Our Experience in Valencia, Spain

We decided to live in Valencia during September 2016.

We selected Valencia after reading an article in International Living magazine and doing other research about the city and surrounding area.  Lonely Planet and their chapters on Valencia & Murcia from their book on Spain also provided a great resource on this area.

Our rental car was from Hertz, sourced through AAA.  A Compact-sized Hyundai i30 at an amazing 137€ rate for the month.  Since the rate was so low and some concern about the i30 or equivalent size for our four suitcases and backpacks, I also rented an SUV through Thrifty as a backup.

Little did I know that Hertz and Thrifty shared the same Valencia Airport counter/ agents.  When the agent asked me if I had rented two cars, I fessed up.  She laughed and mentioned my 137€ rate was “less than 2 beers a day and how did I get this rate”.  Since she was incentivized to upgrade me, I got a monthly rate for an SUV at  100€ less than my backup deal.  A very fair price and another Tip:  ask for a free upgrade, maybe you’ll get lucky.  If not, negotiate a price for an upgraded car at the counter (but know what the internet price is going into the negotiation).

Kia Sportage, $552 for the month

We found our “luxury apartment” on and enjoyed a 50% discount from the posted rate by dealing early in the season (January) with the leasing agent.  This 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartment with patio and parking worked out great.  However, I learned that a 1st floor (2nd floor in USA) apartment with the master bedroom in the front, even on a tributary street can be noisy due to all night traffic and pedestrians after midnight.  Another Tip, if the discount seems “too good”, at least understand why (I asked about noise but received a weak response and got caught up in the low price vs. push for more info.)
This said, the noise was tolerable and the large apartment worked out great as we had a forever friend of Alicia join us for a few days early on; and great friends join us for a week, mid-month.

The first week of our month in Valencia was spent learning about the city, it’s food and produce market, it’s beautiful Cathedral and Basilica with adjoining Plaza, the beach and what turned out to be our favorite restaurant.

Mercado / Market                        Valencia Beach

Valencia Cathedral                      Cathedral Dome

Plaza del Virgin and Basilica                       Our Favorite Restaurant…. Escalones
Next to Lonja (Exchange of Silks Museum)

To expand Alicia’s forever friend’s exposure of the area, we ventured on a day-trip to Cuenca – a city with “Hanging Houses on a hill” about 2 hours North towards Madrid.  Perched high atop a hill, Cuenca lacked the option to spread out as it grew.  Their solution:  expand upwards and outwards.  This is a must see attraction.

Cuenca’s Hanging Houses                     Walking Bridge to “Old Town” and Hanging Houses
(best to drive up, park and walk the streets)

Eating throughout Valencia, we discovered:  Agua de Valencia – a “smooth drink” made from Orange Juice, Champaign, Gin and Vodka (Google for recipe).  Yummy – however, limit at lunch unless you’re planning a siesta.

On the 10th , we took a taxi to the airport (cheaper than parking at airport for 4-days) and flew to Seville for Alicia’s birthday.  (Decided to fly on Iberia for 175€, round trip for 2 vs. 8-hour one way drive.)

We rented a small 1-bedroom apartment in a great location near Old Town from  Since this was a 3-day rental, there where no discounts on this fair priced, 250€ for 3-nights apartment.   We also used the rental agent’s pick-up service to insure quick arrival /departure from/to the airport  from the apartment (25€ each way).  This also insured we were well coordinated with the agent meeting us at the apartment to exchange keys, provide Internet logon info and advice on “must see’s” in the area.

We were able to walk to all of the attractions in Seville:  City Centre, Cathedral (third largest in Europe), Royal Fortress and all the surrounding restaurants, bars and stores as well as the famous Real Maestranza bullring.  We enjoyed a relaxing dinner on Alicia’s birthday and enjoyed many other restaurants during our stay.  We went to mass on Sunday at a smaller church, Church of Salvador in Salvador Plaza on the way to the Cathedral.  It was an ABC (another beautiful church) and more quaint than the Cathedral.

Seville Cathedral and Plaza                               Plaza opposite View from the Cathedral

Plaza del Salvador & Salvador Church                                     Real Maestranza Bullring

Inside the Royal Fortress                Alicia’s Birthday Restaurant

On the 13th, we returned to Valencia for a few days prior to our friend’s arrival and continued to explore the city.  We headed several blocks west of the Cathedral and discovered the Plaza del Ayuntamiento surrounded by the Government/Town Hall and Post Office buildings and nearby the bullring and primary shopping area.  We found many new restaurants to enjoy filling lunches and Aqua de Valencia.  The weather was now in the low 80’s and we averaged 5 miles walking per day.

Government / Town Hall Building            View Away from Town Hall
Area surrounding the Plaza del Ayuntamiento

Mercado / Market Plaza at Night                 Valencia Bullring near N. Train Station
(the Mercado is closed at night but this was a special Party/Event)

Our friends arrived on the 14th in the early afternoon, which allowed us time to visit the Mercado/Market and Plaza of the Virgin (outside the Basilica de la Virgin and behind the Cathedral) to enjoy a drink at Café & Tapas (best Sangria in town) and now our favorite place to people watch.

We spent the next couple of days showing our friends around Valencia, including the beach, a great beach-side restaurant for lunch and another trip to the Mercado to buy some fresh shellfish and other seafood that a nearby restaurant, El Rocito del Medo, cooked for 4€!!

Casa Zaragoza on Valencia’s Beach                      So which seafood will I pick to have cooked

A day was also spent visiting the “New Valencia” and its City of Arts and Sciences (some say Valencia’s main attraction).  This “city” consists of a Planetarium, Oceanografic (aquarium), Opera House and Science Centre.  Beautiful architecture, interesting and another must see… but not cheap – Oceanografic costs 25€ per person, other facilities less but still pricy.

Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia (Opera House)                         Prince Felipe Museum of the Sciences
and L’Hemisferic

Science Museum                  Oceanografic / Aquarium

After four days in Valencia with our friends, we headed out for Barcelona.

This 3-hour drive on the E7 toll road was an easy trip.  Along the way, we stopped in Tarragona, an hour before Barcelona, to see its ruins and enjoy magnificent views of the Mediterranean.  The weather was beautiful and the water was a magnificent color of Azul/blue.   Tarragona was all the hype implied.  Parking a few blocks from the ruins, we walked the city streets along the sea – it was mesmerizing.  The view of the ruins created more great memories and we enjoyed a lunch of pizza that would make Italy proud.  Unfortunately, the time came to leave as our apartment agent was waiting to deliver our keys in Barcelona.

Tarragona Square                 Tarragona Ruins, Beach and the Mediterranean

Another great 2 bedroom, 2-bath apartment sourced from Valencia Luxury became our home for 3 evenings.  The location was perfect, at the far end of Avenue of La Rambla – the promenade for many of the restaurants, stores and attractions.

Since we were unable to secure parking with the apartment rental, we asked our local English/ Spanish speaking check-in agent to negotiate a parking spot in a nearby lot.  At 20€ per day, we felt like we got a deal (saw parking signs for 1€ per ten minutes in the area).

On our 1st day in Barcelona, we explored.  We took the metro down to Old Town.  Walked along Avenue of La Rambla, toured the Barcelona Cathedral, devoured an outdoor lunch and enjoyed the beautiful 75-degree sunny day.

Avenue of La Rambla                                        Placa Reial – Barcelona’s Liveliest Square

On our 2nd day, we took the train to Montserrat.  This is one of the top sites to see around Barcelona and is an hour by train or car from town.  Although parking is free once at Monsurant, the train was the best way to travel – countryside views and a more local experience.

We purchased a TOT ticket for 47€ per person at the Metro Station that included the train to Montserrat and access to all parts of the grounds, funiculars, monestary, and museum as well as a “good” lunch.  Yes, cafeteria style but tasty fish, chicken, salad bar and basic desert along with unlimited wine, beer and soda (another good reason to take the train).  Anyone going to Barcelona needs to visit Montserrat.

Cable Car to Montserrat              Map of Monastery and all surrounding Areas

Monastery, Museum and Surrounding Buildings      The Twelve Apostles above the entrance of
the Basilica of Montserrat

Our final day had to be dedicated to Basilique de la Sagrada Familia, the Gaudi masterpiece.

You must purchase tickets to Sagrada in advance.  Ticket selections offer a 30-minute window or schedule as to when you can enter.  Don’t be late. You can stay as long as desired – plan ~2 hours.  Be sure to use the official Sagrada Familia website, as there are several broker sites that charge a fee.  (Not knowing, we purchased at 8pm the day before, a Wednesday, and first available entry time was noon.  We used the receipt on our iPhone as proof to enter.  Printed tickets obviously works too.)

We spent an hour circling/walking around the Sagrada Familia observing the many and amazing biblical story reenactments depicted.  Truly incredible.

Sagrada Familia as of Sept ’16     Angles with the Star of Bethlehem    View once completed in 2026

Close up View of the Stained Glass Window over the Entrance, Ceiling… and a wider View of the Inside

When it came time to enter, we obtained self-paced tour audio devices for our wives and Mark and I took the elevator to the top of the Passion tower.  (All included in the ticket packages purchased online – around 80€ for four persons, senior rate).

The inside was “cool looking” and full of colored glass windows – the Gaudi touch – but somewhat Avant Guard.  The walk down the Passion tower allowed closer views to the outside sculptures (however all window/portal holes in the tower were covered with fencing that made picture taking challenging).  Our wives said the audio tour was poor with only one of the “talks” providing interesting information.

This said, seeing the inside of Sagrada is indeed worth the time and cost but the real memories are outside and free – allow time for both.

After seeing Sagrada and enjoying lunch nearby, we found our car (in one of those 10€ per hour lots) and began a speedy trip back to Barcelona.   Tip: unless you’re looking for a fast getaway from town, take the Metro to the Sagrada station.

Arriving back in Valencia around 7pm, we decided to pull an all-nighter watching a few movies and enjoying some wine.  We then dropped our friends at the airport at 4am for their flight to Madrid and then on to Dallas.  Alicia and I went home to bed.

Now with a little less than two week left, Alicia and I embarked on our time alone phase – my favorite time.

We continued to enjoy Valencia and all the now familiar Plaza’s, restaurants, churches and good wine.  We also embarked upon several one-day side trips outside the city.

We headed southeast to the Costa Blanco area of Spain along Hwy 337.  We discovered Playa de Bellreguard, a small beach town with soft, clean sand and only a few sun worshipers.  A relaxing stop for lunch – 10€ for salad, fish, cheesecake and drink (too bad I was driving as beer or wine offered).

The Beach at Playa de Bellreguard along Costa Blanco               Today’s Lunch Menu

Then we drove along some amazing cliff views and overhanging restaurants with beautiful views near Xiena.  Continuing south, we searched out more coastal roads hugging the Mediterranean.  Seeing a mixture of simple homes, super expensive homes, beaches, marinas and beautiful shorelines.

This could be YOU with EuropeInLuxury – Contact Us            Outdoor Bar in the Marina near Denia

Restaurante Mena in Denia                                               Xiena Shoreline along Costa Blanco

Reaching Calpe and its famous Penon del Ifach rock, we decided it was time to head back to our Valencia home.

Penon del Ifach Rock in Calpe            The Calpe Promenade and Shoreline

A few days later, we headed to Chera about an hours drive towards Madrid.  Earlier, I met a gentleman and his wife in a pharmacy who help me ask a question in Spanish.  I learned he lived the weekends in Chera where his wife was born.  He said it was beautiful and he rented his home for 160€ per month.

What he didn’t say was that it was in a large valley of wine estates and olive groves.  Chera was indeed beautiful but the real “find” was the surrounding areas and towns.

Chera City Centre and Surrounding Hills                 Vineyards and Olive Groves just outside of Chera

The day was perfect, in the 70’s and blue sky.  Unfortunately, it was Sunday and the wineries were closed for “tours and tasting”.  So we decided to take back roads towards Utiel, 15 miles away and well known for its wineries.  A beautiful castle-like estate caused us to stop.  Wandering around the “closed” grounds, we interrupted the estate owner’s outside family lunch.  Although we were not asked to join, we were able to ask several questions to the obviously proud owner.

Winery Estate Between Chera and Utiel                               Hand depicting Harvesting Grapes in Utiel

For our last all day journey, we chose Sagunto, where the remains of the Roman city of Saguntum resides.

Sagunto has much to see and is only a 45-minute drive towards Barcelona.  We followed the signs to Old Town and tried to drive up to the main church.  With “typical European old, narrow streets”, we decided to park and walk.

Remains on the hilltop of the Roman City of Saguntum            A new definition of “narrow street” for me

Beautiful views as we climbed the 5-7% grade.  At Ermita de Santisimo Cristo, a small church, we walked the “stations of the cross” in the outside courtyard, as well as enjoyed several other depictions of Jesus’s life before climbing the stone path towards the Castle of Sagunto.

Ermita de Santisimo Cristo Church Entrance           The Stations of the Cross in the Church Courtyard

Jesus taken down from Cross                           A few of the many courtyard depictions of Jesus’ life

Continuing to explore, we found a charming outdoor restaurant for lunch, Le fou – and I discovered its best to ask “what kind of fish” but also learned that a sardine appetizer is not as bad as it sounds.

After lunch, we continued up to the castle.  This took us to the Teatro – an old Amputhether converted into an outdoor music venue – where we were treated to the Orchestra’s prep for the evening’s show.  We encountered more spectacular views of the city and its blue-domed churches.

Sagunto Teatro Orchestra “warming up”             One of the many Blue Tile Domes found on top
of most of the Churches along the Mediterranean

In our remaining days in Valencia, we made plans to visit the Lladro factory.  The Lladro facility is about 15 minutes from Valencia’s centre.  You need to have a reservation to tour the factory and the multiple stages associated with creating these art pieces.

The Lladro web site says to call well in advance to schedule a tour, however we called an hour before leaving.  Luckily, we were invited to join a bus tour’s reservation. The tour provided a very informative movie of Lladro’s history, visit to observe actual workers and their work in progress, followed by an opportunity to see the entire line of Lladro offerings in the gallery.

Upon arriving, we were informed that the bus tour was running late.  So, they let us  tour the gallery by ourselves.  Walking around, I entered an area with big creations.  I hadn’t asked about photos yet and latter learned photos were not allowed.  But upon seeing this one piece, I instinctively decided to “go for the shot”.  On the tour, I learned the artwork was the last Lady of the Nile piece, number 100 of 100.  Priced at 160,000€.  I felt lucky to get the shot.

Entrance to Lladro HQ and Factory                  Lady of the Nile #100 of 100, 160,000€

Towards the end of the tour, we asked the guide if they sold 2nd ‘s (slightly damaged) pieces.  She asked us to remain after the bus tour departed – as they were not going to the “other” showroom.  We were taken to the 2nd Store and discovered about 1/3rd of the current pieces from the main gallery and numerous “older” pieces – all at 50% off!!  I could not tell why these gems didn’t make the big league.  I even asked the store manager “where’s the flaw”.  He said he couldn’t tell either but this could be his standard answer. Anyway – Lladro is a must visit in Valencia…  and make sure to quickly go through the gallery, then head to the 2nd ‘s store before making any purchase.

As is always the case, our living experience in Europe came to an end and it was time to return to reality with our many memories intact.

As we headed to the airport, we  knew Valencia and its many places to see, Plaza’s to eat, drink and people watch, amazing churches and all its surrounding towns with great beaches, cliffs and history was the perfect choice for our third year of luxury in Europe.

We are now looking for our next adventure.  Alicia wants to go back to Italy.   Maybe Amafi Coast/Naples.  We’ll let you know next year.