El Cabanyal - Valencia’s Fishermen’s Quarter
The final leg of our Spanish jaunt sees us in Valencia, that sun-drenched, Paella-inventing, Horchata-drinking gem. Our last trip here was 8 years ago, and with no children to savour the delights of travel, all we could do was gorge on seafood Paella and Sangria by the beach, relax in the hotel spa pool and sunbathe indefinitely. Not much to live up to this time then.
(Photos from our trip in 2011!)
We set off for Valencia early in the morning, leaving Murcia after a lip-smacking breakfast that we chanced upon on the first floor of the old food market. We squeezed in among the local old boys who were already half-way through their bottle of red wine breakfast and were treated to the simple luxury of warm crusty bread topped with a zingy, creamy olive oil and some lovingly smashed tomatoes. They say you should trust your gut, and when the food is this good, you don’t argue back. With more food ordered, Jamon Iberico soon followed, acting as the perfect foil for the piquant tomatoes and fruity olive oil. And then a new dish for us, almost as inappropriate for breakfast as the pints of wine our neighbours are drinking, and undoubtedly as pleasing. It was a slow cooked pork dish of some kind, smothered in a stew of red peppers and paprika and gleaming as a result in the morning sun. Wash this all down with a café con leche and a glass of impeccable Spanish orange juice, and that ladies and gentlemen is how breakfast is done in these parts.
We arrive in Valencia a few hours later, excited about checking into this final stay of the journey. We’re staying in El Cabanyal, Valencia’s Fishermen’s Quarter, an immediately enticing proposition and something we soon come to learn has a fair bit of controversy associated with it. Occupying the back streets that sit behind much of the popular beach-side attractions, El Cabanyal has both a colourful past, and an uncertain future. The seaside district was once a completely separate part of Valencia, and whilst it was brought into the larger control of Valencia’s governing elite some time ago, the locals here maintain a distinct attitude and atmosphere. There is the alluring art nouveau architecture, the colourful facades and the stunning tiling. But there is also the uncertainty hanging over many of the buildings here since Valencia’s City Hall announced ambitious and controversial plans to bulldoze much of the area to make way for a grand, modern avenue stretching all the way from the city centre to the sea. As a result, many residents struggle to renovate their properties given the tougher rules City Hall impose in a bid to prepare for total redevelopment. All of this makes for an intriguing and unique neighbourhood, and one worth experiencing before it all changes, which hopefully it doesn't!
Barracart Apartments is a stunningly renovated space that sits amongst all of this El Cabanyal character and attitude. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this continues as you make your way off the street and in through the entrance. The owners have managed to strike that elusive balance between beautifully clean interior design and Spanish charm, filling the space with such an explosion of impressive indoor foliage that you could be forgiven for thinking you were in some sort of mediterranean oasis were it not for the clean lines and perfectly tiled floors.
As you learn more about the story of the apartments, the exceptionally high standard of the renovation and the overall design begin to make even more sense, as the owners of this place are also behind one of Valencia’s most impressive restaurants, Casa Montaña. Getting a table here is nigh on impossible, but staying at Barracart gives you priority booking. We saw this for ourselves when we finished our incredible meal and had to fight our way through the heaving mass of people waiting to get in. Staying at these apartments and then eating at the restaurant a few minutes away makes for a powerful combination, and leaves only one conclusion - that the people behind both these projects have an incredible vision, a brilliant eye for detail and an impressive ability to pull all of this off seamlessly. We’ll definitely be back.