Viva Valencia, home of paella

A new Ryanair route from Cork, Valencia in Spain has got a lot going for it if you're looking for a break, says SARAH O'DWYER
Viva Valencia, home of paella

One of the main squares in Valencia which was recently pedestrianised

FAMOUS for being the birthplace of paella, the port city of Valencia has something to offer everyone who is lucky enough to visit. For starters, the airport is right outside the city - a similar proximity to that of Cork Airport to Cork city - and well serviced by taxis and public transport.

As a new Ryanair route from Cork, Valencia is already proving popular, with near-packed planes on just its second week of operation.

Valencia's Central Market is five times larger than our English Market
Valencia's Central Market is five times larger than our English Market

I had the opportunity to travel over recently and, on arrival, was struck by how pedestrian-friendly the city centre is.

A number of areas in Valencia have only recently been pedestrianised, and locals have said it only adds to the charm of the city. Older people, those with mobility issues or those with young children in buggies will also enjoy Valencia, given there has also been a major push to remove as many steps as possible and make the city flat and easily accessible for all.

Without doubt, food was one of the highlights of my trip. The birthplace of paella is just outside the city - we’ll return to that later - and food is something Valencians use to socialise, share, and savour. They take such pride in locally grown ingredients, such as rice, tiger nuts, and oranges. The city is also renowned for its seven Michelin stars and 30 Respol Suns.

One of the chefs with a Michelin star is Ricard Camarena, and I was lucky enough to eat at one of his restaurants - Habitual, in the Colon Market (a must-visit for its restaurants, bars and stalls).

Among the courses, we were treated to stuffed zucchini flowers and succulent pork. Another dinner highlight was at Nou Gourmet, where a Russian salad featured along with some steak.

Trying paella is a must. We enjoyed ours by the Las Arenas beach area of the city, in Trident (El Tridente de Neptuno). It was filled with rice, butter beans, chicken, and - believe it or not - snails. Valencians are very proud of their dish and have every right to be. It is a melt-in-the-mouth taste explosion when cooked correctly. It’s served in a large dish and made to share, just like their tapas.

As for activities in Valencia, there are an infinite number of places to see and things to do. One of the highlights for me was cycling through Turia Gardens, a 12km park through the centre of the city. It’s filled with running tracks, pitches, market areas, people practicing yoga, meeting friends - you name it, it’s done there. The coolest thing about the park? It used to be the River Turia, but was re-routed a number of years ago, and the river basin transformed into a public park.

Traditional paella.
Traditional paella.

At one end of Turia Gardens is the City of Arts and Sciences, a huge architectural complex with buildings like the Hemisferic, the Oceanografic - one of the biggest aquariums in the world - the Palau de les Arts and the Museu de les Ciencies. Another of the incredible structures here is the L’Umbracle, an open-air nightclub, and quite honestly, one of the most impressive things I have ever seen. It is an outdoor garden of 4,000m2 decorated with furniture full of elegant details and sculptures where people can enjoy drinks, music and dancing.

The city is steeped in history. On a tour of the historical centre, our guide advised us to always look up and down to ensure we took in the full beauty and history. Everything is elegantly decorated - some of it in ceramics dating to Roman times. The Cathedral of Valencia is home to the Holy Chalice believed to have been used by Jesus at the last supper. The Silk Exchange - declared a Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO - is a gem of civil Gothic architecture.

There is quite a Catholic influence in the city, but many of the churches were once mosques.

A visit to the Central Market is well worth it. But, make sure you’re hungry if you go - it’s like the English Market but about five times larger.

For anyone looking to do a half-day or day-trip, just 10km from the city is Albufera National Park. It boasts unspoiled beaches, forests, rice fields, and a huge lake where we enjoyed a boat trip. This is the area where paella was invented.

Arabs brought rice growing to the region in the 18th century and this gave rise to paella. The original recipe includes ingredients like chicken, rabbit, green beans, lima beans, tomato, rice, olive oil, water, saffron, garlic and salt.

World paella day is celebrated on September 20 - the perfect excuse to visit, if any were needed.

Bikes are readily available in Valencia, as are cycle lanes. Buses are very frequent.

L'Umbracle - open air nightclub in Valencia
L'Umbracle - open air nightclub in Valencia

You can buy a tourist card for 24, 48 or 72 hours, which includes free public transport by bus and metro - as well as the metro to and from the airport - 20 free museums and attractions, discounts on other attractions and two free tapas and a drink - they range from €15 to €25.

We stayed in the 4-star Melia Valencia on the outskirts of the city, but close to the airport. It is also on a bus route, and near a metro stop, but walking to the city centre would almost an hour.

Accommodation is plentiful, and given it’s not as well-known as Madrid and Barcelona, the prices are quite reasonable.

Must see: The buildings that make up the City of Arts and Sciences

Must do: Hire a bike, or get a guided bike tour, around Turia Gardens

Must eat: Any type of paella

Must visit: Albufera Natural Park for a boat trip

Must drink: Agua de Valencia, a cocktail made up of cava or champagne, orange juice, vodka and gin.

More in this section

Sponsored Content

Echo 130Echo 130

Podcast: 1000 Cork songs 
Singer/songwriter Jimmy Crowley talks to John Dolan

Listen Here

Add to your home screen - easy access to Cork news, views, sport and more