Hands down, we love Spain. Hands down, again, Valencia emerged as our favorite city in Spain.
And that isn’t just because of their trademark local drink called Agua de Valencia.
OK, partly because of the drink.
Think Mimosa, but stronger. Agua de Valencia is made with juice from local oranges, fresh squeezed right there at the bar, with a touch of sugar, and generous pours of gin and vodka, and then finished with a few ounces of cava, a sparkling white wine similar to champagne. It is served in a pitcher with large, cylindrical Spanish ice cubes that give it a deep chill after a couple of stirs.
Consumer alert: Agua de Valencia is not a morning drink. In fact, even in the evening, as a cocktail before dinner, it should only be consumed in a very small quantity.
But, oh, it is delicious!
Valencia is a perfect mix of cobblestones, ancient castle walls with parapets, and beautiful old churches, without being totally overrun with tourists. It is a very manageable city — easy to walk and easy to fall in love with.
How is this for brilliant? The river running through Valencia flooded quite badly in 1957, so they rerouted the river entirely outside the city. Then they turned the huge riverbed into a great meandering park. The soil in the riverbed must be very fertile, because the park is filled with beautiful, healthy trees, hedges, playing fields and lawns. The bicycle and pedestrian paths pass under ancient stone bridges, all of them well preserved, that were built across the river, the oldest of them by the Romans. The riverbed park is a magnet for joggers, bikers, soccer players and young lovers out for a stroll. What a wonderful and unusual combination to have a beautiful historic city that also has a huge park area running right down the middle of it.
We rented bikes one sunny day and headed out the 13th Century gate of the old walled city for a run down the riverbed toward the sea. What a blast!
Midway we cruised around Valencia’s distinctive modern opera house and science center, also located in the old riverbed.
Eventually the bike trail led us out along the Mediterranean beaches on the southwest side of Valencia. The beaches were expansive, beautiful and uncrowded, and in the sea, stretching for miles, we could see cargo ships lined up ready to enter the Port of Valencia.
Back at the bike rental shop in the historical center, it is a tradition for cyclists to mark the walls in ink with little messages, graffiti style. The walls and ceiling are almost completely covered by writings left by prior customers.
At the end of our perfect day of cycling, we participated in this tradition. Separately one of us signed a wall in the back of the store and the other taller one the ceiling in the front, neither of us realizing the other was doing so. Afterward we discovered that great minds do think alike.