Feliz Navidad from Valencia

December 24, 2019 City Breaks, European Travel, Features, Travel Blogger Jane Lovatt's Holiday Memoir

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A traditional Belen in Mercado de Colon, Valencia

The Trundler has always dreamed of Christmas in the sun. This year it looks as if the dream is about to come true. At 8.30am on Christmas Eve the view from my window looks like this.

And down at the beach it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the most dazzling sunshine.

I have spent many Christmases in the dark and cold of Staffordshire, where by 4pm everyone was safely inside with many hours of TV watching looming ahead.

I have had a few Christmases in London including a very happy day with my best friends and our daughters – joyously remembered as the Christmas of Single Parents Alone Together as we six women happily assembled a festive feast, danced wildly and celebrated a lifetime of friendship.

Three years ago, swathed in grief just a few weeks after my dad died, I was warmly welcomed into the homes of those same friends for a wonderfully generous family time which soothed my sad heart.

I spent a rainy and strangely mild Christmas in New York with my daughter and our kind friends, eating buttery Turkey and enjoying the delights of that magical city from elegant Fort Green in Brooklyn.

My best Christmas to date however was spent in the Sunset Tower Hotel, sitting by the pool of this Los Angeles icon, admiring the view over a Tinsel Town happily low on tinsel and high on sunshine and fresh berries for breakfast.

A chance encounter with a sad young man in the lift – when I told him not to worry because his girlfriend had stopped talking to him that morning – resulted in him sending Veuve Cliquot to our table at lunchtime while he swam up and down the pool, smoking a cigarette. It all felt quite daring and glamorous.

This year I have high hopes for a lovely time. Valencia is bathed in sunshine and awash with Belenes, the beautiful traditional nativity scenes created in churches, shopping and community centres.

I have done very little Christmas shopping myself. But I urge anyone who is still looking for a special gift to head to La Batisfera on Calle de la Reina in El Cabanyal.

Here there are two marvellous books on sale: Taulellets – a guide to the fabulous tile art of El Cabanyal (15 euros) and Semana Santa Marinera – a fascinating tribute to the amazing processions which take place in our neighborhood during Holy Week (25 euros)

I am planning a sea swim and a beach picnic tomorrow but today my main aim is to join in with the Valencianos as they head to the local market, to buy spectacular, fresh food for their Christmas celebrations. The tradition is to eat seafood tonight and despite inflated prices as high as 57 euros a kilo, there are queues of shoppers in the Mercado del Cabanyal buying gigantic prawns and langoustines without a care for the expense. It seems so much nicer than shelling out for turkey and goose.

Bags of snails are ready to add to the traditional Paella Valenciana, or if you can’t be bothered to make the dish yourself, it’s on sale as part of the market menu del dia. Two courses costs a bargain three euros, 50.

Cafe Durban, a new stall selling global freshly ground coffee at reasonable prices (between 2 and 6 euros a bag) is a welcome addition for the caffeine addicted. I love the way the woman who runs the stall laughs at me for being such a frequent visitor.

My favourite stall though is run by a hugely enthusiastic man who grows and sells extraordinary vegetables. The celery, at one euro a bunch. tastes divine. The fennel is bursting with taste and the broccoli is beguiling. For five euros I can fill a bag with healthy flavours and I love his tips on how to cook his magnificent produce, delivered with a smack of the lips to denote his personal delight.

Shopping in Mercado del Cabanyal is such a treat and one of the many reasons I am so happy to be here, celebrating Christmas in El Cabanyal, where the sky is a brilliant blue and women of all shapes and sizes are wearing tiny bikinis on the beach. Brexit Britain feels blissfully far away on this glorious day.