With its antiquated residential buildings, seaside location, and laid-back way of life, Cabanyal should be among Valencia’s most desirable places to live. But that’s not the case… yet. We took a couple days to explore the neighborhood, enjoying the atmosphere of its narrow streets and learning about the long-running political battle which has left it a shambles.
Valencia continues to surprise us. Although we had known about the existence of Cabanyal’s Museo del Arroz for years, we had never bothered visiting. It’s a rice museum, you know? It never captured our curiosity. But we shouldn’t have delayed so long, because this museum is fantastic.
Even if you’re the kind of person who refuses to visit a museum, it’s impossible to completely avoid art in Valencia. For years, underground artists have been transforming the city into an open-air gallery, covering walls, fences and entire buildings with works of beauty and ingenuity.
Valencia is home to the best zoo in the world. Alright, that might be too bold a claim, but the BioParc is at least the best zoo Jürgen and I have ever visited. Designed in a way that makes cages (almost) obsolete, the BioParc allows an unobstructed view of the animals, and lets you get close to them… uncomfortably close, sometimes. Let’s just say, it’s a good thing hyenas aren’t strong jumpers.
A tangled web of streets, alleys and plazas, El Carmen has largely shaken off its seedy past to become Valencia’s most famous neighborhood. For many, El Carmen is the city; when you “go downtown,” this is where you generally end up. With hip restaurants, cool shops, insane street art, excellent museums, and an eclectic mix of people milling about its plazas, El Carmen is beautiful, strange, and occasionally sketchy, but it’s never boring.
Following the San Martín Obispo and San Esteban, the San Juan de la Cruz completes Valencia’s trio of churches which have been recently restored to their original Baroque brilliance. Like its brothers, this is one of the city’s oldest churches, founded in 1343, immediately after the Reconquista. And also like its brothers, it’s just… wow.
Back in 2010, Valencia unveiled the results of an effort to restore three of its most impressive Baroque-era churches: the San Martín, San Esteban and San Juan de la Cruz, all located a short distance from each other in the city center. If any of these had been my childhood church, I might have grown up with a different idea of “God”: not some wizened, white-bearded grump sitting on a cloud, but a flamboyant show-off with a flair for the extravagant.
Directly across from the Mercado Central, La Lonja de la Seda (Silk Exchange) is Valencia’s most historic building, and its only UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built between 1482 and 1548 at the height of Valencia’s Golden Age, the Lonja is like a church devoted to the god of commerce.