The province of Valencia is the middle of the three which make up the Comunidad Valenciana,( the other two being Alicante and Castellón) and in terms of population is the third largest of the fifty in Spain with over two and a half million inhabitants. One third of these live in the capital, while the rest are distributed among 264 other municipalities, of which around 180 have populations of under 5,000.
The largest municipalities apart from Valencia itself are Gandía, Torrente, Sagunto and Paterna, and just over 10% of the population is accounted for by non-Spaniards.
Although it is tempting to think of the province as being dominated by beaches, this is not strictly true. The coastal plain is long and wide, but inland there are mountains reaching a highest point of 1,837 metres above sea level in the Cerro Calderón.
The valleys formed by the Turia, Júcar, Serpis and Palancia rivers are steep and spectacular, there is a high plain in the Requena-Utiel area, and there are also many lakes and reservoirs throughout the province including those of Contreras, Tous, Embarcaderos, Benageber, Loriguilla, Cortes II, la Muela, El Naramjero, Forata and Bellús. In fact the sandy beaches of the province of Valencia are perhaps not as well known to foreign visitors as those of its neighbours to the north (Castellón) and south (Alicante), but the wide coastal plain, dotted with orange groves, and the mountains inland provide it with a varied and picturesque landscape.
On the coast the wetlands park area La Albufera de Valencia, just 10km from the city of Valencia, covers 24 square kilometres and is surrounded by 200 square kilometres of rice paddies, an area separated from the sea by a thin strip of land, but creating a unique wetland which supports a vast range of wildlife.
Throughout the last couple of millennia Valencia has been successively inhabited by the Iberians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Visigoths, the Muslims and then of course the Christians in the medieval and modern periods, and all over the area there are vestiges of all these different cultures.
In the city centre of Valencia itself there are plenty of monuments and museums commemorating past civilizations. To the north is the city of Sagunto, which is a must for lovers of old ruins: the impressive Roman circus and theatre attract visitors from afar, and ever since the Iberians built a castle on the prominent hill which gave them protection and advantage, the city has attracted successive colonists and settlers.
In terms of cuisine the province is famed as the home of the true paella in all its glory, and the fruit and vegetables are also rightly renowned. “Horchata” (a tiger-nut drink) is a native of the province, as is the “Agua de Valencia” cocktail, which consists of sparkling cava wine, orange juice, vodka and gin. The local wines are also well-known, and the Valencia label is one of the highest volume producers in the country.
On top of the history, the food, the wine, the countryside, the beaches and the Mediterranean climate, it mustn’t be forgotten that the city of Valencia has become one of the most modern in Spain. Host to a Formula 1 circuit for a few years, it has been thrust into the forefront of cultural tourism by the modern City of Arts and Sciences, designed by local architect Santiago Calatrava. This attracts thousands of visitors of all ages daily, featuring the opera house, the science museum, a planetarium, an IMAX 3-D cinema, a laserium and Europe’s largest aquarium. The city also has the Bioparc, a zoo with animals set in natural surroundings.
And, of course, the fiestas. All of Spain loves to party, and Valencia is no exception. Every 19th March (San José, and Fathers’ Day in Spain) sparks the week-long festival of noise and colour known as the Fallas de Valencia. On the days leading up to the 19th there are parades, floral offerings and, above all, fireworks and bonfires, and on the evening of the 19th itself there is a grand parade of giant papier mâché and wood statues, many of them satirically depicting events from current affairs.
After the parade, at around midnight, these figures are ceremoniously burnt, and the bonfires and accompanying fireworks of the “Cremà” provide one of the most spectacular events in Spain. Needless to say the parade and the Cremà are accompanied by revelry throughout the city, and similar events are held at the same time in other cities such as Gandía.
The province also has a multitude of other celebrations throughout the year, with Semana Santa, Three Kings and a never ending succession of saint’s days providing a constant flow of fiestas, accompanied with a rich cultural offering in the many theatres and cultural centres around the province.
The province is historically subdivided into comarques, listed here in Valenciano, the second oficial language of the province and the whole of the Comunidad Valenciana:
El Camp de Túria, El Camp de Morvedre, La Canal de Navarrés, La Costera, La Foia de Bunyol, L’Horta de València, Horta Nord, Horta Oest, Horta Sud, Valencia, La Plana de Utiel, El Rincón de Ademuz, La Ribera Alta, La Ribera Baixa, La Safor, Els Serrans, La Vall d’Albaida, La Vall de Cofrents.
Valencia province is well serviced with an extensive rail and road network, and also has its own airport, Manises, ( IATA: VLC) which is the eighth busiest in Spain and located 8km west of Valencia city.