By Shahida Sakeri on February 19, 2016
(Cover Photo Credits: Mijas Tourism)
Spain – there can never be any doubt about it – is a beautiful country, blessed with a strong character defined by its culture, history, architecture and of course, people. It has always been my dream to visit Spain. Little did I know, the dream was about to come true…
It was November, the time of the year when northern Europe was already going through shivers under the inevitable chill of winter weather, yet Spain was still basking under lush sunshine and not showing any moment of dullness. And that impression alone makes for a good story, one that ends up being told to a friend over coffee or in various Instagram posts with the caption #wishyouwerehere.
I arrived in Spain on Turkish Airlines, under the invitation from the Spain Tourism Board, with full of hope. I was in a mission; to check whether the country matches my expectation, starting with its two coastal cities – the cultured Valencia and laid-back Malaga. Below are some of the places that I visited…
This immersive zoo features open-style exhibits that recreate animals’ natural habitat. Don’t be surprised when you see lively Madagascan lemurs leaping and jumping around freely right above your head as you explore the vicinity. The park opens at 10:00 a.m. and like most zoo visits, expect to walk a great deal. There is so much to see with the star animals being the leopards, lemurs, gorillas and elephants. The park, moreover, is clean with fantastic facilities. There are also talks that take place in the park at scheduled times, touching on the topic of wildlife conservation. Tickets are €23.80 per adult and €18 per child.
There’s no doubt that the Spaniards are passionate about football; it is one subject that helps to break the ice easily with them. They have top world-class stadiums across the region including the one in Valencia called Mestalla Stadium, home of the Valencia Football Club and the third biggest stadium in Spain. A 45-minute guided tour is held every day for fans and non-fans alike to have a little taste of what happens behind every match.
In the tour that I was on, I noticed that our guide was clearly passionate about Valencia Football Club and football in general. The tour started with a short brief on the history of the stadium. As we progressed, the guide made her commentary fun by interspersing facts with anecdotes about the matches she attended and playfully quizzed us later in between. The highlight of this tour was the chance to enter the players’ dressing room and sit in the manager’s chair in the press conference room, giving us the great sense of satisfaction as football fans. The tour rates are €9.90 per adult and €7.60 per child.
Strolling around the streets in Valencia, it is impossible to miss the striking avant-garde architecture of City of Arts and Sciences, built by the Valencia-born extraordinaire Santiago Calatrava. The complex comprises the Hemisfèric (IMAX Cinema and digital films), the Umbracle (landscaped garden), the Príncipe Felipe Science Museum, the L’Oceanografic, the Reina Sofía Palace of the Arts and the Ágora (event venue).
Travellers need at least a day to explore the entire area. But in case of time constraint, I suggest that travellers visit the L’Oceanografic first since it is the biggest aquarium in Europe, featuring seven different main marine ecosystems. Tickets to L’Oceanografic are sold at €27.90 per adult and €21 per child and opens at 10:00 a.m. every day. Take note, however, that they have different closing hours depending on season. It is best for travellers to check the website (www.cac.es/oceanografic) prior arrival.
They say, why stop at eating if you can learn to cook it too, right? At La Valenciana Restaurant, locals and travellers alike come to learn to make the signature Valencian paella (golden rice cooked with a variety of meats) from the experts themselves; in my case, they were the quick-witted Benny and sweet Sonia. They were hilarious; two hours of laughter as we sang along to a Spanish song while preparing the meal. And at the end of the session, participants were granted a personalised diploma for their effort in the kitchen. But to me, the more important part about attending such class is that it lets me revisit my eight magical days in Spain every other weekend when I’m back at home. The cooking class starts at €50 per person per session.
Fallas Festival is an annual smoky high-spirited festival held in March every year in commemoration of San José (Saint Joseph), the patron saint of carpenters. Each year, artisans from various neighbourhood organisations participate in the festival by crafting huge statues called ninots that often resemble popular public figures. Interestingly, these ninots will then be burnt together in a massive bonfire-style on the festival’s final day despite the painstaking efforts and high costs in producing those ninots. One lucky ninot, however, will be spared from the fire by popular vote and later be displayed in a museum.
If travellers miss this festival, they can just visit the museum as it features not only a collection of survived ninots since 1934, but also photographs of the Fallas Queens who basically act as the ambassador for the festival. Entrance fees to the museum are €2 per adult and €1 per child. Take note that hotels in Valencia and the surrounding areas are all fully booked months before the Fallas festival, so be sure to book a hotel room well in advance.
This museum is absolutely grand. Housed in the Baroque-styled Marqués de Dos Aguas, it features extraordinary collections of hand painted and glazed ceramics ranging from kitchen ware to interior design, ceramic tiles, bowls, plates and artworks that can be seen across Valencia. I’ve also learned that there are a set of platters made specifically by the world-class artist, Pablo Picasso, just for the museum. It opens from Tuesday to Sunday at 10:00 a.m. with the entrance fee of €3 per adult. Youths under 18 enter free.
Recognised as an Intangible Cultural Heritage by the UNESCO in 2009, the Water Court, also known as the Water Tribunal, is a traditional law court for water management in Valencia dating back to the Roman times. Besides problems concerning water, the tribunal also settles disputes that happened within the communities by which the offender would receive a visit from the network guard and be called upon to appear before the tribunal. Facts are set out, and the offender may enter defence.
The tribunal comprises eight transparent administrators who were democratically elected every two years by the farmers. They don black cloaks and sit in a semi-circle as the proceeding takes place. Today, travellers can witness the re-enactment of this age-old affair every Thursday at 12:00 p.m. in front of the Apostles’ Gate.
The cathedral comprises a hybrid of styles from Gothic and Baroque to Romanesque. Also, it is said to be the place where the Holy Grail is kept.
It features a beautiful courtyard with orange trees, and Gothic style hall that served as a trade centre during the medieval period.
A great place to do people watching.
The place to try refreshing gelato while being entertained by street performers. The tourist shuttle bus that brings tourists around the city also departs from here.
Shop for a variety of exquisite handcrafted porcelain figurines by the world’s finest porcelain producer.
It’s a famous shopping mall chain in Spain that meets Valencianos’ retail needs.
You’ll find many specialty shops like chocolatiers and florists, including and hip cafes frequented by chic crowds.
This colourful market has a stunning dome at its centre point. Do try the Horchata (tiger nut milk) that goes well with Fartons Polo bread while you are here.
Go to this sophisticated place to enjoy top quality pintxos (small snacks) and varied menu inspired by the Basque fishing villages.
Owned by a lovely well-travelled man, Marc, this cafe serves the best Valencian signature cocktail in town called Agua de Valencia. Make some time to chat with him too; Marc is the Valencia’s ultimate insider that travellers can refer to.
Josep Quintana is one of the most renowned chefs in Spain, but he is unpretentious and creates delicious dishes that express his passion.
The hotel is strategically located in the heart of Valencia and accepts pets up to 10kg.
To true Picasso fans, Malaga sounds familiar. It was the birthplace of that iconic Spanish painter and the place where he spent the first ten years of his life until his family moved away. Some might say that the period of ten years is not long, but to the Malagans, Picasso is one of their own and their hero. So it comes naturally that a couple of museums are opened in the city as a tribute to his works. One of them is in the Plaza de Merced, where his father rented from 1880 to 1883. On the ground floor is where the temporary exhibition takes place, where visitors can see various interesting artworks related to the artist. The first floor, on the other hand, displays the works by his father who was an art professor, including personal mementos of the Picasso family. The third floor is dedicated to the library and Research Centre, with an expansive archive of material on the artist and his work.
On the 27th October 2003, another museum dedicated to Picasso is established in the Palacio de Buenavista. Here, visitors can expect to see more of Picasso’s signature works such as ‘Olga Kokhlova with Mantilla’ (1917), ‘Portrait of Paulo with White Hat’ (1923) and my personal favourite, the ‘Maternity: Mother and Child’ (1921). The entrance fee is €10 per adult. Youths below 18 enter free.
“I can see myself revisiting this place again in the future” was my honest reaction when I arrived at this charming village nestled on a beautiful hillside overlooking a valley. In fact, I’ve heard many artists and writers have made this place their home too, alongside other 7,500 inhabitants. The whitewashed, flower-filled cobbled streets give Mijas a distinctive medieval feel with a rich history dating back to the Roman times. However, this quaint little village is not only well-loved for being picturesque – there are also plenty things to see and do. Nearby stands a golf course, a water park, El Carromato de Max (Museum of miniatures), Mijas Bullfighting Museum and two eighteenth-century chapels San Sebastián and Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, among others.
It’s the best-preserved Moorish fortress-palace in Spain built around 756 – 780AD.
It unites different architectural styles: Gothic on the ground floor, Renaissance at its elevation, and Baroque on the main facade and roof decoration. Try climbing up the 200 steps of the tower to enjoy beautiful panoramic view of the city’s skyline and coast.
Shopaholics may need at least a day to explore this romantic street featuring both household names and artisan brands.
This popular restaurant is a hotspot in Malaga and is frequented by many celebrities, including Antonio Banderas. It offers lively atmosphere, great music and sometimes flamenco show too.
A quaint place perfect for wine tasting or intimate gathering with friends.
Snazzy hotel in a revamped 20th century mansion with some smart designer features.
Valencia and Malaga were just like I imagined; nothing short of spectacular. My journey in Spain, however, did not stop there. Be sure to follow the continuation of this story in Issue 11.2. “Eso es un hombre guapo que veo alli?” – now who can tell me what this means?
This article is included in Gaya Travel Magazine Issue 11.1. Read the magazine for free HERE.