Valencia was definitely the highlight of my trip around Europe this year. For ten days, I had the chance to experience it during the Fallas, an annual traditional celebration in commemoration of St-Joseph. During these festivities, the city’s streets get transformed with food trucks, tents, colourful artworks and crowds of locals and tourists. I was spoiled enough to be invited at a friend’s home during my stay, which allowed me to experience his daily life as a local and the best places to visit.
To name few of the highlights of Valencia, the Turia gardens and the Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias are a must when visiting. As a former river, it was reconverted in a sunken garden stretching from one end of the city to the other. As you walk through it, it reveals a serie of small parks, recreational public spaces, sports facilities, resting areas and the famous Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias, designed by Calatrava. As the noisy car traffic crosses above the old river, people wandering underneath it don’t bump into the traffic.
The Ciudad de las Artes y de las Ciencias is an art and science complex composed of Europe’s largest aquarium, an oceanographic park, a planetarium, a science museum, a performing art center, and much more. The impressive futuristic design of the architectural ensemble justify its reputation as one of the twelve treasures in Spain.
Around the city center, the most important touristic places were the Mercado central (Art Nouveau public market), Lonja de la Ceda (old silk warehouse), San Nicolas church, the Catedral (Roman Catholic parish church), the Miguelete tower (Cathedral with a Gothic-style octagonal bell tower) for a great view of Valencia, etc.
In between the festivities, we visited green parts of the city like Monforte garden with its neoclassical natural landscape and the Botanical garden with its many collections of plants from all around the world. To rest from the noise and activities of the city center, these gardens are good places to relax.
Albufera was a great spot to see the sunset. Located around 11 km south of the city, it is freshwater lagoon and estuary on the Gulf of Valencia.
Starting March 15th, the main attraction was the Fallas, where monuments are burnt at the end of the festival. Each neighbourhood of the city has an organised association, called the Casal faller, with a specific artwork built over the previous year. Traditionally, people would throw everything that is considered to be old and not useful anymore, onto a bonfire every year. By doing so, the gesture symbolized a new start.
During those five days and nights, crowds in the restaurants spill out into the streets and explosions can be heard all day long from morning until late at night. Small children to elderly people are throwing fireworks and noisemakers in the streets.
Mascletà, a coordinated fireworks show, takes place at 2:00 pm every day of the festival at the Plaça de l'Ajuntament. As during the day the fireworks are barely visible, the show is more about the noise. The louder, the better.
Nit del Foc
At night, the sky is filled with light and colour during Fallas thanks to the impressive firework displays. The spectacles bring crowds of people. The fireworks reach its peak at the Nit del Foc, a unique firework display celebrated in the early hours of the 18th.
The traditional dress worn by "falleros" (men) vary from black trousers and jacket or decorated shirt with different patterns. Women’s handmade dresses can be very expensive, from 2,000 Euros to more than 20,000 Euros. The work behind the production of these intricate pieces of clothing is quite impressive. They are accompanied with traditional hair style and gold or silver jewelries.
All the Fallas associations of Valencia parade through the city from their neighbourhood to the Plaza de la Virgen for a flower offering to the Virgen de los Desamparados, patron saint of Valencia. The bouquets of flowers become part of an impressive 15-metre high structure representing the Virgen’s cape.
On the final night of Falles, the monuments are burnt as huge bonfires. La Cremà, the climax of the whole event, is quite an astonishing event to witness. Flames can go up to 20 meters high and the heat of the fire can easily damage the surrounding buildings. For security reasons, emergency services and firefighters are controlling the fires throughout the city that particular night.
Needless to say that Valencia was an amazing travelling adventure for me, from the fiery festival to the city’s historical treasures, Calatrava’s futuristic design and the local experience. I particularly appreciated the slow-paced rythm of living. People take time to enjoy life, and to cultivate the strong bonds in the community. Another destination to return to, very soon.