Onsite Review: Lovely Valencia

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Valencia’s Central Market is open daily.
Valencia’s Central Market is open daily.

From the moment I found out I’d be visiting Valencia, everyone around me warned me to diet prior to leaving. “You’re going to eat so much great food while you’re there,” they warned. And, I have to admit, I probably should’ve saved a few pounds in my favor before take-off. Though I seemingly ate my way through Valencia, there was also plenty of time for a stunning sunset bike tour, and visits to inspiring cathedrals, the Bioparc and the Oceanografic aquarium, as well as day visits to hamlets outside the city. Valencia, Spain’s third largest city, after Barcelona and Madrid, has plenty of cultural and family-friendly activities, as well as great eats.

Bikes & Tapas
Moments after my arrival in Valencia, where I stayed at the SH Valencia Palace, located near the city-center, I departed on a 3-hour bike tour—led by DoYouBike Rental—around the Turia Gardens, with stops at the City of Arts and Sciences for a photo-op. After seeing the sights, we worked up quite the appetite for dinner at Bodega Casa Montaña, open since 1836 in the Grau neighborhood. Patrons enter the restaurant by walking under the bar to get to the seating area, where they feast on typical Spanish tapas such as patatas bravas de secano (spicy potatoes); michirones (beans cooked with ham, chorizo, herbs, spices and cayenne peppers); tuna; cod croquettes; sirloin steak, and other tasty treats, including a chocolate truffle equivalent to a creme brulee with jam, which definitely made our bike ride worth every mile. Bodega Casa Montaña offers guests house wines, as well as an additional 800 wines from its cellar collection.

Shop & Cook
I confess, I’m by no means a chef, but while in Valencia, I had the opportunity to pretend to be one as I shopped alongside chef Jaime Cros at Valencia’s Central Market, which in the 15th century was a weekly market, but today runs daily. We tried spices and nibbled on local fruit while strolling among the stalls, where many were replete with Serrano ham. At the fish market, live eel swam around a display as the fishmonger chopped and prepped the day’s catch. After the ingredients for the perfect Valencia paella were purchased—rabbit, chicken and snails—we headed to the Escuela de Arroces y Paella Valenciana cooking school, where I had a first-hand take on prepping this famous dish, and after feasting on our masterpiece, was certified a “Paella Specialist.”

Caves & Wineries
During the 6-day tour, we took a day trip to the town of Requena, an important strategic enclave during the Middle Ages; it’s located about a 2-hour drive from the city of Valencia. Requena’s historic Old Town, La Villa, is a gem with narrow streets, homes donning coats-of-arms, charming squares and typical houses decorated with tiles and elaborate wrought ironwork. While in La Villa, we explored the underground La Villa Caves, constructed around the eighth to 11th centuries and once used to store wine, seek shelter in times of war, as an ossuary, and to store grain, bread, and olive oil. We also visited Chozas Carrascal Winery, where Bobal grapes are grown on acres of land, while olive trees reign supreme on the hilltop. Clients can tour the winery and participate in a wine-making lesson and tasting.

Culture & Olive Oils
On the trip’s final day, we traveled another two hours from Valencia to the charming town of Segorbe. “If anyone wants to get the feeling of Spain, this is the place to find it. We offer a small town feel; we offer peace; and a quiet life—the things they can’t find in a big town, that’s our value,” said Mayor of Segorbe Rafael Magdalena during our visit. This tiny town is overflowing with culture and historical monuments, including the Executioner’s Tower and the Prison Tower dating back to the 14th century, as well the Medieval Walls, from before the 11th century. On a wall on one of the Prison Tower’s dungeons there’s a crucifix believed to be painted by a prisoner from the 14th century with his own blood.

Do recommend clients visit the Casa Mauro Torres restaurant, which has been operated by the same family since the 1870s and is currently run by the fourth and fifth generations. It’s a perfect spot for decadent pastry treats and coffee.

A tour of the Olive Oil Museum gives guests a lesson on olive oil-making, as well
as its significance to the region. Sampling the olive oil with breads, as well as in the form of a paste made with black or green olives paired with orange or chocolate flavors is a late afternoon treat—perfect after a day of sightseeing.

Contact Information
Spain Tourism Board: spain.info/en_US