Monday, July 09, 2012

Valencia, Spain's biggest secret

It is really quite strange to be living in a city that still, even in this time of crisis, keeps most of its treasures a secret from the rest of the world.
The city? Valencia.
When we first moved here some 13 years ago, people would ask us what country the city was in - Italy? Even now, the ignorance concerning the city and what it has to offer is incredible. Friends, family and tourists who visit for the first time are amazed when they see the architecture - both ultra-modern and ancient, the parks and the beaches. Most people now know the city for the America's Cup, which the city hosted in 2007 and 2009, for the Formula One Spanish Grand Prix and to a lesser extent the Moto GP, held at the racecourse in Cheste, a few mile from the city centre. These events bring visitors, a lot of them, but they hardly see the city as they are only here for the event.
La Tomatina is on a huge number of 'bucket lists' of people from all corners of the world. It is a massive food fight which takes place over a period of one hour in the village of Buñol, half-an-hour's drive from the city centre. It is probably the world's best known event, bat ask most people the city it is closest to and they will tell you Madrid or Barcelona - most people travel to on oof these two coties for the event, only to find they have to take a bus or a train to Valencia to get there.
Valencia has an official tourist office, but they seem to be only interested in the home market. La Tomatina is annually a huge opportunity to bring in an enormous quantity of tourists and show them a good time for at least a few days. Most revellers arrive late the night before La Tomatina and leave the city the same night or the morning after because they just don't know.
La Tomatina is fun, but for the mother of all Fiestas, you need to visit Valencia in March for Las Fallas, chances are you won't have heard of that either. It's a truly unique three-week-long extravaganza which takes over the city and the surrounding villages and takes place each year between the first to the 20th of March each year. Though the number of visitors from abroad is increasing, there are nothing like the foreign visitors who fly in for a half-an-hour of messy fun in August, Las Fallas is not as messy but is more than enough fun for any visitor. It has everything - Fireworks both day and night, Monuments, huge and made of papier Machè, so that they burn on the night of the 19th, parades for children, parades of fire, parties in the street, dancing, concerts and more.
The rest of the year? Come for the beauty to the city, for its wonderful park that was once a river, some 10 kilometres of green space bordering the city and containing parkland, sports fields, a music palace, an opera house, a science museum, a children's park in the shape of Gulliver, a zoo, an aquarium and dolpinarium, running tracks, gardens and beautiful bridges. Come and see the Holy Grail in the cathedral, come for the architecture, come for Europe's biggest Central Market, come for the shopping and for the eating and for the art galleries.
There is so much to see and do.