What is our number one recommendation for things to do in the area around Valencia, Spain? Relax. That’s right, it is to relax! A quick Google search will bring up plenty of lists of museums, churches, and historical sites to visit on your trip to Valencia. Our experience tells us that those sites are best reserved for adult-only trips. If you are bringing your young kids along, and we recommend that you do, skip the lines and city hustle and opt for a farm stay instead.
One of our goals while living in Malta was to take a family trip at least once every three months. When fall of 2017 came around, we decided to take a trip to area of Spain around Valencia. As you will see throughout this blog, we absolutely love Farm Stays (Agriturismo in Spanish). We find that they are far more peaceful than trying to stay in the city when you have little ones with you. We tend to base camp at the farm and then take day trips into the cities/towns nearby.
The truth is, we never even went into Valencia on this trip (apart from the airport). We had three days to visit and had far too much fun in the area around our agriturismo, and that is OK! Just because your are visiting a new country does not mean you have to tick off sites to see. Sometimes it is better to just soak in the environment, food, and culture.
Our trip started with a short Ryanair flight from Malta (MLA) to Valencia Manises Airport (VLC). While Ryanair is not well known for comfort or style, it does take the cake when it comes to cost, which for us is often the key driver. If you spend any time in Europe, you will develop a love/hate relationship with this airline!
We almost always rent a car on our trips (we believe it is a necessity with kids), so picked up our Goldcar rental car (booked via Ryanair due to lowest price) and started the 1 hr 45 minute drive down the coast. We were staying at La Casota, a wonderful agriturismo outside of the town of Campell. they are nestled in the heart of La Vall de Laguar with beautiful views Mediteranean Sea. The entire compound is part of an old Muscat vineyard. Those grapes were commonly preserved as raisons and one of the buildings, the riurau, is the old drying room.
Like most Farm Stays, they cook amazing meals on-site. Our kids tended to eat much earlier than Spanish, so we requested an earlier meal so we could get them to bed on time. The gracious hosts were more than happy to accomodate our unique schedule. The real benefit of a farm stay is it opens up your nights as parents to sit back, enjoy a nice bottle (or two, or three,…) of wine and a beautiful view. Once the kids are asleep, you can enjoy the common areas knowing that they are tucked away safely and securely. These stays provide us with the flexibility to keeps kids on schedule and happy, which enables us to tick off some adult visits during the day.
On this trip we really decided to take it easy. La Casota was so beautiful and wonderfully located that we didn’t feel the need to venture too far. Sometimes the success of a trip is not the list of things you did, but the time you spent not doing them! Our big outing was a trip into the coastal town of Denia to meet a good friend of ours for lunch.
One of the wonderful byproducts of a life of travel and adventure is the people you meet along the way. After you have done this as long as we have, it is almost impossible to go to a major city and not know at least one person. Our trip to Valencia was no different. Kristen spent much of her life living overseas, and a big part of that was in Tokyo, Japan. Mr. Olson was the High School counselor at the school, a good family friend, and happened to have been from the small town of Annandale, MN where Kristen grew up (when she was in the US). It is crazy how small the world can be.
After he retired, Mr. Olson moved to Valencia and convinced us that we couldn’t have a trip to this region without a proper Paella at Restaurant Estanyó in Denia. For those that do not know, Paella is a famous dish from the area around Valencia. It consists of rice, saffron, vegetables and meat and is cooked in a large open top frying pan (called a paella in the local dialect). Given we were on the coast, we decided to go with the Paella de Marisco, and were not disappointed! Because the dish is not stirred when cooking, it develops a wonderful caramelized crust on the bottom that is to die for! We recommend pairing this meal this with a nice white wine with local Merseguera or Malvasia grapes and make sure to end your lunch with a crisp and refreshing glass of Cava! Restaurant Estanyó is situated right on the beach, which is perfect given our kids had tons of energy and Spanish lunches tend to last a bit longer that they are used to!
Apart from our trip into town for lunch, we spent the rest of the trip exploring La Casota. We stayed in El Estudio de la Torre (the study) which had a bedroom for us adults and a living room with a pull-out couch for the kids. It also had a kitchenette so we could keep snacks and drinks refrigerated. We love trying new foods, especially preserved meats and cheese. In addition to the kids’ staples like yogurt and granola bars, we made sure we had a much of new local cheeses to try like Queso de Servilleta and of course had our fair share of Jamón Ibérico.
Pro Tip: when traveling to small towns, especially in Europe, hit up the local grocery store. You will find a wide array of meats and cheeses to try, along with other goodies. We always stop as soon as we can to stock up on unique foods and snacks for the kids. That way, if you decide you’d rather spend the day at the pool or hiking in the countryside instead of heading into town, you have a refrigerator stocked with exciting food to try. Also, buy wine. Lots of it. It will be cheap and very likely brands and varietals that you cannot find broadly distributed.
Pro Tip #2: We tend to avoid going out to eat more than once per day, largely because it just doesn’t work well with young kids. You have to pick your battles and this isn’t one worth fighting! We tend to eat breakfast at the farm, lunch away, and then dinner back at the farm. Sometimes, like at La Casota, they will prepare the kids food early so they can eat and get to bed. Then you can have dinner in peace a bit later when the Spaniards normally eat (8PM or later). After dinner you can sit by the room and have some wine and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere. If you are concerned about the kids, you can create a makeshift baby monitor with a Facetime audio call between your phones. Just make sure you mute your end so they don’t hear all of the fun you’re having!
Did we mention the farm has a swimming pool with beautiful views of the valley?
There are times to hit it hard and see the sights and there are times not to. With kids, we often fall into the latter camp. While it is fun to see the historical sites, it is rarely those visits that you remember later on. We tend to remember that nice glass of wine we enjoyed looking out over the valley or that nice couple that was staying in the room next door. Your kids will remember the freedom they had to explore the farm or hike in the hills far more than the two hours they had to sit still, and past bedtime, so you could enjoy a nice dinner!