For our final leg of our time in Spain, we visited a city I had wanted to see for many years: Valencia! It’s a city set on the east coast of Spain, which means it has a warm atmosphere and has had a rich history over the years as part of many of the empires that settled the Iberian peninsula over time (including the Umayyad Caliphate, a group of Muslim leaders who imparted some incredible architecture across southern Spain).
For our first day in Valencia, we started with a nice walk through the old part of town. We loved the mix of sunshine, winding streets, and palm trees. The architecture itself is also beautiful – I love the windows in particular (especially those with the ornate frames and the ones with beautiful window baskets with flowers!).
As we wandered, we stopped for our first Valencian treat – empanadas! There were actually quite a few cafes with empanadas available, with flavors including cheese, tomato, spinach and tuna, kebab, and “Argentinean”. I tried a kebab, while my fiance (who studied abroad in Argentina) opted for the Argentinean.
The empanadas were good – definitely a hearty snack to start the day! After that, our first stop was the Silk Museum, which houses an interesting collection of silk clothing and tapestries – everything from clothing to shoes to bedding! Much of the information provided chronicled the history of silk production in Valencia, the silk trade as it related to Valencia’s economy, and a couple stories about famous individuals in Valencia’s silk economy – including one man who either killed his family or ran away and faked his own murder (it was slightly unclear) to avoid some debts. Either way, an entertaining insight! The highlight of the museum was a collection of beautifully preserved garments (no photos allowed) – many of which were beautiful black silk, housed in a gorgeous room with incredible tile details on the floor.
The silk museum ticket gave us access to a couple other Valencia sites (the Santos Juanes church as well as the famous San Nicolás cathedral); since Santos Juanes closes early, we made a beeline there to ensure we could see it. Along the way, we stumbled upon a couple amazing sights. The first was the old market of Valencia, which is housed in a building with ornate tilework and a lovely dome (one side is also made of a distinctive-looking brick).
Inside, the market offers pretty much everything you can imagine – fresh fish (the seafood really looked incredible; they some of the most vibrant shrimp – in multiple colors from light pink to orange to deep red), fresh meat, cured meats (like Iberico ham), vegetables, and of course, wine.
The interior of the market was beautiful as well, with similar tilework on the interior sides and dome.
After the market, we ducked into the Santos Juanes church which was undergoing restoration (it seemed like most of the sights downtown were). Even despite that, we could appreciate the lovely frescoes on the ceiling and the ornate marble on the interior walls.
After Santos Juanes, we stumbled upon another must-see in Valencia: the old silk market. According to the Silk Museum, the silk market was a central gathering point in Valencia given how important the silk trade was to the local economy.
The interior of the silk market is incredible – amazing arched ceilings and beautiful columns. You can just picture the activity that would have happened here.
The silk market also has an amazing garden and a beautiful second floor that provides a great view of the surrounding area of the city.
After the silk market, we decided to grab lunch and sought out something slightly non-traditional. Due to Spain’s proximity to north Africa, there are a fair number of great Moroccan restaurants in Valencia. We decided to try one, walking to a new neighborhood past the old market and the back side of Santos Juanes on the way.
Despite literally being on our way to lunch, we ended up passing a restaurant that our hotel had recommended, which serves Basque-style pintxos and other small tapas. Not wanting to miss anything, we decided to stop briefly and share a couple pintxos: cheese with preserves, chorizo, pan con tomate and a croquette. We paired it with vermouth, which was a nice bite!
After our brief snack stop, we continued on, passing one of Valencia’s main museums and some great street art.
We loved the street views on the way to the restaurant.
Finally, we arrived at the restaurant. It was decorated with a variety of items I remembered from my time in Morocco, including wooden mirrors inlaid with glass and stones, wall coverings, and beautiful dark woods. We decided to try the “degustation” menu, which was 15 euros a person; we also shared a half bottle of Moroccan wine.
The first course was an amazing duo of spicy eggplant puree and hummus with a traditional Moroccan flatbread, accompanied by a salad.
Second course was a fried pastry, filled with a curry-spiced chicken (apologies for photo quality and the dirty plate!).
Third course was an amazing couscous with a different spiced chicken as well as sweet onions / raisins, accompanied with a savory sauce. At this point, we obviously were getting full, but the best was yet to come!
The final main course was a tagine, with fresh beef and almonds.
Of course, they finished the meal with a dessert (a chocolate filled, deep fried pastry and baclava) and mint tea.
Overall, an incredible meal and definitely an amazing re-introduction to Moroccan food! After our meal, we headed back to the hotel to freshen up for a bit, passing the Ceramics Museum on the way.
As usual, Valencia’s architecture was beautiful on the way back to the hotel.
After freshening up, we got a bit bored and decided to venture out for a cocktail before dinner. We ended up at Apotheke, which is a speakeasy with a well-decorated interior and creative cocktails.
Each signature cocktail had a theme (the one I tried was “perfume” themed, but they had one that was “bathtub” themed an served in a cute little tub with bubbles) was paired with a specific flavor / tasting bite. The perfume cocktail was paired with a very thinly sliced scallop topped with spices, which was a nice complement to the herbaceous flavor of the cocktail. We also tried a lightly seared tuna “bao” which was delicious.
After the speakeasy, we were beyond full – but, my fiance wanted to try a couple more tapas to ensure we tried them before we left Spain, so we found a cute little bar a couple blocks away. Ultimately, we tried the chorizo in sidra (one of my favorites from Barcelona), patatas bravas (pretty disappointing – they didn’t really have the ‘bravas’ part) and gambas al ajillo (shrimp cooked with garlic oil).
Despite the low quality photos, they were good bites and a great way to end our first day in Valencia! After that, we meandered back to the hotel where we tucked our very full selves into bed.