With its green grass, resplendent rice paddies and delicately scented orange groves, the Valencian Community is one of Spain’s better kept secrets. On the Mediterranean coast lies Playa de Gandía; a sizeable town with miles of golden sands. More popular with Spanish, and other European tourists; it’s something of a hidden gem.
A town of two parts
Gandía is essentially a two-part town: a traditional antiquated village and an enormous, modern beachfront. Generally speaking, foreigners prefer the beach area. Like the town itself, the people of Gandía have something of a dual identity. Within the region of Valencia, Gandían people speak primarily Valenciano, which is a dialect of Catalan. This means their castellano, or regular Spanish, is spoken very clearly. Due to ‘Spanish’ being their second language, people from the Valencian Community are both more tolerant and understanding of non-native speakers. Many people also speak English in the beachside locale.
Native inhabitants tend to spend more of their time in the subordinate township of Gandía. Spending some time there on a hot, bustling day, you can see why. It has a relaxed feel to it, with much cheaper prices than Playa de Gandía. Like most Spanish towns, it is host to a weekly market, where you will find affordable locally grown foods.
Surrounded by the Valencia region, famous for its wines, rice and oranges, the scenery is striking. Walled castles, untouched mountains and winding vineyards are just some of the captivating sights you’ll pass when visiting anywhere within the area.
The Moorish castle at Xàtiva was actually built by Romans. Perhaps this marriage of two influences explains why it is so reminiscent of an Andalusian castle. In around 1145, it was seized by the Moorish Governor of Valencia: Abd-al-Aziz. Under Moorish occupancy for around 100 years, there is evidence within its grounds. Manicured Moorish gardens, decadent fountains and perfumed orange groves make the estate perfect for ambling in the sun. Atop the castle walls, one can get a view of the stunning surroundings and shimmering rooftops of beautiful white houses within the village. Sweeping plains and gentle mountains give the area a unique beauty, which is outlined by the Mediterranean coast. A visit to nearby Cova Negra provides a shaded walk through fig trees and a paddle in an inland stream. During the hotter months, this is a popular spot for families.
A stunning and slightly less grand castle sits at the top of Cullera, neighbour to Gandía. An enjoyable beach with a large plaza, the real gem of Cullera takes a bit of effort to get to. Walking past its yellow church and on through shady pine pathways, lies a picturesque window. At times a nail-biting climb is worth the effort for the spectacular view of the Mediterranean coastline and the island of Ibiza. Be sure to cool off with a cool granizado afterwards.
At Sueca, Oliva and Xeraco, just kilometres from Gandía, one can see a shimmering in the fields. Standing at Cullera’s highspots, the surrounding landscape is studded with jewels. On closer inspection, the glittering is a sign of well tended rice paddies. Initially brought to Valencia during Moorish rule over 1000 years ago, rice is the main ingredient in that most famous of Spanish dishes – paella.
Authentic Valencian Paella tends to focus on using what the region has to offer. Snails, chicken and rabbit are more likely ingredients than fish or seafood. The dish is usually studded with beans, grown in the slopes nearby. If seafood is your thing, though, you must try another Valencian speciality: fideuá. Replacing rice with petite pasta tubes, fideuá is usually served with alioli.
Worth a visit nearby is the Moorish walled city of Alzira. Between Valencia City and Xàtiva, it is unremarkable at first sight. However, it is this very plainness that makes Alzira stand out. Holidays were made for soaking up the sun in the scent of oranges on the busy Plaza Mayor and watching ordinary Valencians go about their ordinary day.
A dried up river bed snakes throughout the town, surrounded by yet more walls. Now home to date palms and graffiti, this river actually made Alzira an island back in the day.
For something different, Sidreria La Pometa offers Asturias cider and Galician inspired tapas. The Pulpo a la Gallega melts in the mouth, leaving a delicious taste of smoked paprika.