Continuing my countdown having already covered numbers ten to fifteen (7. Segovia 8. Bilbao 9. Madrid 10. Toledo 11. Cadiz 12. Vitoria-Gasteiz 13. Palma, 14. Denia & 15. Malaga).
Number Six – Valencia
Valencia is pretty much three great cities in one.
1) Valencia Old Town
The gorgeous walled old town is 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 I 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.
There is also an atmospheric covered market, where apart from buying food, getting weighed seems to be a popular leisure pursuit!
2) Valencia Port
The port and beach area is a slow tram ride from town which 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 America’s Cup, the world’s premier yachting competition. The free jamboree providing great music, a tall ships parade and the serious business of the competition itself.
It was held in Valencia as the tradition is that the defending champions host the event following their victory. A Swiss team had won in Auckland against all the odds in 2003 and with Lake Geneva not being a suitable venue, Valencia was chosen as the host.
The America’s Cup was in fact the excuse the city needed to clean up the port and an excellent job they did too. It was to be held there again in 2010 as the Swiss were triumphant against the Kiwis once more, before relinquishing the grand prize to an American crew.
The area was also used once a year as a Formula One Grand Prix circuit back then. 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) Valencia Science Park
The futuristic Science Park and Oceanarium is home to some fantastic architecture. 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, conger eels and stingrays, 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!
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 Alcazar (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.
If you venture there, you should take in the show at the Spanish Riding School too, but avoid the temptation to see second rate flamenco.
Number Four – Santiago de Compostela
Most famous for being the main destination on the Camino de Santiago (Santiago Way), the 780 KM Catholic pilgrimage route from near Biarritz in France. The really hardy actually carry on a further 90 KM to Finisterre (land’s end) on the Atlantic Coast, probably best known as a shipping forecast location.
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.