The Valencian Community (Valencian: Comunitat Valenciana, Spanish: Comunidad Valenciana), sometimes also known as the Valencian Country, is an autonomous community or region of Spain in the central and south-eastern Iberian Peninsula.
For many people, the region conjures up images of endless fine beaches, unspoiled water and beautiful weather. Alongside this, the wonderful eating, spectacular festivals, traditional Spanish cities and surprising cultural scene offer a true taste of Spain with a Valencian twist. Further inland, the incredibly varied geography of the region means that there are plenty of natural wonders to surprise any visitor.
The region is made up of three provinces, with a shared history as part of the historic Crown of Aragon. As such, they have a common culture which also shares much with Catalonia and Aragon. This culture and the beautiful, varied landscape makes it an attractive destination for tourists, with millions visiting from Spain and the rest of Europe each year.
The Valencian region is divided into three provinces.
(Valencian: Castelló) is the northernmost province, with a mountainous interior and the much visited Costa del Azahar (Costa dels Tarongers – 'orange blossom coast').
(Valencian: València) has the largest population and the capital city of Valencia.
(Valencian: Alacant), the southernmost province, is most known for its Costa Blanca ('white coast'), which draws millions of visitors from all over Europe each year.
- 1 Valencia (València) - the eponymous capital of the region and the third largest city in Spain, with a thriving cultural scene.
- 2 Almàssera
- 3 Buñol - an small, attractive town which has been inhabited for millennia and hosts the annual La Tomatina festival and tomato fight
- 4 Cullera
- 5 Gandía - a hotspot of domestic tourism for years, Gandia is a city split between a historic old town and modern beach resort.
- 6 Sagunto (Sagunt) - a historically important coastal city, Sagunto is brimming full of ancient attractions.
- 7 Xàtiva (Játiva) - a fascinating town with centuries of history, a dramatic hilltop fortress and atmospheric town centre.
- 8 Alicante (Alacant) - a dynamic tourist hotspot on the Costa Blanca with an attractive waterfront promenade to complement its buzzing nightlife.
- 9 Benidorm - a famous summer destination for international tourists, it is a major resort town with high rise hotels by the beach and nearby theme parks.
- 10 Calp (Calpe) - a popular tourist town at the foot of the imposing Natural Park of Penyal d'Ifac, which sticks out into the Mediterranean.
- 11 Dénia (Dénia) - a buzzing port town with top food choices and good beaches.
- 12 Xàbia (Jàvia) - a coastal market town with a long waterfront in a wide bay and an old town full of winding streets.
- 13 Castellón (Castelló) - the small but attractive provincial capital is off the tourist radar and is a hub for travel in the Costa del Azahar.
- 14 Montanejos - an inland town in mountainous Castellón Province with beautiful scenery and outdoor recreational activities.
- 15 Peñiscola (Peníscola)
The Valencian Community is one of Spain's most popular domestic and international tourist destinations. As a result of excellent air, road and rail links and a hot Mediterranean climate in the summer, 9 million international tourists visited the region in 2017. With over 400 km of coastline, the community is perhaps best known for its beautiful beaches, with stretches such as Alicante province's Costa Blanca particularly popular. It has large resort towns which double in population each summer, and smaller coastal villages which offer a more sedate experience.
It would be wrong to assume that the Valencian Community is all about the coast however - it is an exceptionally varied region, with beautiful forests in Castellón province and great mountainous areas further inland. The unique culture of the Valencian people and history of the region also sees tourists visit to experience some of the stunning architecture, culture and cuisine of cities such as Xàtiva and the regional capital Valencia. Pictures from Buñol are beamed around the world each year in August, during La Tomatina - the festival in which 40,000 people join in a giant tomato fight in the town centre. Those who aren't keen on the idea of throwing their food will, however, still be attracted to the region's famous gastronomical offerings - including the paella, bunyols (a sweet fried pastry) and the orxata drink.
The area now known as the Valencian Community has been inhabitated since pre-history, with evidence that hunter-gatherers were active in the region 30,000 years ago. The region was later inhabited by the Iberians, who populated the eastern and southern coasts of Iberia. After several centuries of settlement by the Greeks and the Carthaginians, the region became territory of the Roman Republic after the Second Punic War. In 138 BC, the Romans founded the city of Valentia which became an important settlement. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the region was ruled by various groups until the arrival of the Moors from Northern Africa in 711 AD, and Moorish influence on the region's culture and architecture is still evident. Moorish rule led to significant advances in the area, with centres of learning established and major irrigation systems transforming large arid tracts into fertile agriculture land.
In the Spanish Reconquista, James I of Aragon led the Christian invasion and conquest of the area in the 13th century, resulting in the establishment of the Kingdom of Valencia in 1238, as an independent country within the Crown of Aragon. Over the following two centuries, Valencia came to become politically powerful as it ended up achieving the greatest population and economic power within the Crown. It was during this period that saw the Golden Age of Valencian Culture and the growth of Valencia's power due to the growing silk trade. Following the union of the Crowns of Aragon and Castile, the Kingdom of Valencia entered a slow decline which culminated in the loss of a third of its population when King Philip III expelled the Christian descendants of the historic Muslim population in the 16th century.
In 1707, King Philip V of Spain abolished the Kingdom of Valencia and subsumed it into the Kingdom of Castile. This resulted in the abolition of Valencian institutions and use of the Valencian language was forbidden for official purposes and in education. It was not until the establishment of the Second Spanish Republic in 1936 that Valencian self-government seemed a realistic prospect again, but this hope was extinguished by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The Valencian language was again repressed during Franco's dictatorship in favour of Spanish, but the end of his rule in 1977 saw the creation of the partially-autonomous Council of the Valencian Country before the region became an autonomous community in 1982.
Agriculture has been an important industry in the region for centuries, due to the fertile soil available along the coastal plain. Citrus cultivation is particularly prominent and the export of fruit led to an economic boom in the late 19th century. Today however, tourism has been the largest industry in the region since the introduction of regular charter flights and package holidays in the 1960s. Almost 9 million international tourists visited the region in 2017 alongside a significant number of domestic tourists.
Name after the homonymous regional capital, the name Valencia dates back to the Roman settlement of the region around 138 BC. One of the oldest cities in Spain, Valentia Edetanorum translates as 'Valiance of the Land of the Lamb'. During Moorish rule during the medieval period, this developed into Balansiyah, which later evolved into Valencia after the Spanish Reconquista.
The name 'Valencian Community' is relatively new, having been adopted in 1982 when the region became an autonomous community. This was a compromise between the two competing names 'Valencian Country' and 'Former Kingdom of Valencia'. The former was supported by those who wanted to highlight the nationality status of the Valencian people while the latter was proposed by those who wanted to avoid the perception that the region was simply one of the 'Catalan Countries'. Despite the compromise, there are still some who continue to use the name Valencian Country when referring to the region.
The first official language is Valencian (Catalan), which aside from a few minor differences is essentially the same language as Catalan spoken in neighbouring Catalonia. Valencians prefer to refer to their own version of the language as Valencian (Spanish: Valenciano), not Catalan. While nationalist sentiments in Valencia are not as strong as in Catalonia, locals are proud of their language and appreciate any attempts by outsiders to speak it. Valencian is not spoken universally throughout the region, however. Roughly 10% of the population speaks only Spanish, primarily in the western mountainous regions of Castellón and Valencia provinces.
As with other parts of Spain, Spanish is co-official with the local language. English is spoken by staff at major hotels and the main tourist attractions, but otherwise, it is not widely spoken.
The region is primarily served by two main airports:
- Alicante-Elche Airport: The fifth busiest airport in Spain, 9 km southwest of Alicante. It serves destinations across Europe with hundreds of flights per day and a marked increase in activity in the summer tourist season. The flight is well served with budget airlines meaning that international flights to the airport can often be cheap. The terminal provides a modern travelling experience with shops and restaurants airside. Many car rental companies operate from the airport and bus route C6 provides a connection to Alicante city centre.
- Valencia Airport: 8 km to the west of Valencia, the airport has flight connections from approximately 20 countries. The airport is connected to Metrovalencia, providing direct metro access to the city centre.
A third international airport - Castellón–Costa Azahar Airport - opened in 2011 but has been plagued by controversy and consequently few flights operate out of the airport.
From Madrid, RENFE provides the following direct AVE (high speed) services:
- Frequent trains from Valencia, taking approximately 1 hr 45 min.
- A handful of services from Castellón each day, taking between 2 hr 30 min and 3 hr 30 min.
- Services from Alicante, taking approximately 2 hr 30 min.
To/from Barcelona, RENFE run the frequent Euromed service which connects all the major cities of the region, stopping at:
- Barcelona Sants
- Tarragona, Catalonia (55 min)
- Castellón (2 hr 20 min)
- Valencia Joaquin (3 hr 15 min)
- Alicante (4 hr 55 min)
- A number of services run between Barcelona and the city of Murcia, calling at Castellón, Valencia and Alicante. While this provides a connection to the region from Murcia, these trains are slower than the Euromed service for travellers going from Barcelona and are therefore less useful for intra-region travel.
Services from Valencia:
- Mostaganem, Algeria: Operated by Balearia, up to 3-4 crossings sail each week with a duration of around 16 hours.
- Formentera: Daily service operated by Transmediterranea.
- Ibiza: Daily services operated by Balearia and by Transmediterranea, with a duration of 5-6 hours.
- Palma, Mallorca: Daily services operated by Baleria and by Transmediterranea, with a duration of 8-10 hours.
Services from Gandia:
- Formentera: Daily service operated by Transmediterranea.
- Ibiza: Daily service operated by Transmediterranea, with a duration of 4 hours.
- Palma, Mallorca: Operated by Transmediterranea. Duration of 8 hours but does not sail every day.
Services to/from Denia:
- Formentera: Operated by Balearia, duration 2 hours. 5 crossings per week, increasing to daily during the summer.
- Ibiza: Twice-daily service operated by Balearia, with a duration of 3 hours.
- Mallorca: Daily service operated by Balearia, with a duration of 7 hours.
Inter-city coaches are prevalent in the region and the extensive network means that, while it won't be the quickest option, the coach might often be an easier and cheaper choice than the train - especially in those places not served by the railway network. The destinations served from the major cities include many towns, so you might be surprised about how easy it is to get the coach to an destination that's off the beaten track.
Alsa operate the most services by far and tickets can be pre-booked online. It is possible to turn up and buy a ticket at the coach station, as many Spanish locals do, but it is advisable to arrive earlier in order to secure a ticket. Many coaches provide free wi-fi on board.
The main cities of the Valencian Community are connected by train, making it relatively easy to travel between the three provinces. Castellon, Valencia and Alicante are all connected via RENFE's Euromed service. The duration between Castellon and Valencia is approximately one hour while Alicante is is a further 90 minutes from Valencia.
A number of smaller towns in the region are served on the mainline rail network on spurs heading towards Barcelona, Madrid, Murcia and Zaragoza. Additionally, a spur from Xativa serves a number of towns and villages (El Genoves, Beniganim, La Pobla del Duc, Montaverner, Bufali, Albaida, Aguellent, Ontinyent, Agres and Cocentaina) before terminating in Alcoy.
Commuter and metropolitan rail
The major cities of the region are also served by extensive commuter rail and metro services around their metropolitan areas. The Cercanias Valencia (Valencian: Rodalia de Valencia) operates 66 stations across 6 lines in Valencia and Castellon provinces. All six lines terminate in Valencia (at either Valencia-Nord or Valencia-Sant-Isidre stations) and run to Gandia (line C1), Moxient (line C2), Utiel (line C3), Xirivella-L'Alter (line C4), Caudiel (line C5) and Castellon (line C6).
Similarly, the south of Alicante province benefits from the Cercanias Murcia/Alicante commuter rail service. Line C1 runs between Murcia Del Carmen and Alicante, stopping at Orihuela, Callosa de Segura, Albatera, Crevillente, Elche, Torellano and San Gabriel. Line C3 runs from Alicante north to the University of Alicante and San Vincente.
The Alicante metropolitan area and the Costa Blanca are connected by the Alicante Metropolitan TRAM. The services stretch from Alicante to Denia in the north, 90 km up the coast, with 71 stations on 5 lines. Major towns served include Benidorm, Altea, Calp and Denia.
The region is well served by Spain's extensive highway network for travel within between the major cities of the province. The AP-7 toll highway runs north-south through the region, following the coast, and passing Elche, Alicante, Benidorm, Denia, Gandia, Valencia Sagunt and Castellon. The A-7 highway offers a toll-free alternative, connecting Alicante, Valencia and Castellon but travels inland and avoids towns of the Costa Blanca.
The variety of attractions in the Valencian Community provide ample material to either fill an entire trip dedicated to sightseeing, or for taking an afternoon away from the beach. Below is a taste of what the region has to offer, with more detailed listings in the province and city pages.
The region's rich history means that it has countless historical sites dating back to prehistory. A large number of historic attractions have been preserved, allowing visitors to follow the history of Valencia and the wider Iberian peninsula. Travelers can find sites dating back to periods as varied as the Spanish Reconquista to the wealthy Spanish Empire or fortresses from the Napoleonic wars.
It offers three UNESCO World Heritage sites:
- In the region's capital, the llotja de la Seda (Silk Exchange) is an architecturally stunning Gothic building, in the city's old town, which has been a centre of trade and commerce in Valencia since the 15th century. It illustrates the power and wealth that once flowed through this part of Europe.
- The Palmeral of Elche in Alicante province was recognised by UNESCO in 2000. The site has seen the cultivation of date palsm since the 5th century BC. The use of elaborate irrigation systems by the Muslim settlers in the 10th century AD made this an oasis in the arid desert and it is now a unique example of Arab agricultural practices in Europe.
- At 301 sites, the Valencian Community contains the largest number of the 727 UNESCO World Heritage protected locations of prehistoric rock art in Spain. Dating from 8,000 BC to 3,500 BC, the art is some of the most advanced and widespread in the world from this period. While most sites are inaccessible, there are a number of places where it can be viewed - notably at the Museu de la Valltorta in Castellón province.
The region is home to a large number of castles and palaces which have been preserved and extended since the Roman era. The Castell de Morella is a stunning site, perched on a hilltop and crowning the medieval walled fortress town. Similarly, the Castell de Xàtiva has sensational views and impressive architecture which match the fascinating history - dating back millenia. The 14th-century Ducal Palace of Gandía was home to the Royal Dukes of Gandia and became home to the famous Borja family from 1485, making the palace a place of significant cultural interest.
Unsurprisingly, the region also contains a number of stunning churches and cathedrals. The site of Valencia's Cathedral de Santa Maria de Valencia has had a fascinating history as a Roman Temple, a Visigothic cathedral and a Moorish grand mosque before the construction of the current gothic Catholic structure in the 1262. The Santuario de Santa María Magdalena in Novelda, near Alicante was completed in 1946 and is an outstanding example of Valencian modernism which took inspiration from Gaudi and resembles Barcelona's Sagrada Familia.
Museums and galleries
The Valencian Community hosts one of the most famous museum complexes in Spain, the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia - which is one of the so-called 12 Treasures of Spain. This massive complex deserves a visit simply to take in the stunning contemporary architecture which have made it one of Valencia's most famous landmarks. The site is home to numerous attractions, including: El Museu de les Ciencies Principe Filipe - an giant interactive science museum, great for children. El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia - an opera house and performing arts centre. L'Hemisferic - a giant complex containing an IMAX cinema, planetarium and laserium. L'Oceanografic - Europe's largest oceanographic aquarium.
The region also boasts a number of prestigious modern art galleries, including the Institut Valencià d'Art Modern in Valencia, which was the first centre of contemporary art in Spain when it opened in 1989. In Alicante, the MACA Alicante Museum of Contemporary Art reopened in 2011 after a major renovation, the museum hosts a collection of 20th-century and contemporary art with works from artists including Eusebio Sempere, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí.
Visitors can also find museums dedicated to the region's long tradition of art. The Gravina Museum of Fine Arts is devoted to painting and sculpture of Alicante from the sixteenth century to the early decades of the twentieth century. Alternatively, the collections at the González Martí National Museum of Ceramics and Decorative Arts in Valencia are extensive.
Museums dedicated to the history and culture of the region include MARQ Archaeological Museum of Alicante which was the 2004 European Museum of the Year. Valencia's Museu Valencià d'Etnologia is an important museum which has sought to highlight the cultural distinctiveness of Valencia and the other Spanish regions, which has reemerged since the end of the Franco era.
Natural wonders and gardens
The Iberian peninsula is blessed with stunning natural wonders and the Valencian Community has many stunning natural attractions as well as examples of humans creating green spaces.
The region's coastline is varied and has many stunning features. In Calp, the Penyal d'Ifac is a massive limestone outcrop emerging from the sea, which is comparable to the Rock of Gibraltar and is now protected as Spain's smallest Natural Park. It is possible to walk up the rock for fantastic views as far as Ibiza on a clear day.
Further inland, the region's terrain is varied. The Palms Desert Nature Park in Castellón province is a protected area with peaks up to 729 m providing amazing views and a series of ruins in the area that are also of interest. In the mountainous regions, waterfalls and natural springs such as Les Fonts d'Algar in Alicante province or the springs of Montanejos are popular attractions.
Valencia is also home to the Jardin de Turia, a green oasis in the centre of the city which contains kilometers of parks, playgrounds and sports fields. Following severe flooding in the 1960s, the Turia River - which had run through Valencia for millenia - was diverted to protect the city. The old riverbed was then converted into what is now the Turia Gardens.
- Sunbathing and the sea. Unsurprisingly, this part of Spain attracts millions of tourists who seek to make the most of the beautiful coastline. The beaches of the Costa Blanca are perhaps the most famous in the region, with some of the best beaches including the Arenal in Xàbia, Playa El Alete about 10 kilometres south of Alicante, Playa La Caleta in Villajoyosa, Playa de Levante in Benidorm and Playa de La Fossa in Calp. Elsewhere, the beach in Gandia frequently receives awards for its quality and Las Arenas in Valencia is popular.
- Scuba diving. Abundant sea life and beautiful waters make the coast of the region an attractive place to dive. Divers of all abilities will find plenty of shops offering diving lessons and trips in major resorts. The region has two popular marine reserves - Islas Columbretes off Castellon and Isla Tabarca off the south of Alicante. Specific rules surrounding scuba diving (although not snorkling) are in place for marine reserves and you may need prior authorisation. Local diving organisations will be able to provide up to date information.
- Mountain biking. The varied terrain of the Valencian Community means that it is ideal for mountain biking. Across the region there are 10 BTT Centres, which offer hundreds of kilometers of routes in the surrounding areas and facilities for cyclists. Centres in the region are in Alto Palancia, El Comtat, El Valle, Els Ports, Los Serranos, Massis Caroig, Vall de Pop, Costa de Azahar, La Ribera and Alto Mijares.
- Association football is the most popular sport in the region, with teams in almost every town and village. Four teams play in the top division, La Liga: Valencia CF, Villareal CF, Elche CF and Levante CF. La Liga tickets typically go on sale a week before the confirmed date and it is advisable to buy tickets directly from the clubs or Ticket Master to avoid being scammed.
- Cycling sees the Vuelta a Espana race pass through the region each year in August. Like similar events, it is possible to stand along the route to see world-class distance cyclists compete.
- Valencian pilota: this traditional sport is a type of handball can be trace its roots back to the 15th century in the region and has been revived in modern times. Spectators can sit very close to the action to get a real feel of this unique Valencian sport.
- Moors and Christians festival: A set of festivals celebrated annually across the region, with each location commemorating at different times of the year. They festivals commemorate the battles between Muslims and Christians during the Spanish Reconquista and typically involve battle reenactments and parades. The biggest celebrations are typically in the south of the region with one of the most famous taking place at the end of April in Alcoy.
- Misteri d'Elx: The Mystery Play of Elche is performed annually on 14 and 15 August in the Basilica de Santa Maria in Elche. It dates back to the Middle Ages, reenacting the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and was declared a Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2001.
- La Tomatina: A world famous tomato fight which takes place on the last Wednesday of August in Bunol, near Valencia. The fight typically lasts one hour and 145,000 kg of tomatoes were used in 2015. Since 2013, participants are required to purchase tickets in order to limit the number of people flocking to the town for the festival.
Visitors to the Valencian Community will have likely already eaten some of the region's signature dishes, due to the worldwide fame of its rice dishes and the export of local citrus fruits. The geography of the region means that seafood plays a large part in its gastronomy, alongside meat and vegetables while there have been many influences from the surrounding regions.
When dining in the region, it is common to be offered pan y aioli (Valencian: pan y allioli) with the meal - bread, accompanied by the garlic aioli sauce and a chopped tomato sauce. Typically, establishments make their own aioli and often compete with neighbouring restaurants for the best sauce in the area.
Rice dishes are particularly famous in the region, with Valencian paella (pronounced pie-ey-ya) being the most widely known. The traditional Valencian version of the dish contains chicken and rabbit but there are now numerous versions available, most notably seafood and vegetable options. It is cooked in a large dish and many restaurants will only preparing it for a minimum of two people. In many cities, there are takeaway paella shops which provide portions to eat on the go.
Other rice dishes include arròs negre, a dish with squid and squid ink cooked in a paella dish. Arròs al forn usually contains sausages, chickpeas and potatoes and is cooked in an oven. Iberian sausages and other meat products are popular, such as embotits and sobrassada.
In common with much of Spain, the Valencian Community has experienced a boon in craft brewing over the past few years. This has led to a number of local beers becoming popular, including Zeta, Turia Marzen and Er Boqueron (the first beer in the world made from seawater) from around Valencia and La Socarrada from Xàtiva. Naturally, bars and restaurants also stock the usual range of other beers and most restaurants will have a house beers which will be served by default if you ask for a cerveza grande (large) or cerveza pequena (small).
Valencian wines are typically well regarded and there are three Protected Designations of Origin in the region: Alicante, Valencia and Utiel-Requena. Sparkling wine produced as cava is produced in Utiel-Requena. The Marina Alta area in the north of Alicante province makes a muscat called mistela.
Many restaurants and bars will also serve Agua de Valencia, the water of Valencia, containing Champagne, vodka and orange juice. Cocktails are common at many bars, especially in tourist resorts.
Crime in the Valencian Community is low and millions of tourists have safe visits each year. As a tourist destination the usual precautions should be taken again low level crime, such as pick-pocketing.
In some of the larger resorts, such as Benidorm, drinking to excess by holidaymakers can often get out of hand and has led to anti-social behaviour. The police are now taking a zero-tolerance approach and are drafting in more police officers during the high season to combat the problem. While it is unlikely that visitors passing through these areas at night would be in danger, it is worth being aware that this type of behaviour might be taking place around you.
Tourists are warned about unlicensed hawkers selling drinks on the beaches of major resorts. Investigations have found that the drinks are often made in unhygienic conditions with sub-standard alcohol and rotting fruit. It is best to avoid purchasing drinks from sellers touting them on the beach and instead use licensed bars and restaurants.
- Take the high speed train to the distinct and unique region of Catalonia and its world-famous capital Barcelona.
- Catch a ferry to Ibiza, Mallorca or Menorca in the Balearic Islands.
- The Spanish capital Madrid is only a few hours away from the region by train.
- Head south to the laid back and historic region of Murcia.