Valencia, city I have called home for the last 30 years, is a little known treasure that offers much to the traveller. I first came to Valencia as an exchange student in 1979. I’m originally from the US—Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—and I feel lucky to have grown up there. Philadelphia is a big, diverse city, with a gritty, urban charm all its own. I have many fond memories of my rowdy, “Irish”, row house neighbourhood of Mayfair. In stark contrast, the state of Pennsylvania, once you venture outside the major cities, is one big, lush, forest, dotted with pristine lakes and laced with rushing rivers—a fisherman’s heaven. The other major attraction of my “home town” is the New Jersey shore, only a short drive away. And quite an attraction it is. The long, wide, white sandy beaches are among the most beautiful in the world. And the briny-ocean air whipped up by the Atlantic’s crashing waves infuses your every cell with “beachy” bliss. These are among the things I sometimes miss as an expat who has been living in Valencia, Spain for the past 30 years. However, I have never regretted my choice, and I’ll tell you why.
Valencia, city for living
As a college student majoring in Spanish, I spent the year living, learning, and falling head-over-heels in love with what for me was my own European Paradise. Luck placed me in the home of a family in the charming Ruzafa, Valencia neighbourhood (now the home of City Garden B&B), where I found the local people warm and welcoming and eager to share the richness of their culture. Quickly I felt right at home.
I still remember my first encounter with the historical patchwork of the Old Valencia City Centre: the narrow, labyrinth-like streets with buildings from Roman times and sections of the original Arab wall; the medieval towers; and the Gothic Cathedral standing just as they stood millennia before. I felt like I was in a wondrous, ancient Disneyland that was all the more marvellous because it was real.
I found the rest of the city to be brimming with life. The year-round comfortable climate (more than 300 days a year of sunshine) allows people to spend a lot of their time outside, strolling the palm tree lined avenues, shopping in the open air markets, and meeting up for an improvised tapas dinner.
Most of all, what captivated me was the lifestyle, an ode to the joie de vivre that Mediterranean people are famous for. It was a place where people took time to eat a good home-cooked meal made with farm-fresh ingredients with their family every day. It was a place where you could walk everywhere—no need for a car. It was a place that was so much fun: breakfast in a lively, local bar–with such good coffee; afternoon merienda-snack at a cozy café; an end-of-the-day beer at a friendly pub; and the round-the-clock nightlife on the weekends.
Since then many moons have come and gone, but I remain in love with the city of Valencia. In fact, I feel like I have hit the jackpot because it has only gotten better. The neighbourhoods that were once a little shady have been totally revitalised. The Turia riverbed, which was then a great abandoned lot, home to stray dogs and strays in general, has been transformed into a gorgeous 9-mile long park and Arts and Sciences complex. And Ruzafa, the quaint little neighbourhood where I lived with my Spanish family, has evolved into the city’s hippest barrio, vibrant and alive with art galleries, vintage clothing shops, sunny street cafés and restaurants that run the gamut from funky to fine dining.
Sharing Valencia city treasures
I am writing this blog to share with you the hidden treasures the city of Valencia offers. It will include the old world and authentic, such as typical Valencian dishes (aside from paella) and where to enjoy them, traditional shops, artisan products etc … It will escort you to places where you can enjoy your favourite activities like yoga, Pilates, mindfulness, spa sessions, dancing, knitting, cooking, language learning, free concerts in cultural-historic settings, and more things to do in Valencia. Most of all, it will guide you to the real, live-it-like-a-local, Valencia experience. Along the way I welcome any questions or comments that you may have. Until the next post, saludos from sunny Valencia.