, at least it isn’t time to go home yet. Our next stop was Valencia, a gorgeous Spanish city on the East coast approximately three and a half hours South of Barcelona. Big wide boulevards, a well maintained old town with an 18th century Spanish feel and many sights in close proximity to each other make it the perfect city to tour on foot. Definitely a different feel than the other Spanish cities I have been to, it reminds me a lot of the larger South American cities which have a similar architecture and layout. When wandering the old town you continually come upon large plazas, such as the Plaza de la Virgen which borders the Valencia Cathedral pictured below, and these plazas usually contain the important buildings of Valencia. Staying anywhere in the old town provides easy access to restaurants, the train station and the main sights, plus the buses to the beaches. We stayed at the Vincci Lys close to the arena and train station Valencia Nord. The hotel was central and great value for the price. We even had a small wrought iron balcony to stand outside and enjoy the sun and watch activity on the street below. The main street running through the old town connects the Cathedral to the bull fighting arena (pictured below) which still has bull fights to this day. All along the streets of the old town are cafés and restaurants with outdoor patios on the street great for people watching. If you eat outside on the patio there is often a surcharge, but it is worth it as you get to enjoy the warm weather and people watch.
Valencia also has amazing beaches. We went to playa del Cabanyal and playa de la Malvarrosa where the boardwalk goes on for ages and the sand is soft and golden. Multiple buses go to the beaches from the old town throughout the day so they are easy to access. We rented chairs and umbrellas, there were many available along the length of the beach, but if it is ever full just wait until siesta time (starting around 2:00-2:30) and the beach clears out. One minute all I could see was people sunbathing, swimming or playing on the beach, the next time I looked up almost everyone was gone. The sand is nice and soft so it is a good (and free) option too.
As I have been to Valencia before (back in July 2007) we decided to take day trips to nearby towns to explore new areas. Our first trip was to Denia, about an hour and 45 minutes by bus from Valencia. The town was much bigger than I thought it was. We arrived about 10am and most things were still closed. We managed to find a cafe on the main street running the length of the old town for a coffee and a tostada and tomatoes and then we walked up to the castle area. It is only 2 euros to enter the castle which is worth it. There is a tourist train that will take you up or you can walk. We walked and became sweaty messes as it was over 30 degrees. Great views of the town and harbour was our reward making the long hot walk worth it in the end. Too cool off we headed for the beach and spent the rest of the day on lounge chairs at yet another beautiful Spanish beach with soft golden sand and warm aquamarine Mediterranean water.
Next was Xativa which I did on my own. It is approximately a 45 minute train ride from Valencia Nord station. Compared to the other towns it is set up very well for tourists. Not that it is necessary to cater to tourists, there is something to be said for a more authentic experience in a non-touristy town, but Xativa is able to maintain its authentic feel while still being tourist friendly. There are signs to the tourist office as soon as you leave the train station, unobtrusive, well-placed signs throughout the old town telling visitors about the historical sights, going from sign to sign is a walking tour as most signs point to the next sight to see, and all historical buildings are well marked. The town is most famous as the birthplace of Pope Alexander VI, one of the Borgia popes (his birthplace is the house pictured below). Another of the Borgia popes also lived there and there is information about both of them in Spanish at the museum inside the cathedral (the museum costs 1 euro). The castle area is best reached by the tourist train (which you can catch near the tourist office and tickets are purchased on the train) or car as it is up a steep hill. From the castle there are spectacular views of Xativa and the surrounding countryside plus the castle itself is in good shape. It is large so if you want to spend time there do not take the tourist train back as it only gives you an hour at the castle, which I found a bit rushed but not terrible. One option is to take the train up and walk down, as the train only costs 4 euros it’s not too expensive for only a one way trip.
Our final day trip was to Sagunto (the train station is Sagunt), about a 25 minute train ride from Valencia Nord, where everything is free. Well, not food and drink of course, but all of the tourist attractions and we didn’t even get charged for the beach chairs. It also has the most helpful tourist office we encountered, we received more information on more sights than we could possibly have seen in our one day there. One warning though, there are not many restaurants so either bring a picnic, eat in or near the main square where there are a couple of cafés, or ask at the tourist office where to go and what times they are open. Sagunto is known for its Roman ruins and huge castle. The Roman amphitheatre has been renovated and is still used for concerts, as can be seen below. We passed the amphitheatre and old Jewish area on our walk up to the castle. The castle can be seen from most areas of the old town. You will be asked to get a ticket but it is free. It is a massive complex, just when you think you’ve reached the end there is still more to see. Bring good walking shoes and plan to spend some time up there. It is a true ruin for the most part so be careful where you step. We spent a couple hours walking around. The castle area contains the old Roman forum and stores plus newer sections added over the years. There is one small museum of Roman gravestones but otherwise everything is outside, we just walked through the castle ruins into many hidden corners and along the walls on the Roman side. We then took the bus to the beach which of course had more soft sand and refreshing blue water.
On our final night we went to a Flamenco show. It was a bit outside downtown, we purchased tickets at the Valencia tourist office, and it included dinner (we chose the paella option) and the show. The dancers were amazing and the food decent for the price (32 euros which included a three course meal, sangria and the show). A lovely end to a great stay in Valencia. Time to leave again but at least there is one leg left. On to Sitges for some relaxing time in the sun.