What a masterpiece! Spain’s ‘Monet’ was enraptured by Valencia – and it’s easy to see why
- The birth place of paella was the childhood inspiration of painter Joaquin Sorolla
- Buy a Valencia card, whizz to and from the beach and take in the medieval sights
- It’s easy to get lost in the food, culture and scenery of Spain’s third largest city
Strains of Mozart wash over me. As Act II of Don Giovanni reaches its crescendo, I lean back and close my eyes. I could be in Valencia’s opera house, but I’m on the subway.
For proof of how cultured this Spanish city is, look no further than its underground, where classical music is piped into the carriages. I think this could be the hallmark of civilisation.
My husband and I discovered just how civilised during a three-day visit to this Mediterranean port.
Cultural credentials: The Plaza de la Reina looking towards Valencia Cathedral
Fountain Rio Turia on the Square of the Virgin Saint Mary by Valencia Cathedral
Such are its cultural credentials that Valencia, the third largest city in Spain, has spawned a national dish, paella, a worldclass opera house and an internationally renowned painter, Joaquin Sorolla.
His impressionistic handling of light and colour has long delighted his collectors, who hail him as a giant of the 20th century. Mooted as Spain’s answer to French impressionist Claude Monet, he’s the most famous Spanish painter you’ve never heard of.
That could change, as Sorolla, Spanish Master Of Light, opened at London’s National Gallery on Monday with 60 of his paintings, most of them on show in Britain for the first time.
Open air: Sorolla’s El Pescador was inspired by the beaches of his childhood
Like Monet, he would paint in the open air, setting up his easel on the town beaches.
Born in 1863, Sorolla found early fame, annoying his rivals. Although he travelled widely, he always returned to the beaches of his childhood for inspiration.
Having checked into our hotel, Las Arenas, we see that the iridescent seascapes he captured on canvas are unchanged.
It was hard to take our eyes off that horizon, but we did have a whole city to discover. A Valencia card (£21 for 72 hours) provides free public transport and entry to most museums. A tram whizzed us from beach to the medieval streets of the old town in 20 minutes. Here, it’s easy to get lost, but every false step reveals more beauty.
Start your walking tour at the Cathedral where Valencia’s greatest treasure, the Holy Grail, the chalice supposedly used at Christ’s Last Supper, is housed. A few minutes’ stroll through orange tree-filled squares, you’ll find the Gothic glory of the Silk Exchange.
Soaring pillars: The Central Market is full of produce but time your visit outside siesta hours
All soaring pillars and vaulting, it’s a former 15th-century trading hall, built when Valencia was Spain’s richest city. Time your visit right and you can dive into the Central Market to lunch on the juiciest jamon and the fattest olives you’ve ever seen.
While Valencians are napping, (many shops and restaurants close from 2pm to 5pm), explore Turia Gardens, seven miles of parkland that run through the city.
It’s this new green lung that’s home to the City of Arts and Sciences, comprising opera house, aquarium and science museum.
The City of Arts and Sciences is home to the Opera House designed by Santiago Calatrava
Of course, Valencia attracts those who just come for the food. In the heart of the rice-growing region, the city is the home of paella. Try to appreciate it like the locals: don’t mix chicken and fish (only tourists do that); don’t eat it after lunchtime (too heavy); and don’t squeal if you find snails and rabbit in the mix (too impolite).
Lingering over a plate at a seafront restaurant, you can contemplate the infinities of blue sea and white sand. Pure Sorolla.