We pushed all afternoon from the south-east of Spain, finally making it to Alfarrasi by 9PM. It wasn’t our single longest day of driving, but it felt like it. Thanks to the late Spanish sun, it didn’t actually feel that late when we arrived – and promptly cooked takoyaki with them. Ferran doesn’t like seafood (the tako in takoyaki is octopus), so we tried with cheese and chorizo. He was converted, and preferred the genuine article!
El Palmar and Albufera
We had been bugging our friend about eating the best paella in Spain. Well, turns out that the best paella in Spain is beyond our meagre budgets. So, we settled for some really good paella. El Palmar, just south of Valencia, has a huge concentration of top quality, and most importantly, affordable paella restaurants.
With our friend being Valencian, he wouldn’t allow us to order anything other than the official Valencian-style paella – chicken and rabbit (no seafood!!). We also grabbed some fried calamari, which while tasty, we probably could have skipped had we known the size of the meal that was to come!
It was enormous, and it was supposed to be for three people to share – though I’m pretty certain another one-or-two mouths could have been fed quite comfortably. Once the shock of the size had worn off, we actually started eating it. It was incredible. I never knew how much better good paella could be. There was so much richness and complexity in the flavours. And, it wasn’t just the taste, the crispy texture on the bottom of the pan was also incredible. I’ve now been spoilt, and anything inferior to this will be a disappointment. The worst part, our Valencian friend wasn’t as impressed by it as we were – ‘it was good, but I’ve had better’.
It was a struggle, and our Valencian friend gave up early on, leaving myself (and Risa) to finish the dish. It would have been wiser to have saved it for breakfast…
We made a very quick stop to L’Abufera, but didn’t both to hire a boat (or join a tour). It was a large wetland, and I’m sure there is untold wildlife living there, however, we were suffering for our gluttony and in no mood for a boat trip!
It ended up being a very brief visit to Valencia. We started with the ‘futuristic’ White City. I say ‘futuristic’, because it was designed and built back in the 80’s, so it’s a retro futuristic design – much like Moon Boots and the whole space station in 2001 Space Odyssey.
Trivial details out of the way, it was pretty impressive to see these giant white structures. Risa (and obviously Ferran) have been here before, so this was for me to enjoy. It was definitely a case of form over function, as I don’t believe there was a need for such superfluous details, like a long giant spinal column, or an obscenely complex cantilever for a representation of a helmet.
It was surprising to see that the shallow waters surrounding these buildings were being used for leisure activities. You could hire small boats, stand-up paddleboards, or even giant inflated bubbles.
Sadly I wasn’t going to see the giant eye properly, as it needs to be seen at night with the lights on to get the full illusion of the reflection. Just imagine the reflection, and be wooed by the beauty. If you can’t imagine, then look at some other photographer’s images.
It was beautiful, but completely pointless, which I suppose is what art is, when viewed in a logical way.
It was yet another sunny day here in Spain, and as it was still enjoyable temperatures (and still novel for us after leaving London), we strolled through the park that was the old river. We snuck a view of the giant Gulliver playground, however, as adults I don’t believe that we could play on the slides – at least not without children of our own.
Finally, we snuck a look at the old town, starting with the beautiful tiles/murals in the train station, navigating through the medieval alleys, and visiting the cathedral. I think fatigue had started to set in, because I wasn’t as interested as I had been with the other Spanish cathedrals that we’d visited – or maybe they’re just starting to feel the same, and we need something crazy to capture our interests now. Sadly, we arrived too late to climb the bell tower to see the city from above.
We continued wandering around town, past small bars and restaurants, which gave me a very similar feeling to the time we spent in Barcelona with my brother – just on a much smaller scale.
I get the feeling that it’s probably similar to Barcelona, however, in a much more manageable size. If we weren’t still struggling through our food comas, we probably would have been more enthusiastic about what seems to be a very lovely city.
Today, the neighbouring town of Alcoy has an enormous festival, celebrating the battles of the Christians against the Moors (North African Arabs) back in the middle ages. This is the reason that we sped our way through the first three weeks of our vacation. It was a massive day, so it gets its own blog post here – Euro Road Trip – Christians and Moors Festival in Alcoy
After the enormous day yesterday, and with the pressure off finally, we slept in. We were meeting friends for lunch at 2PM, but until then, we had no plans. My friend has been obsessed with the drone (and rightly so, it’s damn awesome). We had enough time this morning to have a bit of a play on the outskirts of his village.
It was perfect weather for flying, with the clearest skies we’d seen, and finally an easement of the winds that had been plaguing us recently. We took it for a quick test, flying it to the next village, 2km away, as well as 500m up to get a bird’s-eye view of Alfarrasi. I know we weren’t coming close to pushing the envelope, but it was good to learn a little more of what it is capable of. Now, Ferran needs to also buy one.
Unsurprisingly, we were running late for lunch. It was in Venta Nadal, an amazing local place, far up in the hills above Alcoy. We stepped inside the small restaurant, that seemed to seat a maximum of 20 people, and were amazed by the giant bundles of chillies that were drying. They prepare all their own food, curing their own meat, which can be purchased ready to cook, just like at a butcher.
Our friend from Alcoy, Luis, arranged the lunch, so we were spared the arduous tasks of deciding what to eat. It started with incredible pate/terrine and equally delicious bread and olive oil.
Then came the dried/salted cod and chilli – the same ones hanging to dry inside the shop! The chillies had just enough heat that you knew they were there, but not enough that you wished they weren’t. They were share plates, and I think I helped myself to a little more than ‘my share’.
Then, the meat courses were brought out, starting with the most perfect lamb chops I’d ever eaten. They were rich beyond description, and seasoned with only a little salt and rosemary.
And before I’d finished enjoying my first mouthful of the lamb chops, a giant plate of assorted sausages came out, forcing me to divide my attention between the two of them. The black pudding was my least favourite, mostly due to the soft texture. The other two I loved, but I’m a sucker for sausages. Again, they were to be shared amongst us, and I helped myself to a little more than my share.
It didn’t seem like a lot of food at the time, but once my food had a chance to settle in my stomach, I realised just how much I’d eaten. And then the desert menu came out – there is just about always room for desert, especially when it’s Creme Catalan! Amazingly, all this fresh and delicious food came to just €20 each!
After we’d paid, but before we’d left, a frozen bottle of local digestif came out. We were told to drink as much as we wanted. It looked (and tasted) like elderflower. Those of us not driving poured a shot of this amazing, syrupy drink. I finally felt like I was on vacation, with no pressure to move forwards, and free from driving today, I had (quite a few) more than the one glass.
The Christians and Moors festival continued across the weekend, culminating in a giant gun battle in the streets on Monday. Today wasn’t really a spectator day, so we didn’t make an effort to watch, instead drinking/eating in the park, killing time until our next meal.
Once the sun went down, the locals in their costumes started partying in the streets again. It still felt like Halloween on a massive co-ordinated scale.
Our dinner was similar to the one we’d had last night, with a variety of tapas. Sadly, it wasn’t as good as the one we had last night, and nowhere near as good as lunch!
My Valencian friends managed to convince another colleague to come out for the festival, and he made the fantastic decision to not go back to work until the Tuesday, catching a late flight on Monday night. This left us until 5PM to enjoy the area.
There were several ideas thrown around, but we ended up going to beach at Calp to eat seafood. Due to us being a little slow to get started, we didn’t quite have enough time to go for a swim, or enjoy Calp. I dipped a toe, but I wasn’t ready to swim here anyway – maybe after a bit of time sweating while sunbaking.
But, the main reason was for the seafood for Risa and Gilles. They ordered an amazing platter to share, while Ferran and I got another Valencian paella. Risa and Gilles made the right decision, ordering seafood from a seafood restaurant/area. The paella was barely recognisable compared to the one we had three days earlier.
We rushed to the airport in Alicante, past more fantastic mountain views. Gilles made his flight, and we returned to quiet Alfarrasi for our final night in town.