Biking Around Valencia
While its big sisters argue about identity and independence, Spain’s third largest city stands by quietly in all its splendor waiting to welcome visitors with open arms. Valencia, birth place of paella and home of Las Fallas one of Spain’s largest festivals, is in equal parts quintessentially Spanish and thoroughly modern. With amazing architectural edifices such as those in the City of Arts and Sciences, the city declares its intention to spring from tradition and into the 21st century. While historical sites such as La Lonja de la Seda and the Central Market remind us of Valencia’s glorious past.
It is the perfect place to visit for anyone committed to a healthy lifestyle because unlike Madrid and Barcelona, Valencia didn’t get the mountain gene. While glorious hills dot the surrounding pueblos, the city itself is completely flat. This makes it easier for visitors to explore and live like Los Valencianos. Particularly, with their favorite past time and mode of transportation—biking.
Whether you are a novice or experienced biker, navigating here is a breeze; given the city’s relatively small size and multiple bike lanes. Oh, but I know what you are thinking: “That’s nice and all, but I don’t have a bike. I am on vacation!” Don’t worry. With the city-wide bike sharing program service Valensibi, you can get a day or week’s pass for less than 20 euro per person.
Convinced? Yea, I thought so. So, are you ready now to get going? Good. Off we go!
El Estacio del Nord
Forget about two birds, we’ll begin our journey by knocking out three birds out with one stone at the most important transportation hub of the city—El Estacio del Nord. Aside from being an architectural wonder in its own right, it is also next door to the city’s bullfighting ring and the gateway to the most popular neighborhood in the city, Ruzafa. But for our purposes, it is also the perfect place to pick-up your bike.
But before you take off, take a gander around the inside of the century-old train station. It is in many aspects the most Valencian building in the city. The décor highlights one of the province’s biggest cash crops—oranges. Take any freeway heading to or from the city and you will find yourself surrounded by orange groves on every side.
Oranges are such an important part of the culture that the architects incorporated them into the design of relief on the front of the building. It is truly a sight to behold.
On the inside of the building, you will be astonished by the beautiful mosaic tile that lines nearly every square inch of the lobby. From the domed roof to the columns there are an innumerable amount tiles all reflecting sunlight at its particular angle. Beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe it. You’ve just got to see it for yourself.
The Central Market
Now that you already have your bike, you can head southeast to the Central Market located in the heart of the old city. And considering the fact that it is also completely full of food, one could argue that it is more like the stomach of the city. Whatever the case, it is the perfect place to have breakfast. But before you do, let me tell you about this wonderful building that you are about to enter.
While the actual building began construction in 1914 in Valencian Art Nouveau style, the location has been used as a market since 1839. Since then it has grown to become the largest center of its kind in Europe, covering over 8,000 square meters. Inside, you can find all the foods you can dream of, in addition to a few restaurants and retail shops. It is also the best place to try horchata—the probiotic enriched natural drink of Valencia. Horchata, or orxata in Valenciano, was orginally brought to Spain by the Moors in the 13th century. Made from ground tiger nuts and a pinch of sugar, this milky drink in a staple in Valencian homes. As such, it is the second most important food item to try in Valencia. The first being of course...well, we’ll get to that.
So, sip your horchata and take some jamon for the road. It’s time to see the city.
Jardin del Turia
While cats may have nine lives, cities usually have hundreds. In any place in the world, anywhere you step, you are bound to come across a restaurant, apartment building or holy site that once served a different purpose. The same can be said for the park snaking through the city which used to serve another purpose—as a river. It makes sense considering its shape and location right outside the medieval gates, but few other features in the city, or possibly the country, can say that they have made such a dramatic transformation. So, what was the cause of such a dramatic change?
In 1957, the river overflooded its banks and flooded the city. In the aftermath, over 80 people were killed and substantial damage was done to the surrounding buildings. The Spanish government then decided to divert the river south and turned the old riverbed into a park. That park is now the 7-kilometer long Jardin del Turia.
Within the park sits several soccer fields, bike and running lanes, fountains, the BioParc and our next stop—the City of Arts and Sciences.
So, let’s get to pedaling. We’ve got somewhere to be.
City of Arts and Sciences
This is probably high on the list of reasons why you decided to visit Valencia—and for good reason. This eight-building complex includes the opera house, the open air oceanographic park and the landscaped walk. There is truly no place like it in Spain—perhaps in Europe that is this modern. Normally, when one thinks of Europe, history and tradition spring to mind.
While history is great, dwelling in it can make you feel a bit—stuck. And even architecturally, this can make it very difficult to move forward. But somehow, Valencia has found a way.
The entire complex is amazing and a glory to behold. Take a few hours to explore now. And make plans to come back, but now we are heading out to the beach!
Playa de la Malvarrosa
There is only one beach in Valencia, but it is more than enough. The 1300-meter-long Playa de la Malvarrosa is located on the eastern side of the city directly next to the port. Despite this, the water is still crystal clear and warm. It is the best place cool off after a city long bike ride. It is also a great place to try some paella. While you won’t find the best paella in the city here, you are sure to find a few great runners-up.
There are also some great bars and music venues around the beach--including Fabrica del Hielo. This former ice factory now serves up some of the hottest music in the city. And when it gets too hot inside, you can just head back to the beach and put your feet in the sand.
Once you’re done, head back to the bike to get ready to head back into the city.
La Lonja de la Seda
So now, let’s head back to the city center and visit the most important site of Valencia—La Lonja de la Seda. This civic center and former center of trade is a clue to Valencia’s past as a main port on the Mediterranean. The building which was built in the late 14th and 15th century contains the lavishly decorated the Contract Hall, which is filled with columns and a vaulted ceiling.
It is a fantastic full circle moment to have to remind you of the grandeur that once encapsulated this entire city.
So that’s it! You made around Valencia and you got workout in the meantime. I hope that you enjoyed your trip and be sure to make plans to visit again soon!