The Place We’re At Now: Valencia, Spain

This is a regular feature about where we currently are in the world: how we ended up there, what it costs, and exactly what we think.

Brent and I are currently spending six weeks in Valencia, Spain.

Brent and Michael standing in front of palm trees.
Brent and Michael enjoying Valencia, Spain. (Michael Jensen)

Remember when we said that Penang curry isn’t actually from Penang, Malaysia? It turns out Valencia oranges aren’t from Valencia either.

These oranges actually originated in California — then part of Mexico, in the 19th century — when an enterprising agronomist created an orange hybrid that he named after the famously sweet oranges of Valencia, Spain. Later, the patent was sold to ranchers, which led them to rename their local town “Valencia.”

Of course, they still grow a different but delicious kind of orange here in the original Valencia.

There’s plenty else to recommend this Valencia, which is Spain’s third largest city. The city is home to just under 800,000 people, while the entire metro area has 1.6 million residents.

Valencia sits on the Mediterranean coast, at almost the exact midpoint of Spain’s eastern seaboard. Barcelona is 350 km to the north, while Madrid lays almost exactly the same distance to the northwest.

Map of Spain showing Valencia's location with a blue dot.
Valencia sits right on the middle of Spain’s Mediterranean coast (Michael Jensen)

Romans first settled the area, establishing a colony in the 2nd century BCE. Due to its strategic location, the city quickly became an important trading port, dealing in wine, olive oil, and wheat. In the 8th century CE, Valencia fell under Islamic Rule, which lasted until 1238 CE.

Valencia’s golden age occurred during the 15th and 16th centuries — also Spain’s golden age — when the city grew rich from trading silk, spices, and other luxury goods. For a time, it was one of the largest and most influential cities in Europe.

The soaring interior of the Silk Exchange with four slim stone pillars and hanging chandeliers.

La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia, also known as the Silk Exchange, helped make 16th century Valencia rich through trade. (Michael Jensen)

Today, Valencia isn’t nearly as well known — or as much of a tourist destination — as Madrid or Barcelona. But there is still plenty to see and do — as we will document in upcoming articles.

How Did We End up Here?

Brent and I have always said that as we travel the world as nomads, we’re keeping our eyes open for the perfect place where we might want to eventually settle down.

Outside of Barcelona, we’ve never spent much time in Spain, so we figured we should finally explore the country. After asking our fellow travelers for their suggestions and reading up on Spain’s best places to live, we settled on Valencia.

It has good air and rail connections to the rest of Europe and beyond; the cost of living is low, relatively speaking; and like all of Spain, it’s very LGBTQ-friendly.

It also doesn’t hurt that it gets 300 days of sunshine per year.

Michael, Marianne, and Brent in Turia Park.
Enjoying the sun in Túria Park with our friend Marianne. (Michael Jensen)

We thought six weeks would give us a pretty good sense of the place.

So far, we have discovered:

  • English is not widely spoken here, much to our surprise. (And our Spanish is very poor, but we’re learning fast!)

  • Valencia has a large expat community, mostly from the U.K., but quite a few from America and Canada. It is especially popular with retirees.

  • Apart from temporary lodging, the cost of living is extremely low — the lowest we’ve seen in Western Europe. Arts events, tourist admissions, and groceries are as cheap as can be (and you can buy a huge, seven-pound bag of delicious local oranges for less than $2 USD). Restaurants are very affordable too.

Brent and Marianne looking at paella, breakfast, a bagel sandwich, a platter of Argentian steak, a plate of vegetables.
  • Like much of southern Europe, Spaniards are extremely social, and the city absolutely brims with not only restaurants, but also bakeries, coffee shops, fruit and veg shops, and sidewalk cafes, all thronged with people chatting and having a lovely time.

  • The Túria River, which used to run through the center of town, was diverted after a massive flood in 1957, and the dry river bed is now a fabulous green space and athletic area.

  • At the terminus of the now-dry Túria River, the city has recently built a massive and utterly fantastic arts and architectural complex called Ciudad de las Artes y las Ciencias, or the City of Arts and Sciences.

  • Valencia is very family-friendly. Every morning around 8 AM an entire army of parents and grandparents escort their kids to school.

  • The local food is good, if not quite great. The city is the birthplace of paella, and the dish is for sale everywhere, especially the “Valencian” variety, which is made with chicken, rabbit, beans, and sometimes snail. We’ve also eaten good Italian, Indian, and even Mexican food. But non-Indian Asian food? Much less good.

  • Valencia is very tidy thanks to a small army that descends to sweep up trash every day.

Where Are We Staying?

We chose an Airbnb in L’Olivereta, a working class neighborhood outside of Old Town.

We like it, but don’t love it.

It’s located in a strictly functional block of apartment buildings with all the charm of a row of storage lockers.

But the interior has been modernized and is fairly attractive, with a fireplace and a nice outdoor space. Plus, our host is lovely.

Our Airbnb in Valencia, Spain

Our Airbnb in Valencia, Spain (Michael Jensen)

Alas, the main bed is small, forcing me to mostly sleep on the single in the second upstairs bedroom.

And when a friend visited, she took one look at the guardrail-less stairway and said, “I belong to a Facebook group called Stairways of Death. Do you mind if I take a picture to post there?”

Stairway aside, something about the place doesn’t quite work, and neither Brent nor I can quite put our finger on why.

It doesn’t help that we’re a good 25-minute walk from the city center.

(Valencia has very good public transportation, including a massive metro and great bus system, but it doesn’t really help us. From here, whether walking, busing, or taking the metro or a taxi to get to the city center, it takes…about 25 minutes.)

Also, we chose the L’Olivereta neighborhood because half our stay overlaps with a local festival called Fallas, which is easily the city’s most important event — much more important than even Christmas, one local told us.

And it’s also known for being very loud.

Colorful fireworks going off over the head of onlookers.
Just one of the amazing fireworks displays in Valencia, Spain, during Fallas. (Michael Jensen)

We’re not planning to avoid Fallas — and we’ll write all about it in the weeks to come. But we’d also like to sleep during these three weeks.

What Does It Cost?

Our Airbnb was $3771.96 for 44 nights, or $86 per day.

This was more than we expected to spend in Valencia, especially given how hard we looked. We suspect the high cost was partly due to our being here during Fallas, which is a big tourist draw.

Then again, the cost of Airbnbs seems to have exploded almost everywhere.

What Do We Think?

I said earlier that Brent and I came to Valencia to see whether it could be a place where we eventually settle down.

But we both agree that while we like Valencia, it wouldn’t be a place we’d stay long-term.

It’s a little like our Airbnb: we can’t quite put our finger on it, but something isn’t quite right — at least for us.

It’s charming, but not that charming. It’s pretty, but not that pretty.

The weather is great much of the year, but apparently unbearable in summer.

Valencia is also on the sea, but the city center is set apart, weirdly disconnected from the water. As one local put it, it feels like the city has turned its back on the beach. Plus, we’d like a view, which is hard to get in a city as flat as Valencia.

A Medieval tower illuminate for Fallas, more fireworks, Michael  in front of the City of Arts and Sciences, a sculpture in the park.
Just a few of Valencia, Spain’s many sides. (Michael Jensen)

But just because we don’t want to live here doesn’t mean we haven’t seen and done some fabulous things.

Which, as I said, we’ll report on in more detail in several upcoming newsletters.

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