At the centre of Spain's Mediterranean coast, Valencia has much more to offer than just oranges ....
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The Region of Valencia 

the heart of Mediterranean Spain 


On this page:  Alicante and Costa Blanca Province of Valencia Province of Castellon
 Peniscola

  Orange, green, blue and white - Valencia is a region full of colour

Caceres - vue depuis les ramparts
La région de Valence produit un tiers des agrumes de toute l'Europe
It is surely oranges that are today the iconic symbols of the Valencia region, or to give it its official name, the Valencian Community.
  Spain produces almost two thirds of Europe's citrus fruit - oranges, lemons, grapefruit and so on -  and the Valencia region accounts for about 57% of the Spanish production.
  But although  groves of oranges and lemons have become the stereotyped image of the Valencian landscape, the region is really much more diverse than that. The orange groves are located on the coastal plain and in the foothills of the mountains; but they do not constitute anything like a regional monoculture. The fertile lands of the province of Valencia also produce rice, grapes, loquats (Japanese medlar) and even dates; and the diversity of the fruit grown in the Valencia region reflects the area's  cultural wealth, its climate and its history.


Terminology:
Region of Valencia
: the Autonomous Community of Valencia, including three provinces. Province of Valencia - the central county of the Autonomous Community. Valencia:the city, capital of the province and region..

A bit of history and more


 All along the Spanish coast, human habitation can be traced back to the prehistoric period. In the region of Valencia, there remain some traces, including Paleolithic or Neolithic sites, in the hills north of Castellon or west of Valencia ***. More interesting are the remains of the Iberian culture that still exist today in this region. Several impressive archaeological sites show the remains of this pre-Roman culture, including the ruins of cities and fortifications perched on hills overlooking the coastal plain, such as Castellet Bernabé * in Llíria. Many prehistoric artefacts can be seen in the Museum of Prehistory of Valencia *, one of the largest prehistoric museums in Spain.
   After the Iberian period, the region of Valencia was occupied by the Phoenicians and then the Romans who gave the city of Valencia its name, calling it Valentia Edetanorum: but most of the vestiges of that era have disappeared with the many transformations of the city of Valencia over the centuries. The best Roman remains - including a newly renovated theater - are to be seen in the city of Sagunto * further north.
Elche / Elx palms
the palm groves of Elche
      From the 8th to the 13th century, the region of Valencia was occupied by the Moors; there are still many traces of Moorish Spain in Valencia and other places around the province; among these, the most interesting are surely the palm groves of Elche ** (UNESCO world heritage site), among the largest in the world and the only substantial palm groves in Europe. There have been palm groves at Elche since Roman times or earlier, but it was the Moors who greatly expanded and developed them
  In the Middle Ages the kingdom of Valencia was the scene of struggles between Moors and Christians, until the Christians - under the king James 1st of Aragon, took over much of the province in 1238.
  In Valencia, the most famous medieval monuments are the cathedral, with its hexagonal Gothic tower and the two beautiful medieval city gates, the Torres del Quart and the Torres del Serrano. Elsewhere in the province of Valencia, two of the best medieval sites to visit are the famous Templar Castle, overlooking the sea in Peniscola, *** and *** walled city of Morella ** in the mountains of the province of Castellon.
   Apart from these, the region of Valencia has many historic monuments that are worth visiting; among the more interesting of these are the castles of Xativa ** south of Valencia and Sagunto north of Valencia, or the castles of Biar * and Atalaya **  50 km north of Alicante.
   Besides these historic monuments, the Valencia region also contains many villages and small towns that are less well known and often less crowded. Among the most beautiful, perched among rocks overlooking a turquoise-blue lake, is the white village of El Castell de Guadalest ***. This pretty hilltop village is close enough to the beach resorts of the Costa Blanca to draw in crowds of day-trippers during the tourist season; but it is a place with considerable charm, and is well worth a visit.
Blue tiled domes
Blue-tiled domes are a feature of Valencian baroque  architecture as here at Oliva 
  The small town of Oliva *, south of Valencia, is also worth a look. Like many small towns in the area, the old quarter is a maze of narrow streets with whitewashed houses, as in Andalusia. The old town is dominated by the ruins of a castle and has one of those beautiful Valencian baroque churches  with blue-tiled cupolas, as in Valencia, Denia or Altéa and other cities. But unlike Altea and Denia, Oliva is not very touristy; though on the coast, it is a city without large hotels, but with beautiful sandy beaches.
   The blue domes are a hallmark of Valencian baroque architecture of the eighteenth century and beyond.
   Note that the region of Valencia is a bilingual region; there are two official languages,  Valencian Catalan and also Spanish (Castilian). Road signs and other information often give place names in both languages, such Castelló / Castellón, Alicante / Alacant, or Xàbia / Jàvea.

Province of Alicante and the Costa Blanca

  The southernmost province of the Valencian region, the province of Alicante / Alacant is one of the main tourist regions of Spain; but as everywhere on the Mediterranean coast, the tourist area - with hotels, golf courses and other attractions - occupies only the coastal strip. Popular seaside resorts such as Benidorm or Villajoyosa attract crowds of tourists between June and September; but there is more to the province of Alicante than just its resorts.
   Even around Alicante, where the coastal plain is wide and sufficiently developed, the beaches are not the only attraction. The town of Elche / Elx ** has Europe's only large palm grove  - a UNESCO listed site: and south of Elche are two small natural parks, including the park of Salinas de Santa Pola * where, as in the Camargue you can admire resident populations of graceful pink flamingos.

  North of Alicante, the coastal plain narrows, leaving only a small band of heavily developed suburban sprawl. Beyond Altéa, the mountains come down to the sea. From Calp  to Javea / Xàbia *, the rocky coast and its direct hinterland have been heavily developed with holiday villas and apartments. Half of the population here is foreign, and the local economy is strongly geared to tourism; in towns and villages visitors are just as likely to find an English or German supermarket, a Chinese restaurant or a beautiful Russian Orthodox church, as a traditional Spanish bodega. Nonetheless, even outside major real estate developments, there are still some great relatively unspoilt beaches, like the small beach at Granadilla, near Cabo de la Nau.
   At the northwest corner of the province, the old coastal town of Xàbia / Jàvea * still remains one of the major fishing ports on the Mediterranean coast of Spain. And unlike the Cabo de la Nau, south of the city, the Cap Sant Antoni, just north of Jàvea, is protected as part of the Montgo natural park.
  The interior of the province of Alicante is quite different from the coast; it is an area of rocky mountains sufficiently watered to allow, in the fertile valleys between the dry and arid coasts, the growing of fruit and vegetables. There are large expanses of olive groves and vineyards, often on the terraced lower slopes of the hills.
  These hills have been inhabited since prehistoric times, and prehistoric paintings have been found in several places. These include the Sarga Caves**, near Alcoy: these famous cave paintings can be visited on the first and third Sunday of the month from March to November, between 10 am and 1 pm..
  Other places of interest in the vicinity of Alcoy include the imposing medieval castles of Biar and Atalaya * in Villena. The castle of Biar is open Wednesday to Sunday morning from 10am to 1pm and late afternoon on Saturday and Sunday. Atalaya Castle in Villena is open every morning except Monday.
Castell de Guadalest
The top of the village at Castell de Guadalest
      For lovers of hiking and nature, we can recommend the Sierra de Aitana **, about 10 km northwest of Benidorm. Hiking trails leave from the villages of Benifato, Confrides and Sella. The massif rises to over 1500m, and on clear days offers spectacular views of the coast. For details, see the official tourist map (pdf). Close to Benifato is the beautiful small white village of Castell de Guadalest ***, built around a rock. While quite touristy, the village now has its small museums - including a museum of traditional housing, and many cafes and restaurants; but except at the height of the tourist season, it is an enchanting place that deserves a visit.




The province of Valencia

The Valencia province occupies the central and most populated part of the region of Valencia. It extends from  Oliva in the south to Sagunto in the north and Utiel in the west.
  With a metropolitan area of ​​1.5 million inhabitants, the city of Valencia *** is the third largest city in Spain after Madrid and Barcelona.
  More urban and less dependent on tourism than the provinces of Alicante and Castellon, the province of Valencia nevertheless has plenty to offer, including Valencia itself, as well as plenty of good sandy beaches.
  Fairly easy to reach by road, high-speed train or air, Valencia is an ideal destination for a city break - a long weekend or short week. The city contains many museums, including the impressive Fine Arts museum ** with its beautiful collection of Spanish painting, including works by El Greco, Velázquez, Murillo and Goya. Admission is free. 500 meters from the Fine Arts Museum are the Museum of Prehistory *, the Museum of Ethnology and the Valencian Museum of Modern Art *: Valencia's modern art collection is built around the works of two great Valencian artists, Julio Gonzales, and impressionist painter Ignacio Pinazo: it also contains works by Klee, Calder, Arp and Picabia, among others.

Valencia science museum
Valencia Science museum - Photo José Alhambra   
Between the old town and the port of Valencia, is the famous City of Arts and Sciences ***. It's an exciting complex, which includes not only one of the best science museums in Europe, but also Europe's largest oceanographic park *** , including aquariums contain over 500 species of fish and sea creatures.
  Two kilometers from Valencia center (metro station Nou d'Octubre) is the  Bioparc ** zoo, which has a large number of animals in a natural environment as possible. Bioparc Valencia has been ranked among the top five zoos in Europe.
  In addition to its museums, Valencia offers other interesting sites, the most important being Santa Maria cathedral** with its interesting hexagonal tower, El Miguelete **, completed in the year 1429. Those who climb the 207 steps up to the top of the tower will be rewarded with a beautiful view over the rooftops of the old city and beyond to the sea and the Valencian countryside. Among many other sites of the old city, of particular note are the covered market, the 15th century Silk exchange,  and the old medieval city gates, the Torres del Serrano * and the Torres del Quart *, which are all what remains of the ancient city walls. You can view or download the official plan of the old town of Valencia here (pdf file), and the plan of Valencia metro here.
  Elsewhere in the province of Valencia, the city of Sagunt / Sagunto *, half an hour's train ride north of Valencia, is worth a visit. . The old town, with its narrow streets, and Roman theatre ( rather too renovated) is located at the foot of the imposing citadel. Access to the fortress is free, and visitors can wander among the remains of the fortifications of Roman and Moorish origin.
  South of Valencia, and also accessible by train, the town of Cullera is a classic seaside resort. Unlike tourist urbanizaciones of the Costa Blanca, Cullera is a decidedly Spanish seaside town. The Valencians and Madrileños come here on vacation, and the city offers beautiful sandy beaches. The roads and rail line friom Valencia to Cullera cross an area of paddy fields, which produce the rice used in traditional Valencian cuisine, notably paellas. The old town of Cullera is dominated by the remains of the Moorish fortress. Between Cullera and Gandia, the immediate coastline is fairly developed , but behind the thin strip of villas and modern apartment blocks is an active agricultural area with orange groves and market gardens.
Oliva
The beach at Oliva, on a hazy summer's day
Beyond Gandia, the coast is less developed. Before the building of the  AP7 motorway, the absence of a railway line made this part of the Valencian coast less accessible than most. Thus the small town of Oliva *, with its narrow streets lined with whitewashed houses, and the ruins of its castle, is a typical Spanish small town.  Its seaside area has grown up without large apartment blocks and hotels. Once an industrial town noted for its bricks and tiles, the town also has an interesting industrial heritage in the form of collection of redbrick factory chimneys that show the skills of its erstwhile brickmakers.
  The province of Valencia has several natural protected areas, the most interesting being the Albufera Natural Park **, just south of the city of Valencia. With its 24 km² lagoon and its 200 square kilometers of rice fields, it is one of the most important wetlands in Spain and Europe. The park is crossed by the CV 500 coastal road from Valencia to Cullera. At the tourist information center of the park, an observation tower allows visitors to admire the lagoon, the rice fields, and numerous bird species that live there.  .
 

The province of Castelló / Castellon,

The province of Castellon  extends from just north of Sagunto to the border with Catalonia, a few kilometers south of the delta of the Ebro. The industrial town of Castellon / Castello, with its oil port,  is the center of an important agricultural region producing citrus, almonds and vegetables.
   North of Castellon, the coast is lined with tourist developments, a sprawl of hotels, apartment blocks and villas; Benicassim and Oropesa * are medium-sized resorts attracting visitors from all over Europe: but north of Oropesa there are about 30 km of relatively undeveloped coastline, between the Prat de Cabanes-Torreblanca - a natural wetland - and the Sierra de Irta Natural Park , a steep and rocky coastal area. Midway along this coast, which is known as the  Costa del Azahar, the small seaside resort of Alcossebre has developed without the excesses of some other resorts, and few large apartment blocks.
Peniscola
Lighthouse and roofs in the old town of Peniscola, seen from the castle   
  North of the Sierra de Irta is the jewel in the Costa del Azahar, the old town of Peñiscola ***. Perched on a rocky peninsula, Peniscola has long been one of the bastions of the Mediterranean coast, successively occupied by the Iberians, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans and Moors, before being incorporated into the Kingdom of Aragon, after the Reconquest in the thirteenth century.
   The city is dominated by its medieval castle, once a stronghold of the Knights Templar: the castle was renovated and even partially enlarged in the 1960s as a location for the filming of the Hollywood blockbuster El Cid;  but it remains, with its Templar museum  an enchanting place. The old town is a maze of narrow pedestrian streets lined with souvenir shops, restaurants and small craft stores. The gardens of the castle, overlooking the sea, are an idyllic place.
 Protected on three sides by the sea, and on the remaining side by its walls, the old town of Peñiscola is a jewel; but this is not the only city in the province of Castellon to have preserved its old fortifications. Fifty kilometers away,  the inland town of Morella *** is one of the many
Morella
The town of Morella,circled by ramparts and crowned by its castle
hidden treasures of Spain. Standing at almost 1000 meters above sea level, it dominates a wild and sparsely populated area, and formerly protected  one of the roads leading to the Valencia region from Aragon. Even today, much of the city remains confined within 2.5 kilometers of ramparts that encircle the hill crowned by an impressive castle of medieval origin. Built on steep slopes, and enclosed by its walls, the town is largely traffic-free ; on the main street, lined with arcades, there are cafes, restaurants and shops; but tourism here has not denatured the city. Access to the castle is  through the cloisters of the former San Francisco convent, whose chapterhouse has a remarkable 15th century Dance of Death fresco. From here, the track takes visitors on a  zig-zag route up to the summit. In use until the 19th century, the castle has retained some vestiges of buildings of earlier times; but the climb to the top, by stairs, gates and defensive tunnel worthwhile. The reward for climbing the few hundred metres to the parade ground at the top, is magnificent views over  the town and the surrounding countryside.

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Region of Valencia

Faire comprendre aux touristes...Roadsign in the old town of Oropesa... making a clear statement for disbelieving tourists ....?

Snow in Valencia
Reputed for its sunshine and warm climate, Valencia can be quite cold at times in winter, specially inland. 


Fresco Dance of Death
Fifteenth century Dance of death fresco  in the San Francisco convent,  Morella
Valencia region-
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Nisperos
Nisperos - an exotic and tasty fruit grown on the Costa Blanca. Also known as Japanese medlars.


Homards pêchés au large de Javea
In the fishing port at Javea, a fisherman hands over his morning's catch of lobsters


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