Embrace the Mediterranean way of life, for better and for worse. A gentle sea breeze and fair weather. Sunbathers on the beach nearly all year long. Sip a local wine, snack on olives, enjoy your mid-afternoon siesta. Valencians live a quintessentially Mediterranean lifestyle, and it shapes their culture in big and small ways. While the city beach is inconveniently outside the city center, there is no pleasure quite like enjoying a caña beer, some tapas, and a meandering conversation with friends by the seaside. Of course, Valencia also shares many of the more unfortunate clichés of a Mediterranean way of life. In summer, its beaches and bars are full of hedonistic, day-tripping “guiri” foreigners. Valencians are laid back and informal, and, whether you like it or not, the pace here is often slow. So sit back and relax. There’s no point in being in a rush.
Enjoy the freshness of the Spanish Mediterranean diet. The city is surrounded by “L’horta de València,” fields of orchards and fresh produce that you will hear locals gush about. Definitely take a basket and shop for large, delicious Valencian tomatoes or other seasonal fruits and vegetables at the Mercat Central. Get a taste of the regional “chufa” nut culture by trying the sweet, milky Valencian horchata drink traditionally accompanied by long, glazed fartons pastries. Valencia is a delight for those who love fresh food.
Celebrate Fallas all year long. The Fallas festival is to Valencia what Carnaval is to Rio de Janeiro or Mardi Gras is to New Orleans. It’s a big deal. If you visit in the middle of March, you will see a city transformed by colorful parades, neighborhood festivities, wondrous fireworks, and streets full of flammable, satirical effigies, or falla monuments, that play out local humor, innuendo, and social commentary. But what was once a spring festival of renewal now shapes Valencian life and activities all year long. The neighborhood associations of falleros, called casals, meet in weekly socials and spend the entire year planning the March events. Local Valencian craft industries, above all pyrotechnic engineers, traditional dressmakers, and falla artists, work tirelessly to ensure that next year’s Fallas festival is more impressive and more original than the last.
Falla monuments from 2014’s festival. Photo by: David Aparicio
Don’t mess with Valencians’ pride, which can be both endearing and parochial. Perhaps it’s third-city mentality, forced to always compare oneself with bigger and more cosmopolitan Madrid and Barcelona. Perhaps it’s that Valencia has under-appreciated exceptional foods and festivities and has long been overlooked as a tourist destination. Or it could just be a symptom of Valencians’ agrarian provincialism. Nothing gets a Valencian more excited than discussing the greatness of the local food and Fallas. When talking about Valencia, locals will regularly exclaim in the local dialect that it’s the best in the world, “lo millor del món!”
Don’t forget that paella is from Valencia. Nothing irritates a Valencian gastronome more than the abuse and misuse of the menu label paella valenciana abroad, or even in other parts of Spain. Frustration and outrage has even fueled a Wikipaella project to correct the record. What’s more, paella valenciana is just one of dozens of traditional paella recipes, most notably the seafood paella de marisco and arroz negro, or black rice, a paella cooked in squid’s ink. And paella is part of a much more extensive rice culture that includes arroz al horno, or oven-baked rice; a rice dish cooked in broth, or arroz caldoso; and the rice-stuffed red peppers called pimiento relleno. A word to the wise: if you see a restaurant in a touristy area with the paella pan sitting in its entryway, chances are no local would ever eat there. Try one of the three famous paella arrocería restaurants located at the Malvarrosa city beach.