Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Valèncian Region | Spain

       After spending the first half of my week in Valencia exploring the city itself, we'd exhausted the sights there. So, for my last three days, over the weekend, we embarked on a few short day trips to other towns and areas in the surrounding Valencian region (both the city and region have the same name). These would include Albufera, Xativa, and the Peña Cortada aqueduct, but there are even more options in the region besides these, if you're going for longer!


Xativa Castle, Valencia Region, Spain


1 - Albufera

     So this was day five of my week, and it landed on a Friday. Albufera is only about half an hour out of the city, and we were planning to go later in the afternoon, for two reasons - to watch the sunset, and that was the time someone was available to drive us. So in the meantime, we had a very lazy morning, after staying up late to watch a film the night before, then wandered down to the beach for a couple of hours in the afternoon. It was honestly such a treat to just be able to lie out in the sun in late October, since it's already freezing in Scotland by that time of year! It's also cold by local standards in Spain, so the beach was so empty - I can only imagine how different it looks in the summer time. We went for a dip in the sea too, much to the shock of the few locals that were nearby, who must have thought we were utterly mad to be swimming in October.

     We hopped in the car to Albufera later in the afternoon, and sped on out of the city, further south down the coast. 'Albufera' comes from the Valencian word for 'lagoon', and next to the village there is indeed a large freshwater lagoon and estuary. The village is actually very famous for being the place where paella was invented, but as the friend I was visiting doesn't like it that much, we agreed to skip it this time. The other reason to visit Albufera, is to watch the sunset over the lagoon. As Valencia is on the east coast of Spain, the sun sets over the city, but from Albufera, you can watch it set over the lagoon instead. There are boat trips from the pier, but they seemed to all be booked up when we got there, and we'd been unable to find an online option - so the lesson is to go earlier than we did!


Sunset over the lagoon at Albufera, Valencia Region, Spain

Sunset over the lagoon at Albufera, Valencia Region, Spain

Sunset over the lagoon from the pier at Albufera, Valencia Region, Spain

Sunset over the lagoon at Albufera, Valencia Region, Spain

Sunset over the lagoon at Albufera, Valencia Region, Spain

Sunset over the lagoon at Albufera, Valencia Region, Spain

Sunset over the lagoon at Albufera, Valencia Region, Spain


     However, the view from the pier itself is no less spectacular, as the sun drops low over the mountains on the horizon, turning the boats and birds on the water into dark silhouettes, and glowing deep red until it vanishes out of sight entirely. Then the sky is painted into a watercolour of pastel pink, orange and gold, reflected perfectly in the still, clear surface of the lagoon below. The area is also a nature reserve, so there's all types of birds swimming along the water, flitting through the sky, or diving down to the lagoon. We lingered for a while, watching the colours continue to unfold until they inevitably started to darken as the last of the light disappeared. Then it was time to hop in the car again to return to the city, stopping for dinner on the way, before another movie night.


2 - Xativa

     We had no one available to drive us today, so our day trip options were determined by where we could go on public transport that wouldn't take forever. We had settled on Xativa, about an hour or so from Valencia on the train, and we'd booked cheap tickets the night before - although, there was some sort of mix-up as the return time we booked wasn't what our tickets said, and on inspection of the timetable it was our tickets, not our booking, that was correct - which meant we had an hour less in Xativa than originally planned! We still had about 3.5-4 hours in total though, if I remember right, which was long enough.

     The town of Xativa was nice enough as we walked through it, but not particularly exciting; our actual destination was Xativa Castle, built high on the mountain towering over the town. This meant we faced quite a trek to walk up to it, so there was an impromptu workout thrown into our day. We wound our way up narrow streets of coloured houses, which then gave way to the scrub-like bushes that adorn so many of Spain's mountains. The road winds uphill in hairpin bends, but we often skipped these and scrambled up straight up through the rocks and dirt between - and yes, I did regret my decision to wear a dress at that moment! It was worth it when we eventually reached the castle though. The entrance fee is super cheap, and there are two main parts to it, which span the whole of the top of the mountainous ridge. It's not part of a huge range either, just a few peaks in the midst of a flat plain, with the ocean just visible in the distance.


Xativa Castle, Valencia Region, Spain

Xativa Castle, Valencia Region, Spain

Dungeons in Xativa Castle, Valencia Region, Spain

View of the town from Xativa Castle, Valencia Region, Spain

Mountains of Xativa Castle, Valencia Region, Spain

Xativa Castle, Valencia Region, Spain

Xativa Castle, Valencia Region, Spain

Xativa Castle, Valencia Region, Spain


     The castle dates back to at least the 3rd century BC, but most of what stands today is more recent than that, and Gothic in style. There wasn't a huge amount of information in the castle itself, but I read a little more later on. We mostly just enjoyed wandering around, and climbing up over the rocks and ruined walls - yes, still regretting the dress decision! - and admiring the views of the town, the surrounding area, and the other half of the castle from each end. It was definitely pretty spectacular, and we took a lot of photos, both of the scenic spots, and sillier locations, like hiding in the prison cells, or next to the olden style lavatories, which were out in the open for everyone to see! Given that we didn't know much about it before going, except the photos on Google Images, I think we were both pleasantly surprised by the castle, from its age and history, to its former splendour and stunning location.

     After sufficiently exploring it all, and stopping for an iced coffee in the sunshine on the terrace by the castle entrance, we made our descent into the town again to catch the train back to Valencia. As we were heading back earlier than initially planned, we popped back down to the beach again for another quick swim, before returning to the flat for a dinner, and a thriller movie, since it was Halloween after all.


3 - Peña Cortada

      Initially we'd planned on a pretty chilled out day for my last one, but the rest of the flat offered up a hiking trip for the day instead, so we figured I may as well make the most of my time and see as much of the region as possible. It's a fairly popular hiking route, not that far from the city, and there were certainly plenty of other hikers on the path that day, being a weekend as well. The journey there was eventful in itself, as we ended up driving down dirt tracks, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, while blasting music from our open windows, until we eventually found the beginning of the trail. I think a lot of people think of beaches, sun, and the sea in Spain, so it can be surprising to realise just how mountainous the country is - but actually when you look at how big it is, and how much of it is inland, it's perhaps less surprising. It's a hot, dry country too of course, so the hills are often dry and dusty, but still green from the gnarled, scrub-like bushes all over.

      Our hiking path wasn't too steep, happily for me, as I would've tired out so quickly in that heat. Instead, it wound around the edges of the hills, climbing slowly higher along the way. We often passed through the middle of rocks, along paths of wooden planks that had been placed through them. The aqueduct itself was quite near the start of the trail, and was probably the most nerve-racking part for me, as you had to cross over the top of it with no barriers or handrails, and a sheer drop on either side! As the trail continued, we left the rock tunnels and climbed up and over one mountain top. We nearly got lost at this point, as there were two possible routes, and we'd lost sight of the arrow markings that had been guiding our way. However, one of our 'search parties' reported back that they'd found the next arrow, which in fact led us through another tunnel, but this time down through the rocks, as if descending into a hole, before emerging at the top of a sheer rock face that we had to basically slide down on out butts - which you can kind of see in one of the photos below - before continuing on an actual trail again.


Pena Cortada Aqueduct hiking trail, Valencia Region, Spain

Pena Cortada Aqueduct hiking trail, Valencia Region, Spain

Pena Cortada Aqueduct hiking trail, Valencia Region, Spain

Pena Cortada Aqueduct hiking trail, Valencia Region, Spain

Pena Cortada Aqueduct hiking trail, Valencia Region, Spain


     There were some beautiful views of the valleys and mountains as we continued to descend, but we couldn't help notice that we also seemed to have left behind every other hiker on the trail, prompting further questions as to whether we were going the right way or not! The path then seemed to vanish entirely, but the arrows pointed us down again, this time scrambling through the dirt and bushes towards the valley below, trying not to slip or get caught in a bush along the way! We stuck with the arrows, despite many moments of doubt, but sure enough, they eventually led us to a big, wide road again. We met some other people passing by there, who informed us that yes, this would take us back to where we'd started, but would take at least an hour. The hike seemed to be getting longer and more complicated than we'd expected, but luckily there were enough of us to be able to keep each other's spirits up and enjoy the adventure we'd found ourselves on - I think if I'd been alone, I might have gotten quite tired and grumpy by the end (well, the former was still true that day anyways).

     The road wound through a valley at first and crossed a narrow stream, then we had to ascend again, hauling ourselves back uphill, clambering over large rocks along the way. Although, this didn't seem to be as steep as the route we'd come down into the valley, so I was glad that we were doing the trail this way round and not in reverse. We trekked on until eventually things started to look familiar again, and we realised we had rejoined the first section of the trail, and weren't that far from the start/finish point again! The group had gotten quite spread out by this point too, and my friend tried to hide in a gap in the rocks to scare some of the latecomers as they passed ..... but accidentally scared some other hikers instead, then got bored and sore waiting for the rest of our group, who'd stopped to take photos! It was a fun idea anyways though. The entire hike ended up taking 3 hours (which actually was pretty close to the initial plan) and was almost 10km in total!

     After returning to the car, we decided to stop for a drink and snack in the nearest town, Chelva, which was definitely refreshing and much-needed after baking in the hot sun and dusty track all afternoon. Before returning to Valencia, we decided to do a little more exploring in the area, and drove off in the direction of signs for a 'sanctuary'. We weren't sure what to expect at all, but ended up driving up hairpin bends to the top of another mountain, where there was a cross built outside a sanctuary, just in time for another spectacular sunset. The views were amazing, and it was such a delightful spot to have found, given that we had no idea what to expect!


Pena Cortada Aqueduct hiking trail, Valencia Region, Spain

Sunset from a hilltop near Chelva, Valencia Region, Spain

Sunset from a hilltop near Chelva, Valencia Region, Spain

Tapas at Mercabanal in Valencia, Spain

View of Valencia, Spain, from an airplane window


     Back in Valencia that evening, we all showered off the dust, and changed to head out one more time to the Mercabañal, just ten minutes walk away, near the beach and the port. It's a venue full of food trucks, with tables scattered between them, so everyone can choose different foods from a combination of trucks. I decided to stick to traditional Spanish dishes for my last night, so we shared some tapas, including patatas bravas and croquetas. With the Covid curfew in place, we couldn't stay out very late, but it was nice to eat out with some local food for my last night!

     The next morning, there was just enough time for us to eat brunch out, before heading to the airport for my flight home - and the two week quarantine awaiting me at the other end! It was definitely worth it though, and I felt so much happier and more refreshed after being able to take a holiday and travel again, if only for a little while, and both Gran Canaria and Valencia were interesting, fun, exciting places to visit, with plenty to see and do. And given that I'm writing this in January, back in another lockdown, I'm even more grateful to have been able to squeeze this trip in!

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