The two autonomous communities of Valencia and Murcia form
the area of Levante which lies along the Mediterranean coast
between Cataluña in the north
and Andalucía in the south.
The region of Valencia has one of the sunniest and warmest climates in Spain,
making it a favourite year-round destination for tourists. Valencia and Murcia
are sometimes known as the 'market garden of Spain', with acres of orange and
lemon groves, orchards, fields of vegetables, vineyards and rice paddies- yes,
this is the home of paella after all! Valencia has over 350 kilometres of stunning
coastline and an interior of rugged mountains and gentle river valleys. The Communitat
Valenciana incorporates the three provinces of Castellón, Valencia and
Valencia the city is also the region's capital
and is Spain's third largest city and one of its liveliest. Situated on the coast,
with beaches on its own doorstep and many cultural and historical attractions,
it is a popular tourist resort. In 2007 and 2010 Valencia hosted the America's
Cup, making Valencia the yacht racing capital of the world. It is also the venue
for European Formula One Grand Prix with a street circuit around the America's
One of Valencia's major attractions is the world famous Falles festival (Las
Fallas in Spanish) which takes place in March and is an event not to be missed.
This consists of five days of festivities, one aspect of which is the 'ninots',
the puppets/dolls which are hoisted high, made of paper, wood and polystyrene,
and designed to send up notorious characters such as local politicians or be
satirised versions of other famous figures. The fallers who
choose not to mock others in this way occasionally choose to pay homage to
the likes of painters or other revered historical Valencians. Every day begins
with a 8 o'clock wake-up call called la despertà, with brass
bands playing and fallers walking behind them throwing firecrackers
in the street. In fact, firecrackers and noise constitute a central part of the
whole festival, because at 2pm every day, La Mascletà takes
place. This is a bombardment of firecrackers and fireworks, initiated by the Fallera
Mayor's declaration that " Senyor pirotècnic, pot començar
la "mascletà " (Mr Pyrotechnic, you may begin the Mascletà),
and it is pretty unique. There are also firework displays at night which get
progressively more dramatic, ending La Nit del Foc (The
Night of Fire) and then on the last night, La Cremà is the final climax
of the festival. The word means 'The burning' and the constructions of ninots
(called 'falles' themselves, or 'torches') are burnt on huge bonfires.
It is worth visiting the City of Arts and Science, a futuristic building designed
by the prestigious architect Santiago Calatrava. It has an IMAX cinema, a planetarium,
various interactive exhibitions and its latest addition, the oceanarium. Dominating
the city is the cathedral; from its octagonal bell tower ( El Miguelete )
there are spectacular views over Valencia. There are also several parks and gardens
throughout the city; Jardines de Monforte is a romantic 18 th -Century
park with Italian sculptures, and the Jardín Botánico has
gardens with thousands of varieties of exotic plants and trees. Valencia also
boasts the largest indoor market in Spain, and one of the largest in Europe-
the Mercado Central. From here you can buy all the ingredients you
need to cook the speciality of the region, Paella Valenciana.
Around the province, there are numerous historic towns and villages.
These include Xàtiva, to the south of the province.
Famous in Roman times for its silk manufacture and referred to by the poet Ovid,
it was also the birthplace of two popes, Callixtus III and Alexander VI. Bordering
a fertile plain, it features two castles on a hill, one which is found on the
ancient Via Augusta road. Xàtiva also has a Royal Monastery of the Assumption,
built in Gothic and Baroque styles, and a museum located in a 16th century
granary with Roman and Iberian artefacts and Islamic ceramics. Further south
again, one comes to Oliva, a municipality in the 'comarca'
of Safor (a comarca is a Spanish administrative division
sitting somewhere between municipality and province). Oliva is home to one of
the best Moors & Christians festivals in the province. The festival commemorates
the battles that took place regularly between these two factions between the
8th and the 15th centuries. There is a castle and two churches in the idyllic
old town. Adrenaline junkies will love the local kart track. There are excellent
stretches of beaches, a yacht club, marina and golf course designed by Seve Ballesteros.
There is a lovely promenade, the passeig as it is known in Catalan,
which every Friday holds a market with fresh local produce and wears. Plus, it
is worth seeing the sights of the local falles in the spring.
The coast of the Alicante province is one of Spain's most popular holiday
destinations; known as the Costa Blanca due to its miles of white sandy beaches,
many of which have been awarded the prestigious EU blue flag. The region boasts
a wide variety of sports facilities, the most popular being golf and sailing,
and for families a visit to the Terra Mítica theme park near Benidorm
is recommended. Be warned, the coast gets very busy especially in the high season
and some areas are very built-up. But you can always head inland to the quieter
non-touristy villages or head north to the coast near Dénia to
find picturesque hidden coves. It features an 11th/12th century castle on a
steep cliff-top which overlooks the city. The castle is also home to the Palau
del Governador which has a museum of archaeology, divided into four eras:
Iberian, Roman, Moorish and Christian. The city also has an ethnological museum,
a toy museum and the Cervantes Esplanade in honour of the famous writer who set
sail in 1580 from here after his imprisonment in Argelia. Going south, we
can look at some of the other towns and cities that make Alicante so attractive.
A little inland (around 30km from the coast), Benimaurell is
notable for being the last bastion of the descendants of the Moors when they
were expelled in 1609. In fact, legend has it that these moriscos threw
themselves from the precipice of Cavall Vert, preferring that to being captured
by Spanish forces. The village is surrounded by excellent mountain scenery, superb
for hiking (with various marked routes), abseiling and caving (there are several
with prehistoric paintings). 275 metres above sea level and one of the oldest
towns on the Costa Blanca, Benissa is a fine to spot to relax
and take in the scenery, and the Fuentes Del Algar waterfalls
are not far away. Calp in Catalan or Calpe in
Spanish is in the Marina Alta comarca, and sits at the foot of the Peñon
de Ifach (Ifach Rock). The ruins of Los baños de la Reina (the
Queen's baths) are well worth a look. There is also a Gothic Catholic church
and the 18th century tower La Peça. There are some excellent
beaches along this stretch of Alicante. It is not far north of Benidorm, so it
is within range of the attractions that this has to offer, whilst being comfortably
away from the tourist hub, in a more scenic and less-discovered spot. All around
here, there are some fine landscapes to explore. Guadalest ( El
Castell de Guadalest is its full name) is a picturesque mountain town
south of Alicante city and in the comarca Marina Baixa. Here, visitors can go
to see a 12th century jail with a dungeon. There is also a museum of torture
instruments! Outside the Ribera Girona Museum, there is a 'magic garden' of figures.
There is a also a museum of doll houses, an ethnological museum displaying ancient
tools and musical instruments, and the Museum of Miniatures of Manuel Ussa, featuring
such oddities as the Guernica of Picasso painted on a seed and the Statue of
Liberty in the hole of a needle. Also inland, Bolulla is often
the venue for one of the stages of the Vuelta de España cycle
race. Naturally then, there are some excellent cycling roads, and there is plenty
of good countryside for mountain biking too. This area has a profusion of golf
courses- nine in total. Just five miles away is the former fishing town of Altea,
endowed with a church which has a marvellous blue Byzantine-style dome, found
in the old quarter. There are plenty of whitewashed buildings and limited large
hotel development, keeping it beautiful for those who wish to appreciate Spain
as it long has been, with all the benefits of Costa Blanca sun, but away from
soulless resorts. This town has become particularly known for its art and artists,
with plenty of exhibitions and galleries there. The Terra Mítica theme
park is not far away either. Inland are the towns of Biar and Petrer.
The former has a walled castle from the 12 th -13th century Almohad dynasty's
era, plus a mediaeval aqueduct to be seen. Meanwhile, of interest to visitors
to Petrer are the Catholic church, Arab castle and hermitages of San Bonifacio
and Christ. The Moors & Christians festival here also attracts a lot of people
to the area.
As for the city of Alicante, it is one of the most popular
along the Costa Blanca with its Moorish Castle of Santa Barbara dominating the
town. It has an impressive seafront promenade stretching around the harbour shaded
with palm trees and lined with shops and cafes. There are a number of interesting
museums to visit, one of which is the Hogueras Museum which is dedicated to Alicante's
most famous festival, the Hogueras de San Juan (St. John's Bonfires).
It is a little bit like Falles in the way that papier mâché and
wooden figures are burnt at the festival's conclusion. The event takes place
in June with colourful processions, marching bands and dancing, culminating in
a huge fireworks display and the bonfire at midnight.
Murcia is a small, and for the most part, un-discovered region of Spain. It
has, along with its neighbouring province Almeria, one of the driest climates
in Spain. Its coast is called the Costa Cálida, meaning the warm coast,
and because of its own microclimate, the temperature averages around 5 degrees
warmer than the rest of the Mediterranean. Murcia boasts Europe's largest seawater
lagoon, the Mar Menor, its waters reputedly having therapeutic qualities. The
Mar Menor also attracts plenty of wildlife too and is home to thousands of flamingos
during their migration in the autumn. The main tourist resort in the area is La
Manga, a mecca for watersports and golf enthusiasts. A short drive
along the coast from La Manga will bring you to the attractive fishing village
of Cabo de Palos, with its numerous harbour front restaurants
and boats for charter. Other resorts in Murcia include Mazarrón and Aguilas .
The historic city of Murcia lies inland about 45 minutes drive
from La Manga, and is worth visiting for its many beautiful buildings and historical
treasures. Murcia also has its share of festivals and throughout the year there
are fairs, concerts, music festivals and theatrical events. The second largest
city in Murcia is the ancient port of Cartagena, a principal
naval base of Spain. It was founded by the Carthaginians in the 3rd century
BC and the city has done much recently to restore many of its important buildings.
There are good museums and parks, and the port area is particularly worth seeing.
Cartagena is also well known for its traditional restaurants and good shops,
especially fashion and jewellery. Nature lovers should visit the Sierra Espuña
National Park, Murcia's best kept secret. It's a mountainous area covered by
pine forests and excellent for walking, climbing and mountain biking. One good
place to stay nearby is the village of Gebas, known for its
ravines or barrancos in Spanish, the unusual rock formations that are
to be seen there.
Finally we should mention the spectacular sunsets which this region has to
offer- don't just take our word for it, come to see for yourself.