Family city break: Valencia, a hidden gem on the Iberian Coast

For a family city break and Spanish holiday, Valencia is a great alternative to hipster and more expensive Barcelona. Together with my lovely London Mums’ reporter Laura Castelli, I recently went on a three-day trip to Valencia organised by Turismo Valencia, the local tourist board, to showcase the fun side of Spain’s third-largest city. We love Spain, and we always gladly go back. This country is more than just the Sangria and Barcelona (although both combined are a recipe for a pretty good time).

Valencia is one of Europe’s best-kept secrets for family city breaks. Laura and I prefer it to Barcelona which is often overcrowded and overpriced. I visited Valencia for the first time in 1992 when she was still a foreign languages’ student at the University of Bologna and decided to spend a few months in Spain as an au-pair to improve Spanish. I loved it back then but I remembered it dirtier and more disorganised. Valencia has now been fully revamped, cleaned and modernised so much so that I could barely recognise it.

Our press trip started whilst taxing on the plane. A super friendly message from one of our impressive tour guides, Amaya and Manuel, popped up to welcome us to Spain’s 3rd biggest, most cultural and cutting-edge cities.

We were offered a choice of two languages for the tour and we enthusiastically chose Spanish, ready to fully dive into an Iberic experience made out of melting-pot gastronomy, ultimate paella cooking lessons, daring tastings from home-brewed beer to citrus sangria.

The culinary experience would have been the soundtrack of our delightful discover of a town that echoes a multitude of impressive past vicissitudes, all represented by a magnificent concoction of architectural styles, Valencia’s landmarks, disseminated throughout the ancient part of the old town: Roman, Gothic, Baroque and Art Nouveau to mention a few.

To crown an already enticing tour plan for our 3 days, we’ve been swiftly brought to the Hotel Dimar, a 4-star hotel on one of the greenest and widest avenues of Valencia, la Gran Via Marqués del Turia (Hotel Dimar – Gran Vía Marqués del Turia 80, 46005 Valencia +34 963951030 – www.hotel-dimar.com). It is situated next to the stunning river with the homonym name, whose bed has been fully dried up and transformed in miles of running and cycling paths, professional and leisure sporting clubs.

We got spoiled with all sort of little details to make us feel welcomed at the Hotel Dimar: from extremely comfortable beds to the most unexpected toiletries and mini bar options, not to mention the array of delicious Spanish treats and continental options the morning after at breakfast, a temptation for the senses, pure bliss for a refined palate: from warm churros to the orange and almond cake, passing by a huge variety of mini pastries to die for.

The tour started with a walk through the main town. The recount of Valencia’s history was conveyed with meaning and feeling throughout the three days, being all the tour guides consistently erudite.

We got somehow lost with our thoughts whilst admiring the pearly coloured stones of architecture features, wandering in narrow cobblestone alleyways, listening to my heart’s content to the fantastically informative and emotionally engaging tales surrounding the city’s landmarks, in the light of highly interesting Spanish history. The engaging and personable guides made me think of new ways of looking and studying art, bringing it to life through articulate descriptions. Soon we were brimming with questions which made our tours finishing consistently later than earlier. 

Manuel and Amaya seemed to have an innate ability to weave the history of Spain into the heart of the old buildings, a presentation which exhaled uniqueness. The enhanced experience would have certainly impressed history buffs alike. 

Here’s our list of cool things to do with the whole family in Valencia.

Tapas lunch at Federal Café 

C/ Embajador Vich, 15, 46002 Valencia Tel: 960 617 596 http://federalcafe.es/valencia/

We had lunch at this liberty restaurant which is not only evocative  for its historical site and central location but also offers a variety of delicious contemporary tapas. 

 

Valencia Family Tour

After lunch, we had a guided tour to explore Valencia with activities and games tailored for children. Valencia Family Tour is a guided tour to explore Valencia and has all the elements to keep anyone from getting bored, whether they’re kids or grown- ups.

This activity is designed both for visitors spending a few days in Valencia who want to learn more about the city, its history and its monuments. The Valencia Family Tour visits the city’s most emblematic sites, such as the Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange) and the Cathedral, without overlooking those little secrets and curiosities that sometimes go unnoticed. Junior explorers, future archaeologists, dreamer adults, artists to be, energetic grandparents… everyone can become genuine experts in Valencia and its history! This tour is the perfect way to learn all about the city, play, discover and have a great time.

The Holy Grail site 

You don’t have to be religious, only curious to see what is believed to be the Holy Grail itself. Many historians believe it to be the real deal (the chalice belonged to the Spanish queen Urraca, and is believed that was made sometime between 200BC and 100AD).

 

Even the Pope has given his blessings on behalf of the Catholic church! You can see it for yourself inside the Cathedral. I felt very emotional while I was inside that Chapel. All the legends I have always heard about since I was a child appeared in my mind for a special moment of reminiscence.  

 

The City of Arts and Science

If you have watched Disney’s Tomorrowland starring George Clooney you’ll remember this amazing futuristic looking location. The work of Valencia’s own Santiago Calatrava, this is an example of architecture at its most futuristic. The colossal structure houses an IMAX cinema (situated in the Hemisfèric), as well as Europe’s largest aquarium – the Oceanogràfic, interactive educational exhibits in the Príncipe Felipe Science Museum and the avant-garde opera house – Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía. Furthermore, the impressive l’Assut de l’Or bridge and the Agora are all a delight for the senses.

(Av. Professor López Piñero, 7 46013 Valencia Tel: +34 961974400 – www.cac.es)

 

Horchata tasting

Outside the Tomorrowland’s buildings there’s a stand where you can taste horchata which is a typical Valencian drink. It’s very refreshing especially in the summer. 

Oceanografic visit 

The Oceanogràfic is the largest aquarium in Europe and contains representatives of the world’s main marine ecosystems. Each building is identified with the following aquatic environments: the Mediterranean, Wetlands, Temperate and Tropical Seas, Oceans, the Antarctic, the Arctic, Islands, and the Red Sea, as well as the Dolphinarium. 

C/ Eduardo Primo Yúfera, 1, 46013, Valencia Tel: +34 0470647 www.ocenografic.org

             

Dinner at restaurant 2012 el Principio del Fin 

This was a fine dining experience with one of the best meals in the centre of Valencia and the best Sangria I have ever had in Spain so far. Lovely restaurant owners with great stories to tell about food and the idea for the place’s name. 

Located at Plaza del Arzobispo, 5, 46003 Valencia Tel: +34 963 92 06 76 www.restaurante2012.es

 

Bike riding and Bioparc visit

The following day we rented bikes from a lovely Italian guy (Passion Bike – C/serrano, 16, 46003 Valencia Tel: +34 633 79 55 81 www.passionbike.net) and headed to Bioparc Valencia with bikes. It is a new generation zoo conceived with the zoo-immersion philosophy. When entering the more than 100,000 m2 park, the visitor feels totally submerged in the wild habitats that have been recreated here: the Savannah, Madagascar and Equatorial Africa.

Avenida Pio Baroja, 3 46015 Valencia Tel: +34 902250340 www.bioparcvalencia.es

Valencia Beach 

After the enjoyable morning at Bioparc, we left the bikes and transferred to the Marina de Valencia and Malvarrosa Beach by taxi. Taxis are not as expensive as in London and accept credit cards. The Marina de Valencia is one of the city’s most important landmarks, not only due to the events that are held there, but also due to its unique buildings.

It houses the 19th Century Harbour Sheds, the Edificio del Reloj and the Veles e Vents building, the emblem of the new Marina. There are also shops, terraces and restaurants with spectacular views, as well as a children’s park, the Super yachts Berthing with its amazing yachts, and the North and South Marinas, filled with numerous boats. Just a few metres away are the beaches of El Cabanyal (Las Arenas) and La Malvarrosa, next to the attractive Paseo Marítimo promenade. It is a great area for kids as they can play with the sands on the beach or walk along the beach promenade.

We had a Paella lunch at restaurant La Alegría de la Huerta, with privileged views to the Mediterranean. The restaurant is located at Paseo Marítimo, Módulo 6, Playa de la Malvarrosa, 46011 València – Tel: +34 963 55 05 07

www.restaurantelaalegriadelahuerta.es

 

Catamaran tour 

In the afternoon we went onto a 1-hour trip Catamaran tour with Mundo Marino to Unwind and relax as well as get a different perspective on Valencia from the sea. For those that like to get wet, you have time to stop for a dip in the cool Mediterranean waters too. It is also equipped with a bar, you can sit back with a cold drink and enjoy time on deck.

 

Ruzafa Nightlife and dinner at Hard Rock Café

Once a decadent neighbourhood, Ruzafa is now the trendiest area in Valencia. This is a historic working-class neighbourhood, which has increasingly attracted artists and bohemian people, shaping this area as we now know it.

Hipsters, hippies and artists of Valencia like to live here, or at least hang around its narrow streets and lively squares. We could not skip a dinner at Hard Rock Cafe’ which has the most amazing steaks and music in the background. I managed to buy a couple of outfits for my next rock gig too. 

(Avda. Marqués de Sotelo, 6, 46002 Valencia Tel: +34 962 56 56 53 www.hardrock.com)

Paella Making at Barraca de Toni Montoliu  

On the last day we did something really fun which would be perfect for kids. We collected vegetables from the fields at the farm Barraca de Toni Montoliu. We used some of these to prepare an authentic Valencian paella under the expert guidance of Toni, the most charming owner and chef, who ensures all guests are well looked after.

Children can take a tour around the vegetable gardens in a horse-drawn cart, visit a Barraca museum (the typical houses of the region) and an exhibition of carts and agricultural tools from the 19th and 20th centuries (60-90 minutes), donkey ride for children. www.barracatonimontoliu.com

Check out our full report on the paella making day here

London Mums go to Valencia to learn how to make the authentic Paella recipe

And when it was time to leave, we had tears in our eyes. We made great new friends and we fell in love with Valencia. As the Spanish song says, ‘Un pañuelo de silencio a la hora de partir’, a tissue of silence before saying goodbye. 

Last but not least Valencia is one of the best cities in Europe for shopping. Great boutiques, local brands and value for money! I managed to buy a stunning Desigual dress for half the price (and a third of the price if purchased in London) plus lingerie and an evening Flamenco style skirt.

Check  Valencia Tourism website for more information: www.visitvalencia.es

About Monica Costa

Monica Costa founded London Mums in September 2006 after her son Diego’s birth together with a group of mothers who felt the need of meeting up regularly to share the challenges and joys of motherhood in metropolitan and multicultural London. London Mums is the FREE and independent peer support group for mums and mumpreneurs based in London https://londonmumsmagazine.com and you can connect on Twitter @londonmums

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