During March 15-19 each year, Las Fallas takes Valencia as each neighborhood decorates its streets with lights and enormous floats made of paper maché and wood. The five day festival is known for: its Mascletá, blaring displays of fireworks blasting each day at 2 pm; huge and satirical fallas sculptures, many that take up to a year to build; nightly mega street party with concerts and dancing in every square; as well as enormous vats of paella and flavorful festival food around just about every corner. The culmination of Las Fallas is a parade on March 19, St. Joseph’s Day, that ends when they light all the floats aflame – symbolically burning the old and making way for the new…welcoming the new spring season.
We arrived for vacation to Valencia on May 16, after our overnight flight from the U.S. and connecting flight in Madrid. Check-in at the hotel was a breeze. While the hotel is situated in a great location – the true asset was the hotel staff. Everyone was friendly and professional and genuinely warm. Once we arrived at my room at the Ayre Astoria Palace Hotel, we took a look around -- The room was clean, comfortable and quiet.
After a short rest, we strolled through the streets and enjoyed the decorations. We also toured the Cathedral in the city center, a Gothic structure with bell tower that can be climbed for awe-inspiring views of the city. The best known aspect of the cathedral is the Chapel of the Holy Grail that enshrines the goblet said to be the very chalice Jesus Christ drank from during the Last Supper.
Just before dinner, we stopped at Horchatería Santa Catalina, located just steps from the Cathedral; this local café offers a great break for locals and tourists. Their specialty is hot chocolate with “buñuelos”, a sweet pastry. Personally, I would recommend “buñuelos” with “anise”…tasty treats.
Tonight we dined at La Riua (Calle del Mar 27), a family restaurant with a relaxed environment and lots of traditional Valencian dishes. The menu includes perhaps the most vast selection of paellas (originally created in Valencia) and seasoned rice dishes in the city, plus tasty local fish and meat options.
After a late night, we slept in a bit on the 17th then had breakfast at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant. Surrounded by glass with fresh, modern colors, the restaurant offers a perfect backdrop to the beginning of a new day. The room was bright and the service staff friendly. Hot and cold buffet options were offered – orange juice was fresh and eggs cooked to order – just what many U.S. travelers on a Spain vacation want.
Next, we headed out to explore the city. Our guide took us through the Old Quarter lined with museums, churches, colorful cafes and restaurants. We made our way to City Hall for our first viewing of the Mascletá (concert of firecrackers and gunpowder). After the symphony of pyrotechnic blasts, we headed by bus to La Albufera for lunch at La Matandeta Restaurant (Carretera el Saler). Here we got the chance to savor paella cooked over an open wood fire, which gives the dish a delicious smoky flavor. The restaurant is perfect for groups of any size and the staff is quite good at making sure the process moves with relative ease.
After lunch around 5pm, we returned to the city center to see the Falla Convento Jerusalem, the local neighborhood’s float. The Fallas aren’t just created to marvel spectators — there is also a fiercely-waged annual competition to determine which committee pulled off the best float of the year. Making our way along the crowds we got the chance to view many of the displays up close. The committee that created the local neighborhood Falla (Convento Jerusalem) even invited us to their local club house for some hot chocolate and “buñuelos”…DELICIOSO!
We continued along to the Plaza de la Virgen in order to view the scaffolding for the Offering of the Flowers (Ofrenda de las Flores), where for two days during the festival thousands of “Falleras” — local women, young girls, toddlers and babies dressed in gorgeous traditional costumes – form a procession and deliver more than 30 tons of multi-colored carnations to the foot of the Virgin Mary. The bouquets are strategically arranged into the scaffolding until it emerges as a giant flower statue of the Virgin Mary. It was quite interesting to see how the process takes form. Men climb on scaffolding and use laser to insure the pattern is followed to specification.
Around 9:30 pm, we sat down to dinner at Dinner was at Sagardi Restaurant (Calle San Vicente, 6). Full of locals and tourists, this restaurant is a perfect place to enjoy delicious tapas at the bar or a dinner upstairs. Sitting upstairs we had the perfect opportunity to watch the continuous parade of Falleras make their way towards the Flower statue. Great conversation, fabulous Basque inspired food, and a parade of colors in view made for a perfect way to wind down at the day’s end.
After breakfast the next morning, we boarded a bus for the short drive the “newer” City of Arts & Sciences. En-route, we took in a brief overview of Santiago Calatrava’s structures including the Agora (currently under construction). The ultra-modern, sometimes called space age, cultural complex features the “Hemesferic“ Planetarium, the Principe Felipe Science Museum, the Oceanarium and the Reina Sofia Arts Palace.
A short five minute ride away, we arrived at a nearby neighborhood – Mercado del Carbanal for a “smaller” more intimate Mascletà. While the ceremony of the large Town Hall spectacle should not be missed, I must admit that the smaller version of a local neighborhood celebration is very special. The locals are genuine and very sincere in expressing their local pride. While the actual amount of pyrotechnics is less, the noise generated is no less intense. Overall, it was very touching and a very special way to experience a vacation to Valencia, or any Spain vacation for that matter. I would highly recommend it.
Next it was time for lunch at a fabulous location, Casa Montana, Jose Benlliure, 69. Here, a great “tapas” meal, superb wine and spectacular staff all combined to make an outstanding experience. I would highly recommend the place to couples, families and groups alike. High marks all around and hands down one of the best meals I have ever had on a vacation to Valencia, or any Spain vacation. I will certainly make sure to return.
Around 5pm, we arrived back in the center of town and made our way to the Offering of the Flowers for a look at progress of the flower monument. It was quite a moving spectacle to watch generations of women making their way from one end of the city to this point – carrying their offering to the Virgin Mary.
We opted for Tapas at the same restaurant we dined at the night prior, and then headed to explore the street party with music and dancing in every plaza in town. At midnight we started making our way towards the river to photograph the fireworks – “Nit de Foc” or Night of Fire. The walk took about 30 minutes and we arrived in time to mingle with the crowd before taking in the vibrant sights and sounds of the night. After the thunderous and brilliant fireworks program we headed back to our hotel, stopping a few times along the way to enjoy the festivities.
Even after a really late night, we awoke ready-to-go, knowing that it was the Big Day…the last day of the Las Fallas festival!
With sites yet to be seen, our first stop was La Almoina Archeological Museum. This Museum has potential to be of the top archaeological museums for the area. The collection includes remains and reconstruction of remains dating to five different historic periods between the 2nd century BC and the 15th century AD.
Next it was back to City Hall for the last Mascletà – Typical of the last day, it was beyond spectacular and the noise was fantastic! On from there, we boarded a bus to Palacio De La’ EXPOSICIÓ. There we had a special lunch in the presence of the Falleras of Valencia and the Fallas Association Board – quite a special treat. On foot, we continued to Colon Street for the Cabalgata del Foc (Fire Parade).
Tonight we opted for dining throughout the festival (you’d be surprised how amazing street corner paella can taste!). Around 11 pm, Valencia’s officials prepared to start the final evening’s celebration and we secured our spot at City Hall. The Child-Fallera took her place and was provided the spark to set the party going. After a few seconds, fireworks began and the official burning of the floats called “la Crema” began. Almost incredibly, the ballet of sparks and fire are timed perfectly all in preparation for the final “crema”. It served as a tantalizing appetizer to the main event.
The culmination of this tremendous festival arrived with an exclamation point to end all previous punctuations — The City Hall Falla – Crema. We heard the announcement “Pyrotechnic please begin”. With these words the spectacular show of fireworks commenced. I couldn’t help but put my camera down and just enjoy the moment. With stunning fireworks, heat and ash all around the site was just amazing! No camera can effectively capture a moment so intensely – breathtaking!
The party continued throughout the night and as this time-honored fiesta came to a close – we raised our glasses and blissfully toasted to the beginning of spring. I can truly say that our Las Fallas festival vacation was a once in a lifetime trip that we’ll remember always – What a remarkable experience!