Local cuisine is often derived from Arab recipes such as heavily spiced rice dishes and sweet pastries.
Valencia is hailed the Paella Capital, mainly due to the paddy fields that surround the outskirts of the city. Cooked in large flat pans, a selection of meat, fish or shellfish, or all of the above together, are added to garlic, saffron, a mixture of herbs, peppers, and other local spices to give colour and extra flavour to this traditional dish.
Fideuà is a similar dish to paella, however noodles are used instead of rice and cooked always with shellfish.
Roast lamb appears on many restaurant menus, as does grilled fish and chicken cooked in all sorts of creative ways. Always accompanied by a dish of ‘Ali Ole’ – garlic mayonnaise, containing any number of cloves, skilfully crushed to extract the strong flavour.
Horchata is a drink made from tiger nut (a tuber) which is then flavoured with cinnamon and sweetened with sugar. It is ground and mixed with water to make a milky looking drink, served over ice as a cooling beverage in the summer.
Turrón is a nougat confection, typically made of honey, sugar, and egg white, with toasted almonds or other nuts, and usually shaped into either a rectangular tablet or a round cake. Jijona near Alicante is Spain’s main producer of this sweet delicacy, which is mainly associated with Christmas and new year, although it can be bought throughout this region at any time of the year, in the form of ice cream, desserts or just in large chunks.
Just a few kilometres inland, clinging charismatically to its unique history, the local dialect 'Valenciano' is still widely spoken in pueblos and amongst locals, when visitors are supposedly out of earshot. Road signs announce town names in both Castilian (the official Spanish language) and Valenciano. For example, the town of Xabia (Valenciano spelling) is alternatively written as Javea (Castilian spelling).
Whichever month you visit, there’s a good chance that jovial fiestas will be in full swing. After months of planning, making costumes, band practice and dance rehearsals, the whole town comes together to celebrate just about anything: Grape Picking Week, Almond Blossom Season, The Blessing of Pets Day, anyone with the name Juan and so the list goes on! There are of course the more serious, historical dates, which are skilfully synchronised so as not to overlap with other neighbouring gatherings.
One of the main events in the region is the commemoration of the battle of the Moors and Christians (Moros y Cristianos). Although celebrated in many parts of Spain, the Valencia Region has the most frequent and most enthusiastic celebrations, the most famous taking place in Alcoy in April. Exquisite costumes are paraded through the streets to beating drums and solitary pipes, prior to a fierce simulated battle around a papier-mâché castle where, as tradition and history dictates, the Christians always conquer (except for one year, when those playing the Moors retaliated and decided to rewrite history by refusing to leave the castle). Fireworks light the sky, whilst spectators munch on candy floss and sugar-coated almonds. Moors and Christians Fiestas take place in: Moraira in June, Xabia in July, Denia in August, and Calpe in October.
La Tomatina Fiesta started the last Wednesday of August 1945, when a group of young people decided to disrupt a traditional gathering in the village ‘plaza’ of Buñol. A fight ensued and the nearest objects to pitch happened to be a few kilos of tomatoes from a nearby vegetable stall. The following year, the antics were repeated and gradually became an annual tradition, until finally La Tomatina was officially declared a ‘Festivity of International Tourist Interest’ in 2002.
Whilst one of the more developed towns of the North Costa Blanca, do not be misled; Calpe contributes a good proportion of the cultural and historic ingredients that combine to make up this beguiling area. A nature reserve, where wildlife and fauna (including a flock of resident flamingos) live in natural surroundings, sits behind the imposing ‘Peñón de Ifach’ rock, resembling a miniature Gibraltar. The old fishing port is home to one of the few remaining fleets that still chug out to sea early morning and back early afternoon to auction off the day’s catch, and restaurant owners from surrounding areas wait patiently on the quayside ready to rush their purchases to the kitchen and on to the grill later that same evening. Two sweeping sandy beaches saddle the rock, lined with wide promenades, restaurants and souvenir shops. Meanwhile, one block behind, ancient Roman ruins fill with salty waters, historic watchtowers continue their scrutiny out to sea and the narrow, cobbled streets of the old town sit perched on the brow of the hill; all are reminders of a colourful past.
City of Arts and Science
This vast complex on the outskirts of Valencia incorporates several cultural centres and iconic buildings for an excellent day out. Firstly, an interactive Science Museum (El Museo), constructed in the form of a whale skeleton, offers hands-on, educational fun for all ages. Another big attraction is L’Hemisfèric, a magnificent planetarium with IMAX cinema screen, built in the shape of an eye, where the cover of the screen forms the eyelid, which can be opened or closed, whilst its reflection in the 24,000 square metre lake completes the optical illusion. L’Oceanogràfic forms the third part of this mind boggling complex; built in the shape of a water lily, its 10 separate areas depict different aquatic environments demonstrating the natural habitat of: the Mediterranean, wetlands, temperate and tropical seas, the Antarctic, the Arctic, islands and the Red Sea.
Other areas on the complex include: the El Palau Opera House; L'Àgora, a covered plaza for concerts and sporting events; for horticultural enthusiasts L'Umbracle presents a landscaped walk with plant species indigenous to Valencia, carefully picked to change colour with each season.
The entrance to the complex, is marked by the tallest point in the city, the tower of the white cable-stayed bridge (El Pont de l'Assut de l'Or) which links this impressive area with the rest of Valencia City.