Number Six – Valencia
Valencia is pretty much three great cities in one.
1) The gorgeous walled old town, home to everything you would expect of such a place. Incredible cathedral, imposing entrance gates, a variety of spired churches, cobbled squares, romantic tapas bars, ornate fountains, a lively fruit & veg market. Ideal for just roaming.
It even has a cider bar – we paid a visit and had a go at pouring the drink from a great height, as is the tradition there.Paella Valenciana is also of course a must in its home city – plenty of restaurants to choose where to eat it. Another delicacy is a sweet milk drink accompanied by finger shaped doughnut sticks, amusingly called fartons. The idea is to dip the farton in the drink so it soaks it up before eating the calorific sweet.
2) The port and beach area. A slow tram ride from town takes you to golden sands, trendy beachfront bars & cafés, a millionaires yacht club & marina and lovely promenade. We had the massive good fortune to visit during the 2007 Americas Cup yachting competition. The free jamboree providing great music, a tall ships parade and the serious business of the competition itself.The Americas Cup was in fact the excuse the city needed to clean up the port and an excellent job they did too.
The area was also used once a year as a Formula One Grand Prix circuit. Five Grand Prix were held there from 2008-2012 until the contract to hold them came to an end. This however saw yet more money pouring in to beautify the area even more.
3) The futuristic Science Park and Oceanarium. Think Sir Norman Foster, think water fountains, think glass & metal structures, think the bizarre.
We skipped the planetarium, science museum and other pillars of learning, to head for the simply fantastic oceanarium. Home of great whites, beluga whales, delicate seahorses, conga eels and sting rays, the undoubted stars of the whole show were the dolphins. We all shed thirty-odd years at the magical dolphin show, clapping and squealing like demented seals!Just one word of warning – the city does attract a few posers. Check this guy out who I filmed whilst there!
Number Five – Cordoba
A small city it may be, but it is home to two world class attractions – the Moorish mosque known as the Mezquita and the imposing Alcazaar (palace) with its wonderful gardens that rival Granada’s Generalife.
The Mezquita is particularly spectacular with its internal web of red and white arches spanning its entirety. The mihrab is ornately spellbinding.
A catholic church has invaded some of its space. Sacrilege really, but adding to the unique nature of the place.
For the ghoulish, you have the torture museum with implements dating back to the Spanish Inquisition (I was horrified to find out what an iron maiden was).
We went in June when the whole place was a riot of colourful flowers.
Take in the show at the Spanish Riding School too, but avoid the temptation to see second rate flamenco.
Number Four – Santiago de Compostela
Pilgrims & Aids
Santiago is also a great city to visit for those intent on a less energetic arrival.
The enormous Cathedral of Santiago (Saint James) is a wonder of Europe. The building of the present structure started in 1075 and is around 100 metres long.
On a recurring theme, there is a real medieval feel about the place, not least due to the vaulted stone verandas that traverse the old town giving handy shelter to the frequent rains.
The whole city oozes spirituality. The weather was commonly cloudy for the three days we spent there, but this absolutely expressed the mood in an entirely positive way.
In a move away from contemplation and deep thought, there are some great tapas bars and warming cafés to lighten the mood.