Not Hemingway's Spain: Valencia's city centre and El Carmen, part 2
Zach Frohlich continues his guided tour of Spain's third largest city with specific focus on Valencia's best churches, museums and trendy spots for food and drink.
Continuing on from the first entry of this series, our tour of the city centre now becomes a bit religious in nature, with art museums sprinkled in for good measure.
Continuing north we arrive to La Plaza de la Reina, whose principal landmarks are the main Catedral de Valencia with its Miguelete bell tower (on the north side) and the bell tower of the Santa Catalina church (on the southwest corner). If you are ever hungry or thirsty and in need of a break, I highly recommend you try Valencia's most famous drink, orxata, at the Horchatería de Santa Catalina, just opposite the tower of same name. It is reputedly the oldest horchatería in the centre of Valencia, and the horchata there is pretty good. The Catedral de Valencia is another must visit, and I highly recommend you take the audio tour which helps guide you around inside, where you will see two works by Goya, the bones of Valencia's Patron Saint, San Vicente Mártir (Saint's Day: January 22nd), and... the Holy Grail! Yes, that's right, Valencia is home to El Santo Cáliz, one of only a couple artifacts in the world to have a claim to being the cup Christ used at the last supper. Whether or not you do the Cathedral tour, you _have_ to pay the small charge to go to the top of El Micalet (a.k.a. Miguelete), the cathedral's bell tower which offers spectacular views of the central city (if you go around noon you can hear a bell show).
Once again, the guys at the Hola Valencia blog do a better job than I could at visually documenting this city. This video gives you a nice sense of the Plaza de la Virgin and Micalet views of the city.
Recommended additional detour: If you head east on Calle de la Paz, you will see a lot of beautiful building facades and fun shops, and arrive to the cute Parque Parterre next to an El Corte Inglés. (Right next to the little park is the Fundación Bancaja, which has excellent free rotating exhibits, such as a recent photo exhibit of turn-of-the-century Spain, by the Hispanic Society of America. It's always worth double-checking what its exhibiting when you come to town.) You can return by Calle del Mar and see the cute little Plaza San Vicente Ferrer where you can find the amazing Museum and heavily frescoed church of El Patriarca.
|The beautiful facade of the Palacio del Arzobispo next to L'Almoina, photo by Gerry Blackwell|
If you follow along the Cathedral to the west, you'll come to the Plaza de la Virgen. This square is marked by the Turia fountain in the middle (more on that in a later entry), the Basílica (a.k.a. Real Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Desamparados), and the Cathedral's Door of the Apostles. This last is of interest because on Thursday mornings it is the site of the "Tribunal de las aguas", a water tribunal run by regional farmers which has been dubbed an UNESCO cultural heritage institution for being the longest continuous, still valid legal institution in Europe. Not far from Plaza de la Reina is L'Almoina, an archaeological museum where you can see over 2000 years of Valencian history, layers upon layers of civilizations starting with the Romans who founded "Valentia" in 138 B.C. (You can peer into the archaeological dig site, enclosed below ground-level by a glass ceiling covered with water, at the little square "Plaza del Arzobispo".)
To transition away from touristy Valencia to a more utilised and lived Valencia we'll now head over to El Carmen, a neighbourhood known for its lively nightlife, vibrant bars and hip restaurants. In this neighbourhood you'll find many works of "art" by street artists tagged on the walls of abandoned buildings.
But before you head there, continue north from Plaza de la Reina up the pedestrian street Calle de Navellos. You'll walk by the Corts Valencians (once known as the Palacio de los Borgia), the seat of the regional government, until you come to the old riverbed. (If you look across the river park and slightly to the right, you will see the Museo de Bellas Artes, a.k.a. San Pío Quinto, an amazing and highly underrated, free art museum which recently added a Sala Sorolla to celebrate this local favourite of Valencian artists.) If you turn left, you'll see the Torres de Serranos, one of only two remaining large gates from the old city walls.
You can walk south down Calle de Serranos back into El Carmen neighbourhood, and turn right onto Calle de Caballeros, a small street but one of the main arteries of El Carmen. I recommend sitting in Plaza del Negrito, not far from there, and sipping some "agua de Valencia". Or wandering up and down Carrer de Dalt and Carrer de Baix which connect several important squares in the area and give you a feel for the neighbourhood. Locals claim some of the best mejillones (a.k.a. clótxinas in Catalan, or mussels) can be found at nearby La Pilareta (C/ Moro Zeit, 13; 963 910 497). A hidden gem in this neighbourhood: the Parroquia de San Nicolás, whose interior is incredible but the entrance is hard to find as the church exterior is disguised by regular street walls. If you wander to the Calle del Museo, you might spot the Casa de los Gatos, one of many examples of the playful, local color of this area. Take nearby Calle de Na Jordana towards the river and you arrive at the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno, or el IVAM, Valencia's prized Modern Art museum.
If you continue on Calle de Caballeros past Plaça de Tossal the street becomes Carrer de Quart, which ends at the other remaining old city wall gate, Torres de Quart. (Not far away is a nice tapas bar I recently discovered, El Peix Daurat, with creative and delicious twists on tapas classics.) Such is the historical importance of these city gates, that there is an expression still in use today, "estar a la luna de Valencia", which means you're a bit out of it. It makes reference to the fact that back in the day people would be locked out of the Valencia city gates if still out after nightfall. These people, who were literally 'out of it', would have to spend the night sleeping under the moon. So I'll leave you there for now, "a la luna de Valencia", until the next entry which takes us outside the old city and into a new and vivid one...
Originally from Austin, Texas, Zach Frohlich has been traveling between Spain and the U.S. for over a decade, and has been living in Valencia for the last few years. He is a historian by training and is married to a Spaniard. He shares cultural insights on Spain at Not Hemingway's Spain.
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