A few weeks ago, during yet another cold snap, I threw myself a pity party due to the endless winter and booked flights to anywhere warm. Literally, ANYWHERE. I scanned the destinations on the Ryanair sale and picked Valencia. I knew nothing about Valencia except that it was in Spain, it was on the Med, it was the home of delicious oranges and it was going to be WARM! I booked the flights, booked somewhere to stay and then googled the place. Luckily it looked amazing! So on Monday evening, the Dude and I kissed the Husband goodbye (his new job didn’t allow him to take the time off) and jetted out of a torrential rainstorm towards the sunshine.
Ironically, of the four days we were there, the first was cool and drizzly and the second was darn chilly and windy. But the third and fourth were little gems of sunshine, blue skies and warm temperatures. They were blissful.
What I didn’t realise when I booked is that Valencia is a hot-bed of running; indeed it’s known as the ciudad del running, or the city of running. The jewel in the crown of Valencia’s running scene is the astonishing Jardín del Turia – a 9km long park that cuts the city in two from west to east. Until 1957, this was a river which flooded regularly and then disastrously. The city diverted the river south of the city and left the river bed empty for many years, threatening to turn it into a motorway but in the late 80s it was instead transformed into a wonderful lush green park. Its 5 miles are criss-crossed with running paths of all surfaces. On a marked 5k circuit, there are markers every 100m or so, lights for evening running and SOS telephones and there’s even a gorgeous 400m running track which appeared to be open for public use. It’s pretty spectacular.
I got to run there twice during our four days in Valencia. I rented a bike for the Dude for the duration of our trip (€6/day!) and so he cycled and I ran down to the Science Museum. It was lovely – the air was warm and smelled of orange blossom (seriously).
On Thursday, my ‘coach’ took me out on his bike for my interval session. He cycled alongside me as I warmed up and then cycled ahead for the speedier sections until the buzzer in his pocket went off, whereby he’d stop the bike and yell at me to stop. It was really lovely to have him cycling there, knowing he was safe on his bike in this gorgeous park! The place was packed with runners at all times of day – mums pushing strollers, speedsters flying along, women out chatting together. It was a joy.
The ciudad del running also has its own app, which is worth downloading if you’re heading there. It has some route ideas, lists a couple of retailers, healthy restaurants and complementary sports facilities like yoga. It could do with some updating and some extra data but it’s more than I’ve seen from other cities! The website is really useful – find it HERE.
The only thing that stops Valencia from being a proper ciudad del running is the distinct lack of ‘baños del running‘. I didn’t see any at all but found this map online later. You’re welcome!
Apart from the running, Valencia proved to be an absolutely brilliant place to spend some time! It’s a beautiful city – the old town is gorgeous with its ancient buildings and narrow alleyways, perfect for wandering in. The bells ring in the morning and the evenings. The cafés spill out onto the squares and pavements for excellent people-watching. There’s a gorgeous old indoor market tiled to perfection and full of luscious fruits and vegetables. It’s lovely.
In stark contrast with the beautiful old city is the modern development at the east end of the Jardín del Turia. Valencia went on a building spree in the nineties, creating the most gorgeous contemporary buildings, which now house an excellent science museum, an opera house, an IMAX theatre and a fabulous aquarium. We went to all of them except the opera house and they were all great. The architecture is staggering.
Out to the east of the city lies the beach; we got a tram out there one day. The beach was wide and beautiful and the sea was much cleaner and clearer than I expected although the water was freezing! There’s a lovely wide esplanade along the waterfront and there were plenty of runners out there.
On Wednesday, my lovely friend Judith and her little boy came to see us from Madrid where they live. Judith and I have been the dearest of friends since we were 16 although we’ve only lived near each other for four months. But when we do manage to get together, it’s like we only saw each other a week ago! What was lovely today was watching our boys, just four months apart in age, becoming friends – going from slightly awkward politeness to clowning around together and playing football at every available opportunity. That was pretty special.
We flew back on Friday to yet more grey skies and drizzly rain. But that little break was just what I needed!
When we were in the States, I really missed easy access to Europe, and being able to introduce Europe to the Dude was a real treat. Seeing him try speaking a bit of Spanish or testing out some tapas was a real delight.
The Dude particularly enjoyed the long, thin pastry at the top of this page. It’s called a farton which made him laugh every time he ordered it.
Valencia has a very well-regarded half-marathon at the end of October. I’ve already started stalking the cheap flights listings because I would really love to go back. Graçias, Valencia, for a fantastic few days!!