The people of Valencia love to eat rice dishes. Most famous of these of course is paella, traditionally made using chicken, rabbit and little snail like shellfish to reflect the ingredients available to working man whilst out in the fields. More luxurious versions of the dish use lobster or shellfish, while rice is also used for Arroz a Banda, another favourite, which means ‘rice on the side’ just in case the paella didn’t have enough.
All this rice has to come from somewhere of course, but it’s quite a shock to see the rice fields just outside the city, as part of the Albufera National Park.
This beautiful lake is the largest in Spain and one of the most important wetlands in the entire Iberian peninsula. It’s amazingly easy to get to. Just hop on the 25 bus, outside the El Saler shopping centre and opposite the famous City of Arts and Sciences. Buses run regularly, the journey takes about half an hour and costs 1 euro, 50.
Within minutes you are out in the countryside, zipping past verdant farm land and orange groves, through the pretty beach town of El Saler and then past the lake, where you see streams wading birds poised on the water’s surface.
El Palmar was often written about by the beloved Valencian writer, Blasco Ibanez, but if were alive today, he might be taken aback to see so many paella restaurants offering set menus to coach loads of tourists. It’s a veritable shrine to rice and you almost expect to see a giant paella dish with little arms and legs come wobbling down the street.
It would be churlish not to like El Palmar however, especially on a glorious, sunny day when sitting outside with a café al tiempo and contemplating which of the 50 plus restaurants to choose for lunch.
The Trundler opted for Casa Angel, on the outskirts of the town – walk down the main street and then turn right – and overlooking the sparkling blue water.
This bright, airy, friendly place is swarming with Spanish families in large, lively groups, greeting each other fondly. The Trundler and her companion were mesmerised by the sight of so much family affection, but decided they could never compete with this display of warmth in a million years. So they contented themselves with scoffing a huge traditional paella and a plate of Pulpo Alla Galega – a heavenly octopus dish.
Feeling very happy after all this food and their heartwarming vicarious family lunch experience, they attempted to walk around the lake in the warm November sunshine. They were delighted when, after a few minutes, they spotted a bench, perfectly positioned in the sunshine and enjoyed a short siesta before heading for the bus stop and the 25 bus back to the city centre.
It had been a perfect day out.