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I’ve always said how amazing it would be to go to Spain for a real paella and that wish came true this year when Dean got me a 4 day trip to Valencia (which is where paella originated) for my birthday. It was a real surprise and a lovely one too!
We left from London Gatwick and arrived in Valencia at about 4pm, heading straight for the hotel which was lovely – very big and spacious with a great view of the sea. The sun was still shining so we headed straight for the pool and got a few hours in before heading out for dinner.
There was no doubt that on our first night in Valencia we would be ordering a traditional, authentic Valencian paella, which has chicken, rabbit, flat green beans and another type of bean called garrofon which look a little bit like buttered beans. Most Valencian paellas also have snails in them, so when ours came I felt a little bit cheated as there were no snails in sight! The paella looked and tasted absolutely delicious though and upon devouring it we were already planning our next one.
The next day we headed into the city to Valencia’s famous food market, Mercado Central. We had heard it was one of the biggest and best in Europe. As soon as we walked in we were hit by an amazing atmosphere and was full of locals buying fresh fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. Dean and I were buzzing and both said how we would love to live somewhere that you can so easily get so much fresh produce.
We walked around trying samples from the stores such as chorizo, olives, cured ham and cheese – it was great and we were both loving it. We bought some saffron, chorizo and paella rice to bring home and various snacks for the day including octopus salad. We then headed into the city to explore.
With Valencia remaining relatively undiscovered by tourism there is not an endless amount to see there, but it’s great to walk around, getting a feel for the place. You can stop off have a glass of sangria and some tapas when you’re feeling hungry. That’s the beauty of tapas, you can have as much or as little as you like, then wonder off to the next place. I must say though that their portions were a lot bigger than I thought they’d be!
We walked around the ultramodern Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias (City of Arts and Sciences) which had some fascinating buildings, mostly surrounded by water on which you could go zorbing or hire a two-man canoe. Dean and I just walked around and took it all in. It was such a fascinating place and a complete contrast to Valencia’s old town.
Here are some pictures of various tapas we had in Valencia over the 4 days.
Dean booked us on a tour to the Albufera National Park, just south of Valencia to find out all about the famous paella rice and how it’s grown. We found out about the history of the rice and what happens when it is harvested. Included in our tour was a boat trip where we got to see the diverse local wildlife and ask various questions.
We had a lovely English speaking tour guide who was incredibly knowledgable. One thing that will always stay with me though was the look on her face when we informed her that we stir our paellas 😳. She basically just laughed at us! Then she told us that you should never stir a paella once the rice and stock goes in.
So all these years we’ve been making paellas totally wrong! It was definitely worth going to Valencia just to find that out!
After the the trip we had lunch at a restaurant nearby, this time we had a 3 course meal. To start we choose a famous local dish of eel stew along with mussels – both were amazing in flavour and I had never seen such massive mussels! They were delicious. We had a seafood paella as our main course which had prawns, fish and cuttlefish in. Being exactly from where the dish of paella originated from it was great to try a completely authentic one, made the same way it has been for years.
On our last night we went to Ricard Camarena Restaurant, which has one Michelin star. Spain has quite a few restaurants with stars and some of the highest ranking ones in the world are Spanish. We thought this would be great way to finish our trip.
The meal started off well with lots of different styled canapés, all very fresh. We got presented the menu and were told that they would be picking a selection for us, we just had to choose whether we wanted six, eight or ten course. Everything sounded really nice and we opted for the eight course tasting menu.
It started off very well with some really fresh dishes, but as the courses went on we started to become a little disappointed. Most of the dishes were cold (intentionally), due to lack of cooking, lots of salad and even ice on two of the dishes. We felt like it was lacking hot elements and richness. Everything was very fresh and a little bit too healthy if you know what I mean!
One of the desserts was by far the weirdest thing I’d ever tried in a restaurant – it was entitled ripe mango, cold curry, herbs and seeds. I always look forward to my dessert but this left me feeling very unhappy – it was quite spicy and savoury which is just not how a pudding should be!
I was pleasantly surprised when the waitress came out with a chocolate pudding to wish me a happy birthday – which was more satisfying. On the whole we had a lovely evening and some of the courses were very delicious but it just wasn’t really our style of food. As they say you win some, you lose some!
It was finally time to fly home but we still managed to get one more paella in, happy days! 😊 We opted for another seafood paella but this time it had some massive langoustines in so we got a bit messy.
We had a wonderful trip away and if you love Spanish food I would highly recommend Valencia.