By Lucy Rawlings, Travel Deputy Editor
The Croft Magazine // On Spain's east coast, Valencia is a delightful city of high culture and sandy beaches. But what about its surroundings?
Valencia is a wonderful destination, but once you’ve enjoyed the busting metropolitan life, you might be ready to explore some of the surrounding countryside. One of the easiest destinations is the Albufera Natural Park. The park is centred around the Albufera, the largest lake on the Iberian Peninsula, and offers the perfect opportunity to escape the fast pace of city life. As the birthplace of paella, you can’t miss tasting the local dish in one of the dozen restaurants of El Palmar and El Saler: traditional villages surrounding the lake. At Bon Aire, you can enjoy a traditional Valencian paella (for lunch not dinner!) surrounded by rice fields.
"As the birthplace of paella, you can’t miss tasting the local dish in one of the dozen restaurants of El Palmar and El Saler: traditional villages surrounding the lake."
Further afield is Xátiva, though still accessible by train (35 minutes from La Estació del Nord). It’s a town steeped in history, and its castle is perched on a double-peaked hill overlooking the city. You can easily spend a few hours walking along its wall, wandering around the patios and photographing the fountains, vegetation and flowering plants. Take a stroll back down to enjoy Arabic sweets and arroz al horno (oven-baked rice with pork and potatoes). Venturing even further south, take a trip to the beautiful Calpe (‘Calp’ to the locals). Once an ancient fishing village, Calpe has now transformed into an upmarket resort, but remains true to its scenic origins. One of its attractions is the towering rock of Ifach (Penon De Ifach), which the more adventurous among us can take up the opportunity to climb. It’s an adrenaline filled hike, with genuinely dangerous sections, but once you reach the summit, you’re able to enjoy panoramic views of the town and sparkling Mediterranean Sea. And, after reaching the summit, you can head back down and cool off in the crystal-clear waters and enjoy some snorkelling or diving in the rocky alcoves along the coast. If you’re exhausted, just relax on one of the exceptional sandy beaches.
Heading north to the region of Castellón, Peñiscola is a postcard-perfect destination, filled with winding cobbled streets. This town is located on Costa del Azahar (aka the ‘Cherry Blossom Coast’) and is a Game of Thrones filming location… for good reason. At its stunning Templar Castle, placed high on a rock overlooking the sea, you feel you’ve stepped back in time. Not only is there an amazing history to this town, but there’s also outstanding natural beauty. Take a walk along the miles of sandy beaches or begin a slightly more challenging hike along one of the many trails to discover the true beauty of this area. The views are spectacular. Besides the castle, also look for Casa de las Conchas, a house with the facade completely covered in shells. And hear ‘El Bufador’, a curious sound made by the waves when hitting a rocky cavity.
Featured Image: Epigram / Lucy Rawlings