Esquire's travel correspondent Tom Barber finds out it's all fiesta (and no siesta) in the Spanish party capital.
Third biggest city, third best football team, first best nightlife. Welcome to Valencia, Spain’s woefully under-appreciated bronze medal city and the undisputed party town in a country that, even in tough economic times, still trumps the world in the partying stakes.
Add an elegantly eclectic cityscape, 300 days of sunshine a year and Europe’s most bonkers festival — more on which later — and the Big Orange (the city is surrounded by endless orchards) is well worth a squeeze. Some words of warning: Spanish time is two hours behind normality but Valencia’s time is even more wonky. Restaurants will be empty before 10pm, bars until midnight, and tumbleweed blows across the nightclub dancefloors until 2am. Synchronise your watches…
1. Why now?
In a country renowned for its bonkers festivals, Las Fallas is still off the charts, and there’s not a goat or a bell tower in sight. Europe’s wildest street party takes place in mid-March (15–19) when giant papier-mâché effigies of politicians and celebrities are drawn through the streets before being totally consumed by flames and fireworks: pack earplugs. There are also the usual street parties and copious alcohol consumption but, as ever, the city’s vibrant natives pull it all off with their commendable charm.
Hospes Palau de la Mar in the Eixample Noble district is a shining beacon of understated monochrome class among otherwise unspectacular hotels. There are 76 slick rooms, an Asian fusion restaurant and the Senzone bar serving fine cocktails by an internal courtyard.
The real, honest to God, genuine, one and only, authentic Holy Grail, which is on display in Valencia Cathedral — if only to come over all Monty Python and declare earnestly, “Our quest is at an end."
Hats off to Valencia’s visionary Fifties’ town planners. Back then, the river Turia ran through the city but flooded severely so it was diverted around the city limits. The resulting dry riverbed became a sinuous urban park, Jardín del Turia (Garden of Turia). Walk along it to the modern architectural classic City of Arts and Sciences to clear your head.
Valencia is the home of paella, and the 114-year-old La Pepica, overlooking one of Valencia’s three wide, sandy city beaches, is the place to eat it. Order a vast arroz marinero (seafood) and a top rioja, expect some classically grumpy waiters and spend Sunday afternoon watching the world go by.
The contemporary art exhibitions on display in pretty much every establishment in boho Ruzafa, especially the constantly updated one in the loos at hipster hangout and café/bar/bookshop Ubik.
Francis Montesinos is best known in the city as a big noise in the world of ladies fashion, but his emporium in the heart of Valencia also displays his own ranges of menswear, fragrances and jewellery.
At Mercatbar, the contemporary concept restaurant from Spanish superchef Quique Dacosta in the funky Cánovas district. Diners can order food from the restaurant’s own market shelves, or tapas served by the chefs themselves. Don’t miss the piquillo peppers stuffed with salt cod.
Start the festivities — not too early, mind — at La Infanta, in the Carmen district, which has a terrace from where you can see the evening fun unfold. Go local and drink an agua de Valencia — fresh orange juice, vodka and cava.
Politely say, “Excuse me…” to any youthful Valencian and the chances are before you finish they’ll be directing you to Excuse Me?, the best club in Ruzafa. It’s worth a late-night detour for the great atmosphere and two dancefloors playing fresh house and retro classics respectively.
Tom Barber is a founder of award-winning travel company Original Travel
Photographs by Josep Gil