As my family’s Valencian soccer trip came to an end, we reflected that true prosperity flourishes in their balanced way of life. The people displayed pride in artistry and quality. Integrity is in the details. Small businesses and local vendors matter more than chain stores. Celebration and relaxation are shared by all.

Compact Quality and Balance

Bigger isn’t necessarily better. Valencia showed us a new perspective. We saw refinement in the details and enjoyed the compact walkability of its old center. Landmarks here are interconnected within a close network of streets and plazas. Every turn uncovers another unique feature.

Although we came to Valencia to watch our son play soccer, or fútbol in Spanish, we delighted in more than just the technical quality of play here. The attention to detail was refreshing.

We discovered interesting features that create charm. These qualities add character and elements of surprise.

A gateway shortcut, nestled into the buildings along the prominent Plaza de la Reina, led us into a smaller courtyard surrounded by shops. Wandering around La Seu, we walked beneath two picturesque archways. Enclosed bridges connect the cathedral to the Archbishop’s palace on one side, to the basilica on another.

While we did use the convenient Metro rail system—Xátiva stop provides direct access to Nord Estación, the early 20th-century Art Nouveau train station, next to the Neoclassical bullring, La Plaza de Toros—between fútbol events, we particularly enjoyed our leisurely strolls through the city. Each day, we set out on foot to take in the beauty and details.

Although we could spend hours perusing each narrow passageway, it only takes around a half-hour to walk across the historic center. The bell’s gong in Torre del Micalet kept us mindful of the passing hours as we got to know Valencia.

Fresh Valencian markets. High quality standards.

One morning, in search of healthy snacks for athletes, we arrived at Mercat Central. Paella pans of all sizes, some the diameter of truck tires, hung for sale in the front plaza. Curious to see inside, we navigated bustling stalls as scents of land and sea filled the volume within the vast Art Nouveau building.

Throughout the market, vendors called out in Spanish and Catalan between colorful stands of fruits and vegetables, cheeses, spices, nuts, olives… through hanging legs of jamón at one end, and across icy basins covered in an immense display of fish and seafood at the other.

The whole selection was amazing—beyond any of my standard trips to the local grocery or farmer’s market at home where selections are limited to the few basic best sellers. What to do with such an assortment!

Vendors proudly displayed their extensive variety of fresh foods and products from this subtropical region with enthusiasm. The quality was only equal to the “organic” labels sold in our Californian high-end markets. But this was the Valencian standard for quality and fair prices the people expect in this fruitful land.

Protected fertile zone. Ancient water system.

Surrounded by mountainous peaks and the Mediterranean Sea, the terrain radiates outward beyond Valencia’s urban zone. Fertile plains and valleys fill La Huerta (L’Horta), while the Albufera freshwater lake marshlands are perfect for growing rice for paella.

Originally identified by the Romans, the gardens of La Huerta have been continuously cultivated since the 10th century when Islamic Moors created the irrigation system, still in use and mediated by the Water Tribunal today. Although protected from further development into this agricultural zone, the city must constantly work to reduce the negative impacts of urban expansion.

Most of its fresh produce finds its way into the kitchens and mouths of Valencians. Each day we discovered these fresh ingredients in restaurants and markets where real-life artisans crafted their food and wares—the true meaning of artisanal.

Artisan trades enjoy life during Spanish hours.

Valencia is particularly known for its fine ceramics and silk trade. La Lonja de la Seda, originally the Silk Exchange that served as the center of commerce during the Spanish Golden Age of the 15th- and 16th-century, is protected as a Gothic masterpiece by UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

We happened upon the National Ceramics Museum on a walk through the city one evening. The alabaster relief sculpture surrounding the Rococo facade made me stop in my tracks. I had never seen such an ornately detailed entrance.

In addition to Valencian artisans, helpful, lively shopkeepers—perhaps less cynical than some in more touristy cities—appreciate detail and quality, and limited hours of operation. Valencia’s moderate cost of living seemed to allow limited hours of operation, so they could fully enjoy leisure and relaxation with their own family and friends after work.

Meal hours take some getting used to—breakfast at 10, lunch at 2 (14h), and dinner at 8 or 9 (20h-21h)—but tapas provide pre-dinner snacks typically enjoyed with drinks. After dinner, the night is just getting started.

In the evening, this vibrant city springs to life.

Architecture glows along warmly lit Valencian streets and in plazas of the historic center. This setting invites people of all ages to lounge or hop between many reasonably-priced bars and restaurants. No wonder everyone stays out late into the night—so much nicer than stark, brightly lit strip malls.

Valencia encouraged us to slow down and really enjoy. Spain’s balanced life was infectious. The quality of their products and in the setting was inspiring. I hope the features unique to Valencia are appreciated and preserved. These aspects of Spanish culture should always prevail and inspire the rest of us.

Continue the Conversation

This 3 part series looks at Valencia through my lens. Then read about our experience with the Catalan plight in Barcelona.

I look forward to returning to Spain for further exploration of València, as well as visiting Castellón, the province on València’s northern border.

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