View from Papa Luna Castle rooftop in Peñíscola — Photo courtesy of Lavanya Sunkara
Aromatic paella, recognized worldwide for its flavors and colorful presentation, originates from the Valencia region of Spain. It's a dish meant to be shared with loved ones, akin to the wonderful experiences this lush coastal landscape offers.
Hugging the Mediterranean Sea, the community of Valencia is abundant with olive tree-dotted hills, medieval castles, pristine beaches, and some of the country's prettiest towns. Its hilltop villages brim with cultural and culinary offerings while the city of Valencia has a delightful intermingling of the ancient and the modern.
As a couple, there is so much to experience in the Castellón, Alicante, and Valencia provinces of Valencia. Here are 10 things to add to your itinerary.
1. Walk Valencia's Old Town
North Station in the city of Valencia — Photo courtesy of Turismo Valencia
Travel back in time in the city of Valencia's Ciutat Vella (Old Town), where Gothic, modernist and Baroque-style buildings are within walking distance. Founded in 138 B.C., the city prides itself in preserved edifices that escaped the ravages of war.
Admire the stunning architecture of the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange), and the 13th-century Saint Mary's Cathedral featuring Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles. The North Station, built in the early 20th century, is striking with its modernist facade and countryside scenes depicted in colorful Moorish ceramics.
2. Shop Central Market in historic Valencia
Central Market in the city of Valencia — Photo courtesy of Turismo Valencia
Touted as Europe's oldest food marketplace, the Central Market from the early 20th century offers everything from fresh produce, cheeses and olives to fresh fish. Bathed in natural light, the iron and stained glass structure is delightful with mosaics of the produce of the region.
With 300 stalls to browse, save an afternoon to fully take in the wares, sip horchata and grab a bite.
3. Enjoy a bike ride through the City of Arts and Sciences
Biking through the City of Arts and Sciences — Photo courtesy of Turismo Valencia
Take a guided bike ride with Doyoubike through Jardi Del Turia (River Park) to the highlight of Valencia: the City of Arts and Sciences. The avant-garde buildings of the Opera House, Hemisfèric (IMAX Cinema), Oceanogràfic and Ágora designed by Valencia native Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela beckon with their futuristic shapes.
The pearly white buildings shine above turquoise pools, their skeletal structures giving off a Flintstones-meets-Jetsons vibe.
4. Have a fairy tale getaway in Xàtiva
Xàtiva Castle catches the sunlight — Photo courtesy of Lavanya Sunkara
In the province of Valencia, Xàtiva first gained prominence for its paper manufacturing in the 11th century, and subsequently for the two Borgia Popes it produced. Xàtiva Castle, featuring two awe-inspiring fortresses with Moorish and Gothic design styles, stretches for half a mile.
Whether you're looking to renew your vows or have a destination wedding, the castle makes for a magical setting.
5. Admire contemporary art in Vilafamés
Village of Vilafamés — Photo courtesy of Lavanya Sunkara
An hour north from Valencia along the Roman route lies Vilafamés, a hilltop village surrounded by craggy mountains where remains of neanderthals were discovered. Charming balconies adorned with blooming flowers and vines snaking up walls are a welcoming sight in this community of local artists.
Admire the beautiful church built on the side of a cliff and the remains of a 15th-century palace, and stop by the Museu d'Art Contemporani Vicente Aguilera Cerni, the second biggest contemporary museum in Spain, featuring 500 pieces of artwork.
Follow in the footsteps of Don Quixote on this photo tour
Follow in the footsteps of Don Quixote on this photo tour
6. Cook with black truffles in Morella
Cooking with black truffles at Casa Roque — Photo courtesy of Casa Roque
Sitting atop a truncated cone-shaped hill, the walled town of Morella in Castellón is enchanting with a labyrinth of radial streets leading up to a castle. The 13th-century polygonal fortress of Islamic architecture is the focal point, but the trufa negra (black truffles) draw visitors to this gem.
During winter, truffles are harvested from the roots of holm oak trees with the help of dogs. Go truffle hunting and enjoy a delicious meal at Casa Roque restaurant, enhanced by the earthen flavor of this "black gold."
7. Sip olive oil from millenary olive trees
Millenary olive tree — Photo courtesy of Lavanya Sunkara
With waxy leaves and gnarled trunks, the olive trees along the El Maestrat route near Canet Lo Roig in Castellón are still producing olives thousands of years later. Planted by the Romans, the trees have witnessed the rise and fall of civilizations, with barks bearing signs of fire damage. Their multiple, hollow water-laden trunks support the branches, flowers and fruits of the Mediterranean basin.
Take a guided bike tour with Itinerantur, offering landscape translations and tastings of oil produced from these age-old trees.
8. Have a picture-perfect beach getaway in Peñíscola
Papa Luna Castle of Peñíscola — Photo courtesy of Lavanya Sunkara
The iconic 13th-century Papa Luna Castle of Peñíscola, rising from a tombolo in the sea, fills in for the fictional city of Meereen in Game of Thrones, and provides a gorgeous backdrop for a romantic picnic. Located 90 miles north of Valencia, the seaside town has four miles of sandy beach, a lighthouse built in 1892 (El Faro) and a historic quarter with homes flaunting ceramic balconies.
On your way from the castle, take a selfie in front of the seashell-encrusted walls of Casa de las Conchas, go shopping or dine at a candlelit tapas bar.
9. Take a hot air balloon ride in Bocairent
Hot air balloon ride over Bocairent — Photo courtesy of Totglobo
In the province of Valencia lies the quintessential Spanish town of Bocairent, with an old quarter featuring Moorish horseshoe arcades, streets that rise and descend, and lounging cats on cobblestone paths. The surrounding mountains are home to the Covetes dels Moros (Moorish caves) along the Magic Route, the largest collection of man-made caves in the area, featuring rooms and windows carved out of sheer rock.
Wake up early to witness the sun rise over the caves and experience the Serra Mariola Natural Park on a hot air balloon ride with Totglobo.
10. Dance the night away in Dénia
Baleària Port overlooking castle of Dénia — Photo courtesy of Lavanya Sunkara
Alicante's coastal town of Dénia was declared a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy for its culinary offerings, especially the traditional "Arroz a Banda." Made with freshly caught fish mixed with rice, this mouthwatering meal is best experienced in the company of others. After all that indulgence, take a quick solar-powered boat ride to nearby Baleària Port, which comes alive at night with happening pubs, discos and live music to dance the night away.