Valencia: Cabanyal and Calatrava


DID I SAY Valencia was ‘lively’? Make that crazy. The Valencians are very fond of firecrackers. As I write this, around midnight Friday, explosions are resounding throughout the city as they have been for days, building toward a fireworks display known as the ‘Night of Fire.’ Even four-year-olds are throwing caps around with abandon.

I just made my way back, index fingers at the ready to protect my eardrums, from a fine vegetarian paella at La Riua, a typically Valencian restaurant with framed art and decorative plates on every inch of wall. They say only tourists eat paella at dinner — it’s meant to be a lunchtime dish. So be it.

I left my colleagues at the restaurant “early” — if you can call 11:30PM early for finishing the evening meal — in order to wend my way back to the hotel before the gathering mobs made that impossible. Crowds of an estimated 400,000 are thronging the Turia’s bridges and nearby streets to watch the pyrotechnics scheduled for 1:30AM. (I’ll have a partial view of the display from my 4th floor room at the SH Valencia Palace).


The parades of people in traditional regional costume are still ongoing, including infants in strollers in elaborate dress, and men and boys in ballooning pants and medieval-looking footwear, with striped serapes and head wraps. Women and girls in brocaded full-skirted dresses with long lace mantillas covering their heads and shoulders carry flowers to place on the skirt of a colossal statue of the Virgin Mary, some crying with emotion as they march.

Those over-the-top ‘Fallas’ sculptures seem to be getting bigger and more outrageous; they’ll all be burned tomorrow night (except for one which will go on permanent exhibition in the Fallas Museum here).

I can’t say I’ll be sorry to see them go; in my view they obstruct the elegant architecture of the city, particularly in the district known as L’Eixample (Expansion) — the stylish apartment buildings of the teens and ’20s, with iron balconies and infinitely varied detail, their corners cut on the diagonal to facilitate the turning of trams around street corners.


Today I was happy to get away from the madness in the city center to the seaside area called Cabanyal. Like many Spanish coastal cities, Valencia was built a few miles inland as a defense against invasion from the sea.

There’s a wide beach, Malvarossa, lined with well-regarded seafood restaurants and a few hotels, but what interested me most are the old fishermens’ cottages — row houses, actually — from the 1920s.








Most of these are currently in a state of near-ruin and fighting for their lives against the city and developers who would raze them for roadways and beach parking. Many of them bear signs: “Rehabilitation, Not Destruction.”



We had lunch at a venerable restaurant in Cabanyal, Casa Montana, where a group of about a dozen of us sat around a huge table and were presented with a never-ending series of tapas.


The staff kindly brought me, the sole vegetarian, such things as quartered tomatoes, roasted leeks, artichokes with olive paste, all swimming in good olive oil, which I mopped up with excellent peasant bread, while my colleagues chowed down on ham, sausage, deep-fried anchovies, and more.


This followed a morning at the spectacular City of Arts and Sciences, some of the world’s most advanced architecture, on which Valencia has bet a couple million euros.


The hoped-for ‘Bilbao effect’ on tourism to the region appears to be working; numbers have soared in the past decade. The complex consists of several buildings constructed of concrete and iron over the last dozen years, most designed by Valencia-born architect Santiago Calatrava.


These playful structures, each a feat of engineering as well as creativity, would look at home in any sci-fi movie. The first building to go up, in 1998, was the planetarium or ‘Hemispheric,’ resembling a human eye, below right (with the helmet-shaped opera house on the left).


The Umbracle is a long and skeletal winter garden, open to the elements. You could liken the city’s science museum, below, to a massive dinosaur skeleton, one side a waterfall of glass, while the new opera house is something like a knight’s helmet, with a plume of steel.


Surrounded by pools, and faced with white ceramic mosaics that reflect the water and glitter in the sun, the City of Arts & Sciences is a shimmering, blue and white tour de force of form and light.

About cara

I blog for fun at, and write about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites. My recently published posts and articles can be found here:
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23 Responses to Valencia: Cabanyal and Calatrava

  1. Nancy says:

    Wow elegant architecture, rustic architecture and sci-fi! What a great combination! Hope you’re able to sleep through all the celebrating!

  2. Caren says:

    What a beautiful, colorful, wonderful place – I never knew!!! My mouth is watering and I’m dreaming of a vacation to this amazing city. Good food and art – perfect!

  3. Joe says:

    Valencia looks like a great place for an engaging vacation experience. I’ve been to Spain a few times but not to Valencia. Sure does look great so I’ll go there next time!

  4. Phyllis Landi says:

    Great Blog!!! Love the latest on on Valencia.
    Im ready to book my flight.

  5. fran says:

    between your posts and the recent article in the NY times Valencia is now on the top of my destination list! we saw the calatrava bridge in BA and the show at MOMA a few years ago. I would love to see some more of his works in person. keep up with these daily posts. it’s the next best thing to being there. salut!

  6. Harriet says:

    Will your next project be fixing up a house in Valencia? Thanks for your posts. I’ve never been to that part of Spain….


  7. Elke says:


  8. Barbara Spanton says:

    Thanks for your blog…..What an incredible city…from Medieval to Modern…an eye opener……who knew….

  9. judy kahn says:

    cara, i love reading your blog. so very informative and filled with interesting places to visit….. being in spain right now, it really “talks to me”… photos are great also… maybe valencia next year?

  10. Adan says:

    Your pictures are amazing! Valencia sounds like an amazing, colorful and lively destination! Looks like there is a lot of great architecture to discover as well.

  11. irvina says:

    The architecture intrigues me and I love long paella lunches with wine followed by a siesta (or in my case a soak in a tub). Still, I am confident that I won’t mind seeing Calatrava’s bridge when there is no fiesta in town. Thanks for sharing…

  12. Ellen says:

    Wow as usual — and leave it to you to find (fabulous) old row houses! Thank you for introducing us to the details of this fascinating city — my four years of High School Spanish only told us about the oranges. And to think I thought Barcelona was our next destination – but no – Valencia will be IT! Happy exploring.

  13. Fred says:

    Thanks for the terrific overview of Valencia. I’m a world traveler and I’ve just added Valencia to my wish list of future destinations. It seems to have everything: dazzling architecture (old and new), tempting food, stunning vistas, and a population with a genuine zest for life.

  14. Elissa says:

    Valencia sounds amazing, I can’t wait to read your next post about the Night of Fire. Those fisherman’s rowhouses are fascinating; are any for sale? They remind me of the old cottages in Venice Beach or in Telluride that have been reclaimed and are now hot, hot, hot.

  15. Astor C. says:

    Since nobody mentioned it, I’d call attention to the extraordinary ironwork on the windows and doors of the seaside town. Calatrava’s obsession with wire and steel obviously has a heritage. Also that great Art Nouveau cafe is special…

  16. Janice says:

    I have been quietly enjoying your blog for over 2 years now. After reading your descriptions along with the fab photos of the last few days , I find I must say a great big thank-you for taking us all on this trip with you! I have been lucky enough to spend a day in this wonderful city and now I want to go back!

  17. Diana says:

    Your photographs caught my eye first and I was intrigued, then I read about Valencia and found it truly fascinating. I was there as a child but would love to go again and see for myself what you have described so well. I do find the contrast between the old and the new very striking! Also as a fellow veggie, it’s good to know I can eat well there. Thank you for a great introduction to this city.

  18. cara says:

    Thank you all for the flood of comments!!! Yes, Valencia is a revelation. And now that Fallas madness is over (and it is Sunday), I will find out what it is like when it is quiet, for a change. Yes, Elissa, there are ‘for sale’ signs on some of the little houses in Cabanyal! ML, re the plantings, sub-tropical…I’m going to the botanical garden today and will learn more. As for the cuisine — well, Valencia is the birthplace of paella. The town is surrounded by rice fields. It seems more like a risotto (without the cheese) — the rice grains are very fat and al dente. It’s cooked in a big flat pan, and is supposed to be slightly browned on the bottom. Delicious!

  19. Stephanie says:

    Your photographs of the City of Arts and Science are spectacular. They make Lincoln Center look drab and dull. I hope to visit Spain in the coming year and will plan a stop in Valencia when I do. Can’t wait.

  20. Ivy says:

    The photos, food and flair of Valencia are quite appealing! Got lost in all the descriptions and actually could feel myself travelling with you. Thanks for the trip!

  21. toemailer says:

    Astonishing place and such wonderful photography!

  22. Eileen says:

    I’m adding Valencia to my must-see list for our upcoming Spain trip! Your photos are great, as always!

  23. Ada says:

    I was never interested in going to Spain, but now it is on my list.

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