Visitors interested in art and culture will enjoy a visit the Museum of Fine Arts St. Pius V and the Valencian Institute of Modern Art (IVAM), with an impressive permanent collection and excellent temporary exhibitions throughout the year. Two of the most famous hotels in town are the centrally located Westin, and the luxurious Hotel Balneario Las Arenas, located on Malvarrosa beach.
Valencia also boasts a fine selection of Michelin rated restaurants, including Vertical and Alejandro del Toro, but if you want to try the legendary Paella Valenciana, your best choice is the beautiful Mas Blayet restaurant, where you will be privy to best traditional cuisine and the kindness of Amparo, Belén and the rest of the Blayet family.
One of the city’s greatest attractions is the annual festival known as Fallas, the second in importance, after Pamplona’s San Fermin Festival. Las Fallas has been declared, for its relevance and historic importance, an event of International Tourist Interest, candidate to become Cultural Patrimony of Humanity by UNESCO.
Every year, between March 14th and 19th, Valencia becomes Spain’s most desired tourist destination. Hundreds of thousands of tourists join the local population to experience the magic of this regional festivity, whose origin must placed it in the 18th century. Las Fallas mark the start of good weather, a time when carpenters and craftsmen, in a kind of Spring-cleaning, burned all the unnecessary junk they had accumulated throughout the winter months.
Locals took advantage of the bonfires to get rid of old clothing and furniture, no longer needed. By the 19th century, residents spontaneously started burning dolls and images that parodied the lifestyle of the bourgeoisie and the church. Over time, these fires became entrenched in the celebration of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of master carpenters, which is celebrated, every year, on March 19.
Today, each of the city’s districts “pays and plants”, as they say, in Valencia, their own Falla, monuments made of wood, papier-mâché and easily combustible materials that are real works of art. The Fallas require an entire year of work at a cost of thousands of dollars, and are built by highly esteemed artists, who are also responsible for teaching their craft to future generations.
During these days in March, the city is paralyzed, especially the historic center, where many of the Fallas are exhibited. Valencia is literally taken over by locals and tourists, who come from all corners of the world, to enjoy the dancing, music and firework displays. The Fallas and “falleros” (local aficionados of the festival) parade thorough town dressed in beautiful 18th century costumes, and dine on paella prepared, in the streets, by real experts.
These are some of the Festival’s most important events; try not to miss any of them if you visit Valencia during these days:
Plantá. On the night of March 15th, falleros from each District mount their sculptures on the streets, with the help of their creators and expert builders.
Despertá: An event to prompt people to leave their beds and invite them to the party. Every day from the 16th to the 19th of March at 8am, the falleros, accompanied by their bands, walk through the streets igniting roaring firecrackers.
Mascletá. This extremely powerful and loud pyrotechnic show lasts between 15 and 20 minutes. Valencians love the display, whose conclusion can be compared to a massive earthquake. It is essential to keep your mouth open to prevent hearing damage.
Flower Offering. On March 18th, one of the most exciting moments of the celebration: the falleras parade through the old town with colorful flower bouquets, which will be used to form the mantle of the Virgen de los Desamparados (Virgin of the Helpless), patroness of Valencia, in Plaza de la Virgen.
Cremá. The most attractive spectacle and, at the same time, the saddest. On March 19th, at midnight, all the Fallas are burned following an impressive fireworks display, and after a few minutes, only ashes remain. Moments later, cleaning crews go into action, and within a few hours, the city is ready for everyday life. With the cremá, the festivities end and the preparations for the next year begin.
The Fallas are a colorful, loud Mediterranean party. A celebration of great beauty and an unforgettable art display, full of hope and joy, which heralds the arrival of Spring, but it is also a holiday that reminds us that material objects, no matter how expensive and impressive they might be, can become a pile of ashes in just a few minutes. ■