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Sitting directly behind Valencia’s Las Arenas beach, you’ll find the old fisherman’s quarter of El Cabanyal. More residential than tourist attraction, a walk around here gives a taste of authentic Valencian life by the sea. Whether you want to shop, eat, or stroll around to admire the tiled facades and modernist style of the traditional houses, this charming barrio is well worth a look on your trip to Valencia.
The whole of Valencia is famous for being adorned with colourful ceramic tiles, but especially so in El Cabanyal. You’ll see them on the underside of balconies and covering the entire facade of the traditional houses in particularly eye-popping combinations. You’ll spot plenty of curious buildings along the Calle de la Reina, as far down as Calle Rosario.
Valencians know that the best place to buy fresh fish, meat and vegetables – and catch up with friends over a brandy-spiked coffee – is at the local market. The whole city is dotted with fantastic fresh markets, and El Cabanyal has its own. Fish and seafood, of course, are the specialty, displayed carefully along two rows of stalls. Stall holders will clean and prepare the fish for you if you ask. It might be more expensive than the supermarket, but Spanish food is all about the flavour, so locals don’t mind paying a bit more for freshness – and fish from the market here is incredibly fresh. You’ll also find the usual heaps of colourful, exotic fruit and vegetables and a vast array of olives, cheeses and charcuterie.
The sheer joy of life along Valencia’s beach and coastline is depicted in the paintings of Joaquin Sorolla, who worked right here in the Poblats Maritim. He is known for his ability to capture the area’s incredible light. A mosaic portraying one of his most famous works, Afternoon Sun (1903), depicting bulls pulling fishing boats back to shore, can be found on the Calle de Mediteraneo.
Make sure you work up an appetite on your walk around El Cabanyal, because the food here is not to be missed. Truly local tapas bars, pretty cafes and humble bodegas: you almost can’t move for great places to eat around here. Be prepared to break out your Spanish (failing that, pointing and smiling works) because English-language menus are to be found only in the more touristy (and pricey) establishments along the beachfront. Explore the neighbourhood’s streets and you’ll find gems such as Bodega La Pascuala, packed with locals drinking brandy in the afternoons and famous for its huge and hearty menu del día (set lunch menu) usually featuring paella, and enormous bocadillos (filled baguettes). Another treasure is Casa Montana, opened in 1836 and famed for its tiled interior and high-quality tapas. The menu here features lots of super-fresh seafood. This little spot has a big reputation, so be sure to book ahead.
For an even more colourful, local experience, skip the market and buy your fish straight from the hands of the fishermen at the fish market at the area’s small port. Just follow your nose as you walk along the harbour: the strong smell is unmistakeable. At around 4–5pm each weekday you’ll find the local fishermen here, selling part of the day’s catch at bargain prices. Pick up a bag of fish straight from the Mediterranean for just a few euros, see octopus and eels still wriggling in their containers, and gawp at huge fish that resemble sea monsters dragged from the deep. The fisherman aren’t going to clean and prepare the fish for you, but might offer a few cooking tips if you’re lucky.
In summer, local life revolves around the vast stretch of sandy beach. As well as swimming and sunbathing you’ll see all kinds of beach games and wandering bands of Gypsy musicians setting up for a show along the promenade. Stay for the sunset and take a stroll along the marina for a perfect end to a day by the sea.