Being a self-involved, heavy drinking Francophile myself, I have always held a fascination with Hemingway and have made a point of finding my way to his old haunts. Sitting with a red wine in Le Select, the hope was that Gertrude Stein might pop by for a bev, scathingly deconstruct my blog and introduce me to her pal Picasso, or even that a nice young lady might fall madly in love with me and say, “Oh Tattie, how wonderful and perfectly in love we are! Let’s drink more wine and toast ourselves in our tiny, perfect apartment. Will Fitzgerald come for tea?”
Sadly neither Stein or Picasso ever appeared but I still enjoy visiting the Lost Generation’s stomping ground. So when the opportunity arose recently I went to Valencia, on the East coast of Spain, to see the city that was so close to Hemingway’s heart.
Valencia is another former stronghold of the Moorish empire in Spain and much like Seville, these influences are still very clear. The main square stands under the shadow of the Cathedral’s tower not unlike La Giralda, and wandering the warren streets within you could imagine yourself back in a Moroccan souk. But as well as the décor, Valencia is a very modern Spanish city that today is more known for its heaving student population, great nightlife and even better food.
Valencia’s main square, home to the Cathedral and very nice ice cream
First stop was La Malva Rosa beach, a gorgeous stretch of sand on the eastern side of the city, framed by a line of seafood restaurants serving Valencia’s famous dish: paella. Traditionally this rice dish is served with chicken and rabbit, but these days people think more of the marinera variety of prawns, chicken, crab and clams. There was no other choice but La Pepica, the most famous restaurant in town and favourite of none other than Ernie Hem himself. La Pepica looks much as it would have back then, with yellowing photos on the walls and no music but the buzz of clients tucking into a perfect pan of paella, myself included.
Traditional paella is served with chicken and rabbit, as above
Full of paella and crisp white wine, the next stop on a whirlwind Valencia tour was the brand spanking new Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias, on the opposite side of town. For years the Turia river had threatened to burst its banks and when it did , one time too many, in 1975, the city decided to do away with the river completely. Turns out when Valencians make a decision, they don’t mess about.
In the river’s place there now sprawls a beautiful park, a public space where locals and visitors can enjoy tennis, botanic gardens, a huge play area for kids. Like snake it winds through the river banks and fittingly, at its peak is the bizarrely reptilian Ciudad de Ciencias y Artes. a huge, modern marine extravanganza that is home to the city’s Oceanográfico aquarium, a cinema, science museum and more
All in all I really enjoyed Valencia and found it to be a city that appeared to have everything – some surprise Sorello at the Museo de Bellas Artes, great food, amazing nightlife in El Carmen and of course, great weather for the beach.
Despite this bounty of culture, sunshine and history however, there was something missing. I was homesick. Traveling alone is great – you can sleep in for as long as you want, eat as much as you want with no one judging, wear the same pants for 2 days but it’s not the same as being with a pal.
So, unable to go back to England, I went instead to Alicante. Known as the hub for all visitors to the Costa del Sol – there is a direct tram to Benidorm – I wasn’t really sure what to expect. But when I stood on the port front and heard ringing through the air, “Eh love, take a photo then. Who would believe it – Alan, 4000 miles from Wigan!!!” all homesickness suddenly melted away.
Turns out, I love Alicante. It is of course a mini England at times, and some streets like Calle San Francisco with huge cartoon mushrooms to greet you, are as cheesy as Blackpool on toast. But they know it, and they love it, so I did too. I stayed in the old town in a very sweet B&B (a pretty new concept in Spain) called La Milagrosa. The terrace had a gorgeous view looking up to the mountain, home to – you guessed it – a Moorish stronghold, the Santa Bárbara castle. You can even take an elevator up through the mountain to the top and enjoy incredible views over the beach and port. Alicante is the perfect size for a weekend getaway with prices to match. My favourite discovery was Pesca al Peso, a seafood restaurant on the busy Calle Mayor that let’s you buy your fish by the weight and have it cooked right there in front of you. A month’s salary’s worth of fish later, and I’d had my fill.
Calle San Francisco, Alicante
Overall I had a fantastic mini adventure on the Costa del Blackpool and would recommend it to anyone. Whether you’re a Hemingway or Peter Kay fan, there’s something for everyone and you won’t leave disappointed!
Beachin’ in Valencia