For three days in late April, everything comes to a stop in Alcoy, as the city celebrates its famous festival of Moros y Cristianos. Local groups parade around the city center in a series of exuberant and colorful processions which stretch, from Saturday morning to Monday. We visited on the first day of the festival, to see the entrances of both the Christians and the Moors.
Having seen the castle and most of the other principal sights on our first day in Xàtiva, we awoke early on our second day for an excellent 14-kilometer hike. We'd be following PRV-78, a circular path that leads along the Albaida River, past an ancient aqueduct and caves, and through groves of orange trees, before heading back into town.
Let's say you've visited Xàtiva Castle. Amazing, but it sure was exhausting. The hike up that hill? The size of the place? I bet you're happy to be done! But don't relax quite yet, because you're not going to like what I've got to tell you. The castle might be the highlight, but so far you've only seen a fraction of what Xàtiva has to offer. Take a quick siesta, have a cup of coffee, bang out a line of coke, whatever you need to do: you've still got a long day ahead of you.
On the second Sunday of May, Valencia celebrates its patroness, the Virgen de los Desamparados (Our Lady of the Forsaken), with a lethargic and low-key event. Subdued worshipers calmly line the Plaza de la Virgen, offering whispered prayers and privately reflecting on their faith as their beloved icon passes quietly by. (Are you detecting any sarcasm, here? Because I'm laying it on pretty thick.)
One of the most rewarding excursions you can make from Valencia is to Xàtiva, which is about an hour south by train. We spent two days exploring the town's quiet streets, checking out its historic buildings and monuments, and hiking into the surrounding hills. But first, we climbed up to the castle which dominates the city from on high.
Valencians sure love their festivals. This might be a generally Spanish trait rather than one which is strictly Valencian, but once March rolls around, there's another festival of some sort every weekend in this city. We have Fallas, wine and tapas festivals, Semana Santa, and various other religious festivals honoring a never-ending string of saints... and also, there's a kite festival down at the beach.
Southeast of the historic center, Ruzafa has long been known as Valencia's multi-cultural mixing pot. And in recent years, it has indisputably become the city's hippest neighborhood, with an eclectic and ever-changing variety of popular clubs, retro bars, trendy restaurants, vintage shops and offbeat bookstores.
Sometimes, we need to remind ourselves that Valencia is more than just a big city. The province is also home to quiet forests, deep ravines and rugged mountain chains, all waiting to be explored. We spent one April morning walking along the Regajo River, near the western border with Cuenca, in an effort to satisfy our intermittent desire to connect with nature.
Valencia wears its age well, since many of its oldest elements have been incorporated seamlessly into the modern city. The Baños del Almirante and the Alumdín, for example, fit in so well that it's easy to forget they're both 700 years old.
"After One Month..." is a series in which we normally share first impressions of our new homes. But in Valencia's case, our rose-tinted first impressions have long since matured into gnarled old certainties. Still, after years of calling this city home, we love it more than ever. And that should speak volumes.