We love Spain so when we were invited to its sunny, eastern Mediterranean coast, we couldn’t wait to discover Valencia, the country’s third largest city.
Our hosts were Uemura, a new international luxury travel design & concierge company with headquarters in Valencia. As part of their company launch they wanted to showcase some of the best luxury experiences the city has to offer, and show-off their travel design and concierge services.
So, (writes Andrew Forbes) after an intense, exciting, inspiring and delicious few days with Uemura, here’s 10 of our favourite things to do in Valencia:
1. LEARN… a few of secrets of a Michelin starred chef
Contemporary Spanish cuisine is one of the most innovative and recognised in the world, so of course fine-dining has to be at the top of our list.
We enjoyed a memorable morning with Bernd Knoller, the Michelin star chef whose RIFF Restaurant sets the tone of upscale dining in the city. We visited the city’s extraordinary Central Market, where we joined Bernd as he shopped for his kitchen, deftly choosing between fresh produce finding just the right ingredients.
This gourmet shopping trip led to the highlight of the day – a masterclass with the chef himself at his renowned RIFF Restaurant.
The chef took us through the preparation of each dish, meanwhile his kitchen made dishes for each of us, so we were able to dine along – a wonderful way to spend the day!
The restaurant is in the city’s chic Ensanche neighbourhood, with its distinctive Modernist architecture – an interesting part of Valencia.
It was a compelling experience, and an interesting example of the unique experiences that UEMURA promise to arrange for clients.
2. EXPERIENCE…an authentic ‘Paella Valenciana’
Valencia is renowned across the world for its rice dishes. So a visit to Valencia is not complete without trying an authentic paella. There’s paella and then there’s….gourmet homemade paella.
Uemura had brought us to the home of this world-famous rice meal; to the protected wetlands of the protected Abulfera lagoon. Understandably the Valencians take their rice very seriously and are reluctant to allow other Spanish regions to lay claim to paella – after all it has become probably Spain’s most internationally recognised dish.
Our paella lunch was held in the gardens of a typical, historic ‘Barraca’ country house – a beautiful, romantic setting, capturing a flavour of how life once was here, close to Valencia and her rice fields.
3. DRINK…designer cocktails, hand-crafted by a Michelin starred mixologist
One of the most well-known mixologists at the moment is the Valencian Ciriaco Vicente Ausina. It was a fabulous surprise to meet Spain’s top ‘coctelero’ and witness his magic, preparing his remarkable gin and tonic cocktails (‘Gintonic de horchata’ using the unique Valencian ingredient ‘horchata’) topped with Ciriaco’s signature G&T foam.
4. SAIL…the famous Mediterranean waters
Sailing is an integral part of Valencia’s culture and its international status as a world-class sailing destination was reinforced when it was chosen for the America’s Cup in 2007 & 2010. The port infrastructure and facilities are impressive and the area is looking sharp, smart and attractive.
Uemura took us out on the water, navigating the city’s port and then venturing out into the Mediterranean – not really a day for sailing as there was no wind (just plenty of sunshine) and the Mediterranean was as calm as millpond! But we weren’t complaining, as it was fun to potter about with the motor on – enjoying a different perspective of this striking city.
5. SLEEP…in a luxe 5 star hotel on the beach
We were hosted by the Hotel Balneario Las Arenas Spa, a member of the ‘Leading Hotels of the World’. Built for the America’s Cup this large spa hotel is right of the broad sandy beach of Malvarrosa, so is out of the city centre. The advantage is of course being able to mooch out to the beach or enjoy the port area. Yet to visit the City of Arts & Sciences, the down-town restaurants, and cultural attractions you need to take a taxi.
Rooms are spacious with balconies overlooking the beach and Mediterranean. All are well equipped with CD player, large flat screen TV, Wi-Fi and networking. The bathrooms are relatively large too, with a spa-style shower, bath tub and amenities by L’Occitane.
The gym and spa is understandably well equipped and luxurious.
Waiting for is in our spacious sea-view room was a Uemura welcome goodie bag. And this time a goodie bag we wanted to keep, with a useful travel plug, fab Diptique candle and smart travel more book – nice touch from UEMURA.
6. FLOAT…over the beautiful Valencia countryside in a hot air balloon
Truly one of the most memorable experiences of the Uemura adventure was a hot air balloon flight over the beautiful Valencian Mediterranean countryside.
Uemura say they are Artisans of Experiences, well this was excellent. We could not have hoped for better conditions as the balloon climbed to hundreds of metres in altitude offering superb views.
7. INDULGE…in a gourmet Valencia tasting menu
Food featured greatly throughout this extravagant, luxury trip to Valencia, but one of the most memorable and enjoyable meals was at Restaurante Seuxerea. This contemporary styled restaurant, created by Anglo-Burmese chef Steve Anderson, is close to the Plaza de la Virgen, and serves in addition to it’s a la carte, a wonderful tasting menu.
The predominantly modern, Mediterranean dishes fuse Asian elements and influences. Certainly take a moment to visit the web site to find out more and make a reservation for when you are next in the city.
8. SHOP…at the city’s renowned central market
Built in 1928, the big Mercado Central de Valencia is one of the finest covered markets in Europe It is open each morning at until 2pm, so rise early and enjoy the hustle and bustle of this remarkable place. It’s truly a destination, with wonderfully presented stalls with all manner of produce from the lands and seas of Valencia. Do try and spend some money in the market, rather than just look, in support the local traders. There are also some good little café bars and eateries too for tasty snacks or a strong morning coffee.
9. FIND…the Holy Grail, within Valencia’s ancient Basilica
Valencia’s old town is full of surprises. Uemura arranged for a highly articulate and personable guide to give us a private tour, sharing a few of the mysteries of this fascinating part of the city. Take in the Roman, Gothic and Renaissance architecture (and don’t forget to look up to see unusual and cheeky gargoyles!).
The city has a wealth of sights to offer those with an interest in history, culture and architecture.
Yet the highlight is the city’s cathedral, and its prize possession – its most closely guarded treasure, the Holy Chalice. Tradition suggests that this was the cup used by Jesus at the Last Supper. Held in Rome by the Vatican it was later brought to Valencia. It is said to date to between 50 and 100 years BC.
10 FEED…the Sharks in the Oceanográfic, within the stunning City of Arts & Sciences
One of the most extraordinary examples of Valencian architecture is the City of Arts and Science. This futuristic, other-worldly place was created by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava.
It’s a museum and cultural centre with five main elements, 4 of which were designed by Calatrava: the Hemisfèric (IMAX cinema), the Umbracle (a landscaped area), the Príncipe Felipe Science Museum, the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía (a world-class opera house) and also the Oceanográfico (designed by Félix Candela).
Uemura, thanks to their connections in the city, arranged for a ‘behind-the-scenes’ tour of the Aquarium. It was fascinating to see what goes on in order to maintain the largest aquariums in Europe – and you might just get the chance to feed the sharks!
Here’s a short film of our Uemura Valencia Experience: