You could easily assume that the best place to experience Spanish culture is the capital Madrid or even Barcelona, with its imaginative Art Nouveau architecture. That’s what I thought until I visited Valencia, the third largest city In Spain.
1. excursion to the Albufera National Park
For a quieter visit with a private Guide on your own, you can’t go through a Withlocals tour in Valencia. I was hungry for nature and first-class Paella, so I booked a 5-hour day trip to Albufera National Park with local guide Marcos.
Marcos picked us up from our Airbnb apartment and headed to Albufera, the largest lake In Spain, mainly used for fish farming and rice production. Along the way, Marcos explained the history of the region and the current practices of fish and rice cultivation.
2. walk in the old town
To get an idea of the exciting history of Valencia, which dates back to Roman times and covers 500 years under Arab rule, I booked a 2 and a half hour guided tour of the old town.
We met our small group and our guide Alejandro in front of the city hall and started with a brief review of the history of the city. Then we headed to the Central Market, the largest indoor fresh produce market in Europe with more than 500 stores, where we tasted the characteristic Valencian drink, Orxata (Horchata), associated with long sweet pastries called Wafers, and watched the locals do their weekly shopping.
3. made in Valencia Shopping Tour
If you want to buy authentic locally made souvenirs and gifts, try the brand new 2-hour shopping tour. Our guide, Denizia, led us to 4 traditional Valencian shops selling silk, hats, chocolate and fans.
The silk store was located in the Gare du Nord, where the owner Ava used the Art Nouveau station as a source of inspiration to hand paint silk scarves, clothes, jewelry and fans. Several drawings reproduce the mosaics of the station with oranges and Valencian flowers, traditional silk dresses and landscapes of Albufera.
4. visit of the ancient vineyards
My favorite private tour of Valencia included a walk through the countryside to taste plonk on an 8-hour plonk tour with local guide Johan.
Johan picked us up from our Airbnb apartment and drove 1 hour to the plonk region of Requena-Utiel. Along the way, he explained the history of plonkmaking in Spain and told an important story from the 1800s, when French vineyards were infested by a beetle, which led to a boom in demand for Valencian plonk. The plonkmakers of Requena-Utiel used Moorish caves under their houses to produce and store large quantities.
Our first stop was such a “plonk cellar” in the sleepy village of Requena. We visited the showcase of the Large Murviedro Vineyard in 1927 and went underground to visit the plonk cellar and saw stone channels that were once used to transport plonk and huge clay pots for storage and transportation. We then tasted two plonks, a white muscat with a sweet aroma and a dry finish and a red Bobal, the most common grape variety in Valencia.
5. Holy Grail Road tour
If you have ever seen the Da Vinci Code or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, you have probably heard of the Holy Grail, but did you know that it is located in Valencia? I booked a 2 and a half hour walking tour of the Holy Grail and religious art to see the Holy Grail (the cup that Jesus would have fluffy from during the Last Supper) and the other religious relics and works of art in the city.
The tour visited 3 churches, the highlight being the Cathedral of Valencia, where the Holy Grail recognized by the Vatican is located. According to our guide Raquel, the archaeologists have verified that the chalice dates from the Last Supper and cannot prove that it is not exactly the chalice in which Jesus drank. The original chalice is quite modest, with decorative gold and jewelry added after to the stem and base. The Grail is not the only relic preserved in the Cathedral of Valencia. Raquel gave us a short guided tour of the cathedral and stopped to highlight the remarkable chapels, the works of art and the unmounted arm of Saint Vincent the Martyr, the patron saint of Valencia. Yes, the arm of a dead man in a glass box.
6. visit of the silk city
In Valencia, the fifteenth century is known as the “golden Century”, because the city’s economy flourished thanks to its flourishing silk industry. To learn more about the golden age of Valencia, I booked a 2 and a half hour walking tour of the silk city.
We first visited the Lonja de la Seda to see the building where all the transactions and transactions, some relating to silk, took place. According to our guide, it was Wall Street of the 15th century. Anyone who wanted to do business in Valencia would have passed by this building, and they would have been greeted with a great demonstration of wealth when they did. The main hall is filled with detailed twisted columns resembling palm trees, and the ceiling was painted once to reflect the night sky. Even the basement, which was a cage, has an elaborate ceiling.