As we make our way eastwards along the Avinguda del Port, the breeze begins to carry a stronger scent of the sea. This is a sign that we are approaching the Poblats Marítims, the seafaring district of Valencia. These five neighbourhoods extend southwards alongside the Mediterranean Sea. Over time, they have evolved from small villages inhabited by fishermen and boat builders into tourist resorts where people can enjoy a good paella and sun themselves on the beach. Malvarrosa, Beteró, Cabanyal-Canyamelar, El Grau and Nazaret, home to around 57,000 Valencians, still retain the essence of what has always been a seafaring city.
Beginning in the north, the neighbourhood of Malvarrosa (which owes its name to the hollyhocks which once grew in the area) began to develop around an estate owned by the French botanist and perfumier Felix Robillard. Fascinated by these aromatic flowers, Robillard settled in this seaside village in 1848 and began to grow the plants on an industrial scale in order to manufacture perfumes. Today, the neighbourhood is best known for Platja de la Malva-rosa beach, facing which stands the house-museum of the great Valencian writer Vicente Blasco Ibáñez.
A stroll along the Passeig Marítim brings us to the Platja de les Arenes, which must surely be the finest beach in Valencia. This is a good place to sit on the terrace of a bar to enjoy the sea breeze, or to have a paella or an arroz caldoso [rice in broth] in one of the prestigious restaurants such as La Marcelina or L’estimat. The beach belongs to the neighbourhood of El Cabanyal-Canyamelar which, for a good part of the nineteenth century was a separate town called El Poble Nou de la Mar. The neighbourhood’s present name derives from the cabins or shanties which became home to those Valencians who wanted to earn a living from both agriculture and the sea. El Cabanyal has become famous in recent years because of its residents’ resistance to the demolition of over 1,000 houses to make way for the extension of Avinguda de Vicent Blasco Ibáñez down to the seafront. The heart of the neighbourhood has been declared an Asset of Cultural Interest thanks to its unique urban fabric and traditional architecture.
And so we reach El Grau, an area which was traditionally separate from the city until at the end of the nineteenth century, it was permanently annexed to Valencia. Since the thirteenth century, its seafaring population had been concentrated in the oldest part of the Port of Valencia, the Dàrsena Vella. Here, travellers can visit the fourteenth-century Reales Atarazanas [Royal Shipyards]—built in the Valencian Gothic style—which achieved great renown in the building of ships for the Crown of Aragón. Nowadays, the neighbourhood’s main attraction is the Marina de València, an essential visit for water sports enthusiasts and the venue for the America’s Cup yacht race in 2007 and 2010. Its facilities include an enormous sports marina, shops, restaurants, discos and the Veles e Vents building (a multi-functional centre that hosts exhibitions, live music, talks and dance shows).
Finally, the southernmost neighbourhood is Nazaret, another village once inhabited by fishermen and port workers, which grew up in 1720 around a hospital for the treatment of infectious diseases (called a lazareto in Spanish). This gave the settlement its name. From 2008 to 2012, the neighbourhood hosted a section of the Valencia Formula 1 city circuit.
The best time to visit the Poblats Marítims is in the summer during the Les Falles festival or during the Semana Santa Marinera [Seafarers’ Holy Week], which has for centuries been observed with great reverence in El Cabanyal-Canyamelar and El Grau. On these occasions, the image of Christ is traditionally borne down to the sea shore, where prayers are said for the dead.
A stroll through the Port of Valencia, with its eclectic mix of classical and avant-garde buildings, proves that the city has not turned its back on the sea.
Valencia has countless activities to make your romantic break full of special moments.