No doubt Valencia is a beautiful city. Its history, monuments, diverse cultural and entertainment offerings, and its beaches guarantee any visitor a memorable stay. Nevertheless, moving a few kilometres outside the city, there are some fascinating spots worth discovering and enjoying. Here are some truly unforgettable getaway destinations fewer than two hours from Valencia.
The Templar fortress of Peñíscola castle, where a tenacious Pope Luna (Pope Benedict XIII) held out during his disputed papacy, rises up dominating the landscape on the isthmus. This one-time papal see is not the only attraction in Peñíscola. The old historic quarter is a labyrinth of narrow alleyways and whitewashed homes. The well-conserved ancient city wall with its magnificent gateways surrounds the town, while from above stands the church of Santa María.
The trip from Valencia to Peñíscola takes about ninety minutes. There are two intriguing stops worth mentioning here. The first is Sagunto, where one can be taken back to its Roman past by visiting its first century CE amphitheatre and the very interesting Archaeological Museum. As well, the Moorish castle there is not to be missed.
Moving on to the province of Castellón in the Uixó valley is the second noteworthy stop at the caves of Sant Josep. This cavernous wonder conceals Europe’s longest navigable subterranean river.
Fanzara is one of the most picturesque getaway spots just under two hours away from Valencia. Just over an hour from the city of Turia, Fanzara is a tale of how art can heal wounds and a village once fated to oblivion revived. Not too long ago, a controversial projected landfill pitted the town into those who saw opportunity against others who did not.
However, neighbourly manners were soon restored thanks to street art and an experiment that turned out remarkably well. Today, Fanzara’s façades, walls and nooks are covered in extraordinary murals forming the Museo Inacabado de Arte Urbano (“Unfinished Museum of Urban Art”). Fanzara has now found its place on Valencia’s tourist map and an unexpected source of revenue. Incidentally, that contentious landfill was never built.
This trip, barely an hour from Valencia, is a place every trekker and climber yearn for. Chulilla is as steeply rugged a landscape as it is dazzling. Here the deep canyon formed by the Turia river can be crossed using suspension bridges. Following the trekking trails takes one to a near virgin landscape of rock and water. The sight of the Charco Azul, a pool of turquoise waters surrounded by soaring rock walls, is well worth the effort.
The pool, once designed to water nearby gardens, was constructed by the Moors, who also built the fortress that still stands on the high ground overlooking the village. A place to wander its maze of medieval streets and to visit Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles’ church. And just outside the town centre are the treasured cave paintings at Vallfiguera canyon, a World Heritage Site.
Guadalest is one of those places that never ceases to amaze – and just under two hours from Valencia. Its secret to astound is its location high on the steep rock face surrounded by mountains and a reservoir at its base. Not to mention there are two castles and eight museums, including the rather curious Salt and Pepper-Cellar and Micro-miniature museums. And the list goes on. There is also the church of Nuestra Señora de la Asunción, Casa Orduña (Orduña House), the excavated rock tunnel joining the upper and lower quarters of the village, and of course, its gastronomy.
And just fifteen kilometres away is the Fonts d’Algar, a series of waterfalls among the rocks forming pools of cold, crystal-clear water. A hypnotic place to relax or take a dip in the summer.
An hour and a half from Valencia are the Mariola mountains. Its 16,000 hectares conceal an immensely rich landscape of flora and fauna. A veritable treasure for any outdoor trekking enthusiast. Its network of trails is a place to lose track of time and oneself while discovering natural springs and ancient caverns used for storing snow. Walking these trails leads to such idyllic spots as the source of the Vinalopó river with its series of pools and waterfalls.
Another village commonly listed as one of the most beautiful in the Valencia Community is Bocairent, at the foot of the Mariola mountains. A picture-perfect scene of homes stacked one upon the other ascending a crag of narrow streets and medieval façades. Hidden from view are its caves. The Moros caves and its underground monastery, completely excavated from the rock, are not to be missed.
The city from which Spain’s most famous lady comes boasts two World Heritage Sites. Firstly, there is the Mystery of Elche, a religious musical drama that has taken place there since the fifteenth century. Secondly, there is the splendid palm grove dating back to the Moorish epoch. These palm trees were once the keystone to intensive farming in this area and are now a true oasis perfectly assimilated to its surroundings, though not immune to the effects of climate change.
A walk around Elche will reveal other fascinating sites such as the Basílica of Santa María, the Altamira Palace and the town hall. Not far is the Alcudia archaeological site, where the famed Dama de Elche (“Lady of Elche”) statue was unearthed and can now be seen at the Archaeological Museum in Madrid.
The shortest route between Elche and Valencia is 174 kilometres – approximately an hour and forty-five minutes away. However, it is worth taking the longest route on the return trip – a mere fifteen additional minutes – and stopping in Alicante to visit the Santa Bárbara castle or go for a leisurely walk along the Esplanade of Spain and the old historic quarter.
There are getaway spots in under two hours travel time from Valencia that lie in other nearby autonomous communities. Indeed, rural destinations and astounding natural landscapes to discover and some of Spain’s most beautiful villages.
Located an hour and forty minutes from Valencia, the homes of this village are perched upon a rocky mountainside that ends in the in a bend of the Júcar river. From its banks, a vision of white façades and steep streets rising towards a Moorish castle. Here beauty meets the eye everywhere one looks and, curiously, where one cannot see. For behind many of these façades lie not constructions, but caves.
The urban core of Alcalá del Júcar offers a pleasant if rather challenging walk. Nevertheless, it is well worth walking up its narrow streets starting from the bridge crossing the river up to the twelfth century fortress. Along the way, a stop at San Andrés church or a visit in one of the caves open to the public.
Alarcón is another small locality jutting out on the Júcar river. The castle and its imposing tower keep dominate the landscape of gorges and ravines of immense natural beauty. Admiring the architectural design of the fortress and the landscape surrounding it need not be the only reason for visiting it. It is also historically significant as the former residence of prince Don Juan Manuel from where he composed some of his works.
Once outside the fortress, do not hesitate to roam the well-preserved medieval urban planning of the village. The village centre may be small, but it is dotted with small treasures like its square named in honour of Don Juan Manuel, the Casa Palacio Parroquial and the church of San Juan Bautista.
Alarcón is an hour and forty-five minutes from Valencia. Either on the way to or from, a small detour to the gorges of Cabriel river to admire the stunning beauty of the largest protected natural area in the Valencian Community.
Rubielos de Mora and Mora de Rubielos are two of the most beautiful towns in Teruel. Only twelve kilometres away from each other, these places can be reached in an hour and twenty minutes from Valencia. Rubielos de Mora is often called the Portico of Aragon. An ancient crossroads, its privileged geographic situation bestowed prosperity upon the town. This prosperity can be seen today in its spectacular ancestral homes and the old monastery Colegiata Santa María la Mayor. There is much more to see such as the Renaissance town hall, the gates of the old city wall and the Carmelite convent and several chapels, among other treasures.
Meanwhile, the monumental complex of Mora de Rubielos is equally impressive. Its Levantine Gothic architecture is some of the most stunning in Aragon. While the castle may be the largest such treasure, it is not the only one. The other Gothic jewel is the ancient collegiate church of Natividad de Nuestra Señora. More modest, but no less pleasing are its mansions and small palaces, its town hall and the ruins of the city wall gateways. Mora de Rubielos lies a little more than a hundred kilometres from Valencia.
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You can read part II of this list here.
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