I was fortunate enough to visit Spain over the Christmas holidays. While, of course, I took the opportunity to visit some fabulous town halls I was most impressed by the city of Valencia.
Like many European cities, a river was once at the heart of Valencia. But a history of flooding culminating in a devastating inundation in 1957 called for more serious action. The Turia River was diverted south of the city and river bed was converted to a park.
Completed in 1986, this city park is like none I’ve ever seen. Nearly 10 kilometers of open space with nature areas, planted groves of oranges, kapok trees, pines and palms. The bridges which once spanned the river now provide the spine of the park, with flowers on some, others running through reflection ponds. Tucked between the bridges are play spaces and sporting grounds for football, basketball, baseball, rugby and more. Traffic through the park is well regulated with specific paths for cyclists, runners and folks who just want to take a gentle stroll and perhaps take a rest on one of the many benches.
Many cultural and historical attractions are either located inside the Turia itself, such as the impressive science and oceanographic centres or just outside the park, like the museum of fine arts – which means as well as a green lung, it’s a green highway to some of the best the city has to offer.
Outside the park and in the city itself, I was also impressed by the well integrated transport system and bike paths. Cyclists can ride along the pavement on designated paths and roundabouts are ‘Dutch style’ allowing them to safely navigate junctions which might otherwise be terrifying. There was a good culture of right-of-way between cyclists and pedestrians and there were almost always clearly marked lanes and crossings. As someone who is often too scared to ride my bike much through London traffic, I had no hesitation in hiring a cycle and riding the city streets of Valencia. If I had a single complaint, it was that the city cycle hire scheme was a bit too convoluted for a visitor, but that may have been by design and there were commercial bike rental places available.
It might be partly down to the balmy weather, but it was plain to see people in Valencia moving and enjoying an active lifestyle in a way that I didn’t see in other places in Spain. I think it must be at least in part due to city planning and urban design which encouraged green transport and active engagement with the city’s cultural and sporting amenities.
And what holiday is complete without a few snaps of town halls?